Conducting The Disciplinary Interview by cut16095


									                         Conducting the Disciplinary Interview
   The success or failure of a disciplinary interview relates directly to your preparation and your
documentation. It should be a well-scripted session, based on what you have learned about the
problem and its likely causes. Think of the interview as a presentation of consequences. At its
end, the employee must understand (1) what will happen if the problem is not corrected; and (2)
why a written warning, suspension, or termination is justified.

Your script should cover the following points.
    1. Background. What exactly happened and why? It could be a performance- or behavior-
based problem.
    2. Previous discipline. Has the employee ever been disciplined before, for this or any other
offense? Is this an isolated incident or simply another incident in a string of previous problems?
    3. Proposed penalty. What do you propose as a penalty for the infraction? Does your penalty
meet the sufficient warning requirements of your discipline policy?
    4. Past precedent. What have you done to other employees for the same substandard
performance or rule violation? If the proposed punishment is more severe than what other
employees have suffered, do you have the documentation to explain why?
    5. Goal. How do you propose to motivate the employee to improve substandard performance
or to stop violating rules?

Two Types of Discipline

    Here are examples of the two most common types of discipline you are likely to encounter.
    Performance-based discipline. Employees whose performance slips below acceptable levels
fall into this category. When faced with a performance-based discipline problem, your first step
is to make the following distinction.

Is the performance:

  1. Unsatisfactory, but not correctable. A series of unsatisfactory appraisals and a long list of
unmet goals usually means that more severe discipline is the only answer.

   2. Unsatisfactory, but correctable. You should list the areas that need correction, then set
goals for accomplishing them.

   Behavior-based discipline. Employees who break rules or who have attitude problems fall into
this category. These are the questions you should ask in your interview planning stage when
faced with a behavior-based discipline problem.
   1. Was the employee aware of the rule?
   2. Is the rule that was violated a reasonable one?
   3. What is the employee's previous discipline record?
   4. Did the employee offer an excuse for the rule violation?
   5. Could the employee have been harmed by obeying the rule?

Disciplinary Interview Steps
     Select a penalty: The penalty you select will depend on your company's discipline policy. If
it's a first-time offense and you have a system of progressive discipline, you will probably start
with an oral or written warning.

If the employee has already received an oral warning, a written warning or suspension may be in
line. If the employee has already been suspended, you may have no choice but to resort to
termination. In most cases, your company policy will dictate the penalty before you even
schedule the interview. However, you should always allow for the possibility that you may learn
something during the interview that may affect your penalty decision.

    Schedule the meeting: The seriousness of the problem determines the urgency in setting the
interview. An employee who is accused of theft will certainly be given a higher priority than an
individual who has broken a minor rule. The best rule of thumb is not to schedule a disciplinary
interview until you have all the information you need to develop your interview guide.
Once you have the guide, you should schedule the interview as soon as possible.
    Establish the right atmosphere: Find a private place where interruptions and phone calls are
unlikely. Even the seating arrangements can be important. The image of a manager sitting
behind a desk may conjure up images of a judge presiding in court. Two comfortable chairs at a
conference table are a better alternative. Also, make sure you are in the right frame of mind.
If you don't feel right, either mentally or physically, you should postpone the meeting.
    Get to the point: Do not open the disciplinary interview with small talk. The employee knows
or should know that this is a serious interview with possible serious consequences. The best
way to open a disciplinary interview is to greet the employee, motion him/her to sit down, and
explain the reason for the meeting. Your opening statement should spell out the specific

   "I want you to meet the production goals that we set during your last performance appraisal."
   "I want you to be on the job and ready to work by
9 a.m. sharp every day."
    It is always a good idea to open the meeting with an
"I-statement" rather than a "you-statement."
    Consider the difference.
    Performance: "You didn't meet the production goals we set during your last performance
    Behavior: "You continue to be late and absent."

    "You-statements" put the employee on the defensive.
Instead of listening to your message, the employee may become preoccupied, thinking of ways
to come to his/her own defense.
A proper "I-statement" does not cast blame or judgment. Employees are more likely to hear and
consider the changed behavior you'd like them to adopt.
    Listen actively: The primary purpose of a discipline interview is to pinpoint problems and
come up with solutions. Sometimes the answer is found in additional training or changed
assignments; other times it is found in a suspension or termination. You must listen actively to
get the information you need to make a proper decision.

   Active listening requires two things. First, you must hear and try to understand the message.
Second, you must show the employee that you understand. You can show that you are listening
actively by repeating what was said, in your own words.
This allows the employee to gauge how well you have understood his/her message and forces
some mutual reflection, which may lead to a proposed solution.

Closed- vs. open-ended questions:

Since you will be doing most of the talking, it follows that you will be asking most of the
questions. How you phrase your questions will be a determining factor in the success or failure
of a disciplinary interview.
    The first and most common form is the closed-end question.
It typically starts with a phrase such as "Did you," "Will you," or "Can you," and elicits a simple
"yes" or "no" response.
    Manager: "Did you punch Ned Jenkins in the nose?"
    Employee: "Yes."
    Based on the employee's response, this sounds like an open and shut case. The company has a
strong policy against fighting and calls for termination for a first offense. The employee has
admitted his guilt so his chances in "company court" are slim. Maybe not. Consider the

   Manager: "Why did you punch Ned Jenkins in the nose?"
   Employee: "He was coming at me with a wrench so I had to defend myself."
   Open-ended questions, like the one used in the second example, elicit more expansive
responses and, therefore, should be used during a disciplinary interview when you're trying to
clarify the facts.
   Open-ended questions can take several forms. Some aren't really questions at all, but are
instructions. For instance,
"Tell me about it," "Give me the details," or "Please explain that" are good examples of the open-
ended approach. Phrases like these are particularly valuable in drawing out reticent employees.

   Another useful type of follow-up is to offer the employee a choice.
   Manager: "This is your second violation for not wearing a respirator in a restricted zone.
   Employee: "I don't know why."
   Manager: "Does your respirator fit you properly? I know they can be uncomfortable if they
don't fit."
   Employee: "That face mask kills me. It cuts into my nose and really hurts."
   Getting the employee to talk: You may do much of the talking in a disciplinary interview, but
not all of it. If you can't get an employee to speak, try the silent treatment.

Silence is one of the best tools a manager can use to get an employee to open up.

Here are three reasons why.

    1. Silence is intolerable for any length of time. If you sit in a room silently with an employee,
he/she will eventually talk, if only to break the silence.
    2. Silence is never offensive. It doesn't put the employee on the defensive, looking for ways
to rebut what you have said.
    3. Silence isn't judgmental. If an employee tells you he/she hates a person they must work
with, and you respond with silence, there's a good chance they will explain why.
    Staying on track: While you want to encourage the employee to "open up," you should never
lose sight of the purpose of a disciplinary interview. You are dealing with a performance or a
behavior problem (maybe both) which has to be resolved. The resolution will come in the form
of improvement goals, written warnings, suspensions, or termination. Your documentation has
pointed you to a penalty that may be reinforced or changed by what you learn during the
disciplinary interview. That's why it's absolutely essential that you keep the employee focused on
the subject of the meeting.
    Manager: "Maybe it would make sense if we staggered the breaks to reduce the crowding in
the cafeteria. But tell me how that's going to improve your quality problem."
    Manager: "How other managers enforce the rules isn't my business. How you follow the rules
is, since I'm your manager.
So please explain to me why you lit a cigarette in a no-smoking area."

Controlling Emotions
   No matter how well-planned or conducted, the disciplinary interview may turn emotional. An
employee who is being confronted for poor performance or a rule violation is bound to feel
anxiety. Usually, the deeper the guilt, the deeper the anxiety.

Here are typical emotional responses you should be prepared to encounter.
    1. The hostile employee. An employee feels he/she is being disciplined unfairly and reacts
with anger and resentment.
    Solution: You must remain calm, no matter how ridiculous the accusations. Let the employee
unwind, then get the interview back on track by asking open-ended questions.
    Manager: "What can I do to help the situation?"
    2. The defensive employee. The employee feels guilty, afraid, or uncertain, and has an excuse
for every possible situation, whether it's a performance or behavior problem.
    Solution: Make notes of the excuses offered, then ask open-ended questions.
    Manager: "I'm not sure I understand. What does the Accounting department have to do with
your missing the deadline on that order?"
    3. The insincere worker. The employee appears to accept your suggestions, but has no real
intention of changing. You have to give this employee a reason to change.
    Solution: Put the emphasis on what will happen if the employee does not change.
    Manager: "I'm pleased that you plan to change your attendance pattern. However, if you have
one more unauthorized absence this quarter, you will be terminated."
    4. The silent employee. The employee refuses to respond to your open-ended questions and
simply sits stone-faced throughout the entire disciplinary interview.
    Solution: You must take action to get the employee involved.
    Manager: "We have to set improvement goals before this interview is finished. Your input is
essential in setting realistic goals."
    5. The crying worker. This can be a sincere reaction or an attempt to gain sympathy. Since it
is almost impossible to distinguish between the two, you must treat all criers the same.
    Solution: Wait until the employee regains composure. Then proceed with the interview.
    Manager: "I'm sorry you're so upset. What steps can we take to solve this problem?"
    6. The Diverter. The employee tries to make others share the blame for his/her disciplinary
    Solution: Stick to the facts of the employee's behavior.
    Manager: "We're here to discuss your reasons for breaking an important rule. I don't
supervise Brian Sherman, so I am not concerned with how many times he has broken the rules."
    7. The persecution complex. The employee interprets any form of discipline as illegal
discrimination based on age, race, religion, or sex. He/she tries to get the manager off the
subject of the interview by raising arguments that have nothing to do with the original complaint.

   Solution: Don't become involved in an argument with this type of employee. Listen politely
and ask for any hard evidence to support their views. If none is produced, return to your original
   Manager: "I realize that you are the only woman in the Inspection department. Do you have
any evidence to back up your accusation that your performance problems are the result of sex
   8. The Intimidator. This type of employee tries to get the upper hand in a disciplinary
interview through a series of maneuvers, such as:
   a: raising his/her voice or using gestures and facial expressions to communicate anger;
   b: overreacting to everything the manager says and constantly interrupting; or
   c. twisting everything the manager says to suit his/her own
   Solution: The only way to deal with this kind of individual is with absolute control, no matter
how antagonistic the employee becomes. Once the employee realizes that his/her act isn't
working, the manager is back in control.
   Manager: "We're not leaving here today without a definite understanding of what we're going
to do to get your performance back on track. If we're not able to reach an agreement on
production goals, we'll simply have to skip to the next step in the disciplinary process."
   9. The Baiter. This employee tries to trap the manager by getting him/her to say something
that might be considered derogatory about age, race, religion, or sex. For example, an employee
takes an unauthorized absence for a religious ceremony, then tries to get a manager to say
something negative about his beliefs.
   Strategy: Stick to the facts and choose your words carefully. Concentrate on the disciplinary
infraction and don't get drawn into other issues.
   Employee: "Are you saying that it was more important for me to work overtime than to fulfill
my religious obligations?"
   Manager: "I said nothing of the kind. Our company policy clearly states that employees are
required to work overtime when they are given two hours' notice. Our safety rules require a
certified electrician on duty at all times. You were the only available employee with those
qualifications; we had no choice but to assign you."
   10. The Alibier. The employee has a reason why whatever happened was not his/her fault.
This employee never seems to run out of creative excuses to point the finger at someone or
something else.
   Strategy: Don't get drawn into the game. Stick to the basic issues.
   Manager: "I'm sorry that your mechanic did such a terrible job fixing your car. Regardless,
your attendance is terrible and has to improve. If it means getting a new car or changing
mechanics, do what you have to do to correct the problem."

You Can't Solve Every Discipline Problem
   The disciplinary interview can't solve every problem. Many employees have external
problems that cannot be corrected by even the most concerted on-the-job remedies.
   Problems in an employee's home or personal life will follow them to work, no matter how
hard everyone tries to prevent it.
You can't simply order an employee to set aside financial, health, marital, alcohol, or drug
concerns the instant they come to work.
   As a general rule, off-the-job problems require off-the-job solutions, usually with professional
help. A situation may develop where an employee admits that an off-the-job problem is affecting
his/her performance and asks for on-the-job assistance.
   Employee: "You say you want to set some production goals to help me improve on the job.
Unfortunately, my problems with alcohol are getting in the way of my performance."
   Manager: "The company has an employee assistance program that can help. I can set up an
appointment for you. Meanwhile, I want you to make every effort to get your production back up
to what it was at this time last year."

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