Does Discipline Work?

I have talked before about how powerful the psychological contract is – and that how it is often the simple things that build trust and confidence within the employment relationship.  Sadly, the reality is that it’s often the small things that can break the relationship too.

I have also written about how giving feedback is a skill that is so critical – and how often organisations (particularly big organisations, who should know better); do this really badly.

The disciplinary process is used as a way to protect the organization in the event of some claim post termination of employment (or in these days of adverse action – even during employment). It is also used under the heading of natural justice (ie – giving people a chance to improve).

But often, it is used as a punishment. That is, in an almost childlike way – you’ve done something wrong and the consequences are that you should be punished like a naughty child.

And increasingly, there’s an awareness of how the traditional approach to discipline – (which is to escalate the punishment for each infraction that occurs); doesn’t work and can in itself contribute to a break in the psychological contract and a culture that either does not trust or is fearful.

Now, here’s the thing.. I am ABSOLUTELY not advocating that there should not be clear standards or that there aren’t consequences for not upholding those standards (whether those standards are behaviour related or performance related). This is critical for business performance.

AND I absolutely believe that effective feedback (positive and negative) is one of the cornerstones of employee engagement and performance.

What I am advocating is that organisations need to consider whether the current approach to disciplinary management is working. Dick Grote in his book Discipline without Punishment shares some interesting views on whether the traditional approach it is working (he says not) and, alternative approaches that can be taken.

Back to how easily trust can be broken. A story that was recently shared with me:

A manager in a business who had been working long hours on an important account found out after many weeks of unpaid overtime that he was due to be given a warning for challenging his boss in a meeting.  The warning didn’t ever happen.  But the damage was done. Trust broken.

The manager couldn’t believe that his boss wouldn’t just pull him aside and talk to him about it – provide him effective, timely feedback which would have enabled a broader conversation about the project and the pressure that all were under at the time.  Rather; emotion entered the equation and trust was broken.

It could so easily have been avoided.  The manager could have had an effective coaching experience that would have provided him with feedback (and perhaps the tools) to challenge in an appropriate manner.

Now both parties are just a little bit bruised.

I am not sure we are getting any smarter with any of this, despite everything we know about organisational performance.

And I am not sure it is doing our business performance any good.

What do you think? Are there examples you have seen where an alternative approach to discipline might have provided a more positive outcome?

Tammy Tansley
I am a coffee loving, energetic human who loves words, bright colours and spots, silly t'shirts and good champagne. Mum to two beautiful mischiefs. Long time wanderer around the world. Author. Blogger. Speaker.

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