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To Discipline or Not to Discipline?

To Discipline or Not to Discipline?
July 2014

Yesterday I was sitting in a glass fronted boardroom, talking to a potential client. In an adjacent meeting room were three people, and as we progressed through our conversation, I couldn’t but help to glance up at the meeting taking place next door. This potential client and I continued with our conversation but became increasingly distracted by what was obviously an acrimonious meeting in the next room.

Noticing my concern and curiosity, my host told me that the meeting next door was a disciplinary hearing. Immediately my interest was piqued, and I paid closer attention. We could not hear what was being said but the visual clues were enormous. The “accused” was sitting slouched in his chair, looking away from the other parties and picking his nails. He was unshaven, dressed in a slovenly manner and was wearing a beanie. His total demeanour indicated that he had no respect for the proceedings or the people present.

His “accuser” on the other hand was dressed smartly, and wearing a company branded jacket. However his leaning over the table and punching the air, while using his index finger as an arrow, belonged more in a World Wrestling Federation ring than in an office. It was obvious that the message was “you will do what I say or else!”

On seeing my facial expression, which I must admit was one of total shock, my host tried to soften the atmosphere and mitigate the “accusers” behaviour by telling me that he has many disciplinary hearings against members of his department. As if that made it all OK! But of course my immediate question was “why?”. Why would this individual manager be having so many disciplinary hearings with his staff? Shortly after that our meeting was over and I left, but this disciplinary hearing was still in full swing.

For me, this hearing that I observed raised a number of questions:

1) Why does this manager have so many disciplinary hearings?

2) Is he employing the wrong people?

3) Is he too autocratic and not leaving room for individual expression?

4) Is he managing according to his expectations or based on empirical measurements?

5) Are his discipline boundaries consistent and consistently enforced?

6) Do his staff actually like him?

7) Is his treatment of his staff fair?

8) Is the manager too un-involved and only gets involved when things go wrong.

And I am sure that there are many more possible contributors that we could add to this list. But the message that I am trying to get across is this: has this manager examined his contribution to this person’s infringement. Yes I buy the fact that people sometimes need to be disciplined, but the fact that this chap has the most disciplinary hearings of all the managers in the organization, rings some serious alarm bells. We should investigate some of these:

Alarm Bell 1) He possibly employed the wrong person and did nothing about it

Alarm Bell 2) He possibly inherited a person that he should have refused

Alarm Bell 3) Instead of “nipping it in the bud” he let the infringement slide until it became a crisis

Alarm Bell 4) He possibly never set out and managed clear parameters of behaviour

Alarm Bell 5) He possibly never set out and managed clear parameters of productivity

Alarm Bell 6) He has possibly been letting this person get away with poor performance until his own manager spoke to him about it.

The reality is that just as there are no naughty children, just bad parents, there are no bad workers, just bad managers. So the message is this. It doesn’t help to discipline the workforce when in all probability the infringement originated somewhere with a manager.

Very few disciplinary hearings have ever caused a positive change in behaviour or productivity. Most of the time, it is a precursor to the individual either resigning or being dismissed and inevitably one of those happens. So let’s stop managing by disciplinary process, and start managing people proactively, taking responsibility for how your management style affects the behaviour and productivity of the workforce.

Warm regards
Mark Deavall

I trust that you have found benefit in this article. If you would like to contact me or have me talk to the people in your company, please call me on 27 11 609-1264, or E-mail me

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