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Promote Self-discipline

Create a Work Environment That Minimizes the Need for Disciplinary Action

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Self-discipline Begins With Clear Expectations From the Manager

Jacob Wackerhausen

Most supervisors dislike taking disciplinary action almost as much or more than they dislike doing traditional performance appraisals. Employees dislike disciplinary action even more than supervisors. If everyone dislikes disciplinary action so intensely, then why have disciplinary procedures found a home in most organizations today?

Why is a huge chunk of most employee handbooks devoted to outlining possible crimes and the resulting punishment errant employees can expect at work? I suspect that the answer to these questions is as involved and convoluted as that of any question you try to answer about people.

Why Is a Framework for Disciplinary Action Necessary?

I could discuss our litigious society to identify reasons why employers might want to treat employees consistently and fairly. I could also examine the way children are raised in many families.

A search on the Internet for the words "self-discipline" rewarded me with volumes about how parents can raise children in ways that promote self-discipline. Articles about how to effectively administer progressive discipline processes are readily available as well.

If I were a social or cultural historian, I might even trace the development of the "gimme" society in which many people act as if life owes them a living for very little work. You know what, though? Not much of this analysis would be helpful to you in managing the work of the people in your organization.

Solution? Work Environment of Self-discipline

I think the question is much more simple. You can't do anything about the past; as an employer, you can't affect the environments in which your employees were raised. You can't control the work environments in which they developed the skills, knowledge, and work ethic that they bring to your organization.

What can you control? You can create a work environment and supervisory interactions that encourage the people you employ to develop and practice self-discipline.

When people practice self-discipline, the need for supervisory intervention, or discipline imposed externally, is minimized. Supervisors get to spend their time on the fun stuff: encouraging, developing, and relationship-building. The following ideas will help you create an environment in which people practice self-discipline.

How to Create a Work Environment of Self-discipline

  • Make your expectations clear. People need to know exactly what is expected of them. If you want to see continuous improvement, initiative, and problem solving, let them know.

    Present the basic job description which is informative, yet not all encompassing, because you want to encourage some flexibility. In addition, spend time with new employees talking about what is important to you and your organization. It is time well-invested.

  • When you see initiative and self-discipline in action, fan the flame. Praise the individual, offer support and make sure the idea or process is implemented. Tell the person how much you appreciate their contribution and that you hope the contributions continue.

    Reward the person in ways that are important to the individual. Consider options such as more pay, time off, time and attention from the supervisor, a special assignment, a committee leadership role, or a training and personal development opportunity.
  • Treat the people you employ as if they are adults, which they are. Think about how adults want to be treated. They want minimal rules and guidelines, only the policies necessary to ensure an ordered, fair, consistent work environment. They want to provide input about any decision that involves themselves or their work.

    They want to be treated with respect. They want work to provide more than just a pay check. Work contributes to social needs; most people want to feel as if they are contributing to something greater than themselves.

    People prefer to smile when they think about going to work; the best work places promote individual and group success and raise the self-esteem of staff members.

  • Provide good training especially for new employees, or when implementing a new work process. Provide training in problem solving and in process improvement so people have the tools they need to contribute to continuous improvement.

    Treat the people you employ as if they are adults, which they are. Think about how adults want to be treated. They want minimal rules and guidelines, only the policies necessary to ensure an ordered, fair, consistent work environment. They want to provide input about any decision that involves themselves or their work. They want to be treated with respect.

    They want work to provide more than just a pay check. Work contributes to social needs; most people want to feel as if they are contributing to something greater than themselves. People prefer to smile when they think about going to work; the best work places promote individual and group success and raise the self-esteem of staff members.

  • Make all policies and procedures available to all employees. Solicit input from employees before implementing a new policy. Hold focus groups to gauge the reaction of staff to potential new guidelines. Discuss new policies in staff or team meetings. Allow time for questions and discussion. Then, enforce policies as consistently as possible.

  • Make your work place a safe place for people to try out thoughtful, new ideas. Make every effort to ensure people are not "punished" when a well-thought-out idea fails to work as intended. Provide a budget for staff to spend on new ways of working.

  • Spend time meeting with staff members regularly. Walk through your work area regularly.

  • Know what is going on with the people who report to you. Use a coaching approach to encourage the development of each person in your organization. When a staff member asks you what to do, or how to approach an assignment, ask her what she thinks is best.

  • Encourage open communication between you and the people who report to you. Communicate all of the information that is available about your business, your customers, your profitability, and your mission and vision. Share the organization's overall goals. The more people know, the more they can act independently to help you.

  • Since work is populated by human beings, occasionally staff will not practice self-discipline. In these instances, address unacceptable behavior immediately. Almost nothing lowers the morale of your contributing employees more quickly than seeing inappropriate work behavior go uncorrected.

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