- Lack of training
- More important priorities
- Varying appraisal standards
What grade would you give your organization? And why?
Progressive discipline is an essential tool for management, particularly when it’s combined with good documentation and communication practices. Progressive discipline systems are designed to help employers apply fair, consistent disciplinary decisions. Proper documentation and communication strengthen the legal defensibility of those decisions and protect the company from false accusations.
A structured system understood by both managers and employees takes some of the guesswork out of the relationship. Employees aren’t wondering what penalties could come next, and managers can be confident in their disciplinary decisions.
The ultimate goal of correcting undesirable conduct requires communication and collaboration, particularly in the early steps of the process. Because each step is progressively more serious, the system starts with mild “penalties” such as coaching or supplemental training. The employer and the employee can focus on what will work best for the employee to improve his conduct and avoid more serious discipline down the road. Employees are often invited to participate in the problem-solving process and can work with the employer to develop a performance improvement plan (PIP). Involving the employee in the process will increase her engagement and likelihood of success.
Typical steps, essential elements
Generally, progressive discipline systems follow five steps: (1) coaching or reviewing expectations; (2) oral counseling; (3) written warning; (4) suspen¬sion; and (5) termination. Throughout all steps, there are certain elements managers must maintain. First, the employee must be informed explicitly of the unacceptable behavior and understand the specific actions that constitute the unacceptable behavior. Likewise, the employee must be made aware of what desirable behavior looks like. Perhaps most important, the employee must be informed of the manager’s expectations moving forward and the consequences of a failure to comply.
While most progressive discipline systems loosely follow the structure above, the specifics can vary. In a unionized environment, the system is usually sub¬ject to negotiation. A collective bargaining agreement (CBA) often contains detailed provisions addressing progressive discipline. Therefore, if you have union¬ized employees, your managers need to be acutely aware of the disciplinary provisions in the CBA. A violation of a contract provision will be taken very seriously by the union and could escalate to arbitration or litigation.
Proper documentation is key
The safety net provided by a progressive discipline system is inextricably dependent on proper documentation by management. With proper documentation, the system can successfully establish the employer’s effort to correct misconduct before considering more damaging disciplinary action. Then, if an employee is ultimately discharged, management can be confident in its decision. (For additional advice on the right time to terminate an employee, see Jerry Glass’ “Words on Wise Management” column “Are you really documenting performance” on pg. 5 of our March 2014 issue.)
Effective documentation before, during, and after the process serves as a solid record when facts are called into question, demonstrating that the company acted in accordance with its policies and procedures, and encouraging cooperative behavior.
All documentation not created equal
Illegible shorthand notes cannot be considered proper documentation. For your documentation to be effective, you should use your own words, write chronologically, be specific when possible, date and time stamp all documentation, provide the informa¬tion to all parties involved, and always file a copy.
Documentation should not be tedious or overwhelming. If you make it a habit to maintain simple records and follow the above guidelines, it will become second nature. Just ask around—most managers who properly document the disciplinary process have thanked themselves for it later.
Author: Cassandra Lewis a labor analyst for F&H Solutions Group.
Originally published in Words on Wise
Clients often ask for advice on the right time to discharge employees who are unable or unwilling to improve their performance over time, even after being given a performance improvement plan. Unfortunately, there’s no set answer because every circumstance is just a little bit different.
Request all written documentation
When reviewing a case, I always keep in mind how a third party might look at the documentation. Specifically, what am I looking for?
• Good two-way communication between the manager and the employee. What was the employee told in terms of expectations? How did the employee respond to the manager?
• How complete is the documentation? Is it a compilation of the supervisor’s notes, or is it more structured, with details in chronological order? Is it easy to read and follow?
• Are there any photos that can supplement the narrative? For example, if an employee hasn’t fixed a machine properly or didn’t complete an assignment, can that be demonstrated through pictures?
• Are there any signed documents in which the employee has acknowledged either a conversation or a specific plan for improvement?
Insist on speaking with the manager
It isn’t enough just to rely on written documentation. It’s critical to talk with the manager to get the details behind the written documentation. What’s missing from the written documentation that could come back to haunt the company during a vigorous cross-examination from opposing counsel in court or during arbitration? I may have multiple conversations with a manager until I can decide whether the company has a strong enough case to withstand the scrutiny of a judge or an arbitrator.
In addition, sometimes the manager has to rely on a direct supervisor for information. In that case, I now have to be concerned not just about a manager’s performance documentation but also about a supervisor’s notes.
If the company is in a unionized environment, the union has a right to review the documentation in your possession. A union’s request for information could be fairly extensive and include e-mails, phone records, notes, and other related documentation.
If the company is involved in litigation, the employee’s attorney will make a very broad information request.
Have a good idea of what the employee will say
My approach is often to play devil’s advocate with the manager so I can “pressure test” just how strong a case is and determine whether we’ve missed anything in the performance review.
If the steps above are to my satisfaction, then I ask one last set of questions before I advise a client to discharge an employee. Will the termination of this employee at a particular point in time create issues in the workplace? Is the employee being discharged right before profit-sharing checks are distributed? Is the company in negotiations with the union representing the employee? Is there other news that could negatively affect the employee’s view of the company? Was the employee popular, or someone who was well respected?
My best advice for documenting an employee’s performance, whether it’s in a memo, e-mail, or letter, is to draft the document, walk away for a little while, and then come back and review it again. As you’re reviewing what you wrote, imagine you are the opposing counsel. Could an attorney question your motives, or is the statement written in such a way that it could be misconstrued or misinterpreted? If the answer is either “yes” or “possibly,” keep working until you feel comfortable with what you have written, any sketches you drew or photographs you took as part of an investigation, or any attachments you may have included in your documentation.
Author: Jerry Glass F&H Solutions Group
Originally published in Words On Wise
Does your organization need forced ranking? An overlooked source of guidance sits within your quality improvement framework.
In November, Microsoft ceased its long-held performance management practice of force ranking employees, just as Yahoo introduced the same practice. Does your organization need forced ranking? An overlooked source of guidance sits within your quality improvement framework.
The Microsoft announcement emphasized the company’s goal to encourage teamwork and collaboration. Lisa Brummel, Microsoft’s executive vice president of human resources, stated, “No more curve. We will continue to invest in a generous rewards budget, but there will no longer be a predetermined targeted distribution. Managers and leaders will have flexibility to allocate rewards in the manner that best reflects the performance of their teams and individuals, as long as they stay within their compensation budget.”
Yet forced ranking can clarify performance differences and allow (or force) managers to improve or remove low performers. One Forbes report suggested that Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, “inherited a workforce that was bigger than it needed to be and riddled with paycheck-cashing clock-punchers. Precisely because it’s so big, figuring out who the slackers are isn’t easy.” This description may overstate reality, but it illustrates the point that forced ranking has value when restructuring benefits from better revealing high- and low-performers.
David Calhoun, the former CEO of Nielsen Holdings who had a 27-year career at GE, has defended the forced ranking system, saying, “At GE there was only one objective … to force an honest discussion between your manager and you. And there’s nothing that quite forces that more than employees knowing … how that manager ranks them, and then asking that manager, ‘Tell me where I rank and tell me why.’”
Let’s retool this debate using quality management principles: Performance management, including forced ranking, should be applied when value exceeds cost, and that depends on the consequences of the defects discovered and corrected. The defects are unaddressed poor performance (lingering problems) or unrewarded high performance. This helps explain the Microsoft/Yahoo distinction.
By scrapping forced ranking, Microsoft will likely see some high performance not rewarded as handsomely and some poor performance lingering longer. That’s a good trade-off if the lost value is less than the increased collaboration created without forced rankings. Microsoft used forced ranking for a while, which may have removed most low performers, so the value of detecting low performance is less. Microsoft may also now be better at rewarding high performance without rankings.
By adding forced ranking, Yahoo will incur new costs (in managerial time and effort, public backlash, employee resistance and internal competition). That may be worth it if its workforce is too large, and poor performance is costly and hard to identify. The defects of unaddressed poor performance and unrewarded high performance are more consequential at Yahoo, so the quality improvement value of forced ranking is greater.
Microsoft and Yahoo have engineering-driven cultures, where leaders make quality improvement investment decisions like this every day. Hopefully, those leaders are as rigorous in decisions about forced ranking.
One thing suggests they could do better. The quality improvement discipline suggests that a single approach is rarely valuable for an entire process, let alone an entire organization. Targeting matters. Yet, Microsoft and Yahoo both seemed to make these decisions for their entire workforce. We know the consequences of high and low performance varies across jobs, so one-size-fits-all is almost certainly not optimal, just as with software or any other process.
How will your organization decide about forced ranking? Too often, it is with anecdotes or a one-size-fits-all solution that swings from one extreme to the other. A better answer may be as close as the quality improvement processes you already use.
Originally published in Talent Management