Positive Discipline

The following article has been taken with permission from BizMove. Please visit their site for more information on staff management, personal management, or other business management topics.

The word discipline has many negative meanings associated with it. It is quite often used as a synonym for punishment. Yet discipline is also used to refer to the spirit that exists in a successful hockey team where team members consider the needs of the whole as more important than their own.

When employees understand the company rules as well as the objectives, and do everything possible to support them they are exercising positive discipline in a business that creates an atmosphere of mutual trust and common purpose. Any disciplinary program outlines that all of your employees have a clear understanding of exactly what it is that is expected of them. Hence, the need for a concise set of rules and standards must exist that is fair, crystal clear, realistic and communicated at all levels without exception. When the standards and rules are universally understood by all employees, discipline can then be enforced equitably and fairly. A fair set of rules does not need to be more than one page, but will prove essential to the success of a small business. A few guidelines for establishing an environment of positive discipline is as follows:

The rules and standards that must exist are communicated clearly and administered fairly at all levels of the organization without exception.

  • Rules and standards must be fall within reasonable boundaries.
  • Rules should be communicated so they are explicitly known and understood by every employee of the organization. An employee manual can help with communicating the given rules.
  • While a rule or a standard is in effect, employees are expected to adhere to it until they are informed otherwise.
  • Even though rules exist, people should know that if a personal problem or a unique situation makes the rule exceptionally harsh, the rule may be modified or an exception would be taken into consideration and, in all likelihood, would be granted.
  • There should be no favourites and privileges should be granted only when they can also be granted to other employees who fall into similar circumstances. This means that it must be possible to explain to other employees, who request a very similar concession with less justification, why the privilege cannot be extended to them in the given situation.
  • Employees must be aware that they can and are encouraged to voice dissatisfaction with any rules or standards they consider unreasonable as well as with working conditions they feel hazardous, discomforting or burdensome.
  • Employees should understand exactly what the consequences of breaking a rule without permission will be. Large companies have disciplinary procedures for minor violations that could easily be applied just as effectively in small companies. They usually require that one or two friendly reminders be given. If the problem continues, there is a formal, verbal warning, then a written warning. If the employee persists in rebelling, there would be an immediate suspension and/or dismissal. In violations of more serious rules, fewer steps would be used. It is not easy to communicate this procedure since it should not be so firm that it can be expressed in writing. If it is made clear to employees who violate a rule at the first reminder, the procedure soon becomes universally understood throughout the organization.
  • There should be an appeals procedure in the event that an employee feels you have made an unfair decision. At the very least, the employee should be aware that you are willing to reconsider your own decision at a later date.
  • To be fair, employees must be consulted when rules are set or changed.
  • Good performance should be recognized, as should reliability and loyalty. From time to time rules are going to be broken by some people regardless of how good your positive disciplinary practices are. In such circumstances, corrective action is sometimes deemed absolutely necessary. In some cases the violation may be so serious that severe penalties are required. If an employee is caught in the act of stealing or deliberately destroying company property, immediate dismissal may be necessary. In all other severe cases, a corrective review and interview is necessary to determine the reasons for the problem and to establish what penalty, if any, is appropriate. Such a procedure should include all, or most, of the following steps:

    • Clearly defining the problem to the employee in question, including an explanation of the rule or procedure that was broken.
    • Permitting the employee to give their perspective of the story. This step will often draw out issues/problems that will need to be resolved to avoid rule violations to occur again in the future.
    • Exploring with the employee what should be done to assure that a recurrence of the problem does not occur again.
    • Coming to a mutual agreement with the employee on what corrective action should be fairly taken.