Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out. -- Stephen Covey
One of the hardest things to do is discipline an employee. Most people do not want to hurt another person, and sometimes, they are afraid of possible repercussions. However, having staff means one day having to discipline an employee -- or devise corrective action to change undesired behavior, as I prefer to call it.
Recently, I was talking to several managers who were complaining that their staff never achieved the goals they were given. When I asked what they did about this, all I got was a shoulder shrug.
These managers had laid down an expectation but did nothing when nothing happened. Their failure to
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act told their employees it was OK to not follow directions and undermined their credibility as leaders.
Now, before I start talking about corrective actions, let me first say something about goals and expectations. As a manager, you must ensure anything you ask staff to do is reasonable. If your mandates are not reasonable, you will not get the results you want and you risk tearing down morale. That is not to say that you cannot set stretch goals, but they should not be impossible.
One of the best things you can do to ensure you have the necessary buy-in from your staff is to ask everyone on an individual basis if they can achieve the goal. If they say they cannot, you need to think very carefully about why they are saying that. If their reason is valid, you might need to tweak the goal to make it more manageable. However, if their reason is irrational, you just need to insist they accomplish the goal.
Now, when you are sure what you have asked of your staff is reasonable, it is your responsibility to discipline those who are not behaving accordingly.
Most discipline issues should be handled in steps. The first step is having a private meeting with the staff member in your office.
Have a very frank conversation about why they did not accomplish the goal(s) and how you can work together to be successful in the future. It is important you stress you are willing to work with the staff member to help them solve the problem.
If the problem goes away after this step, great. If it continues, however, you have to increase the pressure on the employee to change the behavior. This time you might call them into your office and actually develop a plan for changing the behavior and monitoring their progress.
If there is still no change, you may take it one step further by having the issue reflected on their performance review so that it affects their salary increase.
A final step is letting the employee go, but this is a last resort.
Before you ramp up the discipline too much, remember to consult with your HR department.
You want to do this to ensure you are on solid legal grounds.
Jerry Osteryoung, a business consultant, is a Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.