Positive discipline method puts responsibility for behavior on shoulders of the employees

"You've been absent every Monday for the last month. We've talked about your absenteeism for the last three months. Take tomorrow off - with pay."

What? Reward poor performance with a day off? Has this supervisor lost his or her mind?

Unconventional as it seems, about 300 companies are now using this sit-at-home-and-think-about-it psychology to turn poor performers around. GE, American Telephone & Telegraph, Proctor & Gamble, and Union Carbide are a few of the companies that have shifted their disciplinary systems.

"Positive discipline was introduced more than 20 years ago by Canadian industrial psychologist John Huberman. Companies were slow to try it. Instead, they followed policies similar to the criminal justice system - crime must be punished.

It hasn’t worked. Employees who are punished for misbehavior haven't become more productive workers. Instead, many just become resentful - or sneaky so they don’t get caught.

Primitive systems that put managers in a perental role are flawed. Many managers will resent the position and hesitate to discipline at all. Employees will begin to act like children if their bosses take the responsibility for keeping them in line.

Positive discipline puts the responsibility where it belongs - on the employee. A manager can't control an employee’s behavior; he or she can only influence it.

In the case of an attendance problem, you don't have to argue about whether an excuse is valid. You accept it: "Yes, that is a problem" (the car wouldn't start, the alarm clock didn't work, he felt sick for the fourth time). "How are you going to handle this problem?"

The decision-making leave is designed to force problem employees to take time off and think about their performance. After the daylong reflection period, the employee must either commit to change or lose his or her job.

Gene Griffin, of AT&T, was interviewed recently in the "Personal Report for the Executive," published by the Research Institute of America. He said: "With this system, your employee accepts joint ownership in the work process. The relationship improves because there's no power-play involved, no finger-pointing. Since we instituted positive discipline a year ago, there hasn't been a single case of decision-making leave because problems were straightened out before that phase was reached."

Positive discipline can be implemented without a decision-making leave. The day off is only a dramatic way to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation.

Whether the day off is used or not, most positive discipline systems look something like this:

·        Informal Oral Reminder. The manager discusses the specifics of the problem with the employee. The manager doesn't issue a warning of more serious discipline to come. Rather, he or she attempts to get the employee's commitment to resolve the problem. No letter is put in the employee's personnel file. Notes are kept in the manager's working file.

·        Oral Reminder. This is the same as the first discussion except the tone is more serious. Specific actions are discussed to solve the problem. A follow-up date is set. Depending on the situation, more than one discussion may be appropriate. Notes are kept in the working file.

·        Written Reminder. If the original agreements were not successful in solving the problem, another attempt is made to get the employee's cooperation. The agreed-upon action plan, resulting from this discussion, is outlined in a letter. It is put in the employee's personnel file.

·        (optional) Decision Making Leave. If the discussions haven't produced the desired results, the employee is asked to take the day off, with pay, to decide whether to comply.

·        Follow Through If the employee decides to stay, goals are set and an action plan is developed. The manager expresses confidence in the employee but levels with him or her. Failure to abide by the agreement will result in termination. A formal memo summarizing the agreement is put in the file.

Positive discipline is corrective, not punitive. The manager is no longer the bad guy. Employees are treated as adults-responsible for their own behavior.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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