The Lost Art of Effective Discipline by Mark Napier, CAPP

I was talking to a fellow administrator (Bill) the other day and he lamented about a problem employee. He said, “With Ed, it started as a warning, then a reprimand, and then a one-day suspension. He is still a discipline problem and has acted out again. I think we are going to recommend three days off this time.” Well, I thought, Bill is doing everything right according to Progressive Discipline 101. But if he was doing everything right, why was he having bad results? Bad results! Oh, contraire—soon he will have enough to fire Ed. Success! iStock_000026010123_Large

What is the purpose of discipline? It should be to change behavior. If that is the purpose, than how could we see what Bill is doing as anything other than a failure?

Am I being too harsh on Bill? Not at all. We as leaders are far too easy on ourselves. Ed has behavior problems we have failed to deal with. Ed cares nothing about organizational sanctions because he has no investment in the organization or personal relationship with its leadership. We failed Ed more than he failed us. After all, didn’t we hire Ed?

As leaders and managers, we need to spend time developing personal relationships with our people. Further, we need to seek opportunities to get them invested in the organization. Without these two elements, traditional disciplinary interventions are meaningless. If Ed felt he let Bill down, he would experience some angst regarding his behavior. If Ed and Bill had a relationship, Bill could have leveraged it to give an old-fashioned butt chewing that would have had more impact than 100 reprimands. We have become timid leaders who have lost the ability to actually engage in disciplinary dialogue. If Ed felt he was not holding up his end of an organization he was attached to, he would be remorseful about his conduct.

If you have a problem employee, engage him or her. Following progressive discipline to its inevitable abyss, while easy (and the HR department will love you), is not leadership. Leaders affect positive behavioral change to retain problem employees and rehabilitate them.

One thought on “The Lost Art of Effective Discipline by Mark Napier, CAPP

  1. Good article. One thought to add; discipline should “have a heart.” Effective discipline to the inevitable abyss may result in turnover that results in turnover of the manager. Keep the progressive approach, but discuss the intention and purpose for pending discipline. Most employees can detect authenticity and see whether you care about their well being and development. If most of the discipline cases come as a surprise to the employee, then the supervisor and manager are missing a step and not caring enough to fix the issues before they become discipline problems.

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