ICS Magazine

Discipline in the Workplace

April 9, 2001
Keeping the peace between technicians involves planning and is centered around a good understanding of the job's expectations.

Employees are often compared to members of a team or parts of an efficient machine. The reason? Each employee, team member, or machine part has a specific role to play that contributes to the overall functioning of the unit. If one component fails to perform up to standards, then the end result can be failure. It's therefore necessary for each employee, team member, and/or part to perform in a reliable and dependable manner. When this doesn't happen, managers need a plan to get the team back on track and avoid additional break down. Together with job skills, this efficiency plan should address discipline in the workplace.

The three keys to maintaining discipline in a company are: understanding the business's goals and expectations, having an awareness of the consequences of negative behavior, and keeping the work environment on a "want to" basis. Using these keys, create a plan using consistent, systematic training for every member of your team.

In the dictionary, discipline is defined as: 1. "Training that is expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior." 2. "A systematic method to obtain obedience." The key words in these definitions are training and systematic. The key to producing specific, predictable patterns of behavior and positive employee attitudes is centered around a good understanding of the job expectations and it involves planning.

Psychologists tell us there are two primary motivators (reasons) for behavior. These are reaching toward a reward (positive reinforcement) and avoiding punishment (negative reinforcement). Both systems work, but studies shows positive reinforcement results in faster learning and more consistent, longer lasting behavior. However, positive reinforcement requires advance planning (proactive) as opposed to negative reinforcement (reactive), which is usually spur of the moment. In the real world, a combination of both types of motivation/discipline is common.

Start by establishing a very clear understanding of the desired behavior (specific job description) and how it fits into the overall goals of the company. People need to know how they fit into the big picture. Establish the rewards for successfully completing the behavior. Both personal, immediate rewards, such as wages, and larger company rewards, such as reaching monthly goals, should be addressed. When people see how the performance of others, as well as the overall success for the company, depends upon them doing their job, they are generally less likely to take absence or a poor attitude lightly.

Negative or contrary behavior should not be tolerated. It should be established from the very beginning of their employment that it is unacceptable and the consequences clearly defined. Then when it occurs, the consequences need to be strictly and swiftly enforced. Often a system like "three strikes and you're out" is used. The first offense might result in a reprimand, the second might lead to a suspension and the third may result in termination. This type of system allows for the occasional mistake in judgment without losing a valuable team member.

Remember, discipline is learned, not inherited. Set up a program to teach and enforce the behaviors you want. Never reward those behaviors you don't want and always reward success. A strong team or an efficient machine is a beautiful thing, but every part needs to be performing its role. Create a "want to" environment instead of a "have to" environment. I recently heard an accomplished business manager refer to the desired customer service attitude as having "a servant's heart" meaning that to be efficient in the service business one needs to want to be of service.