Progressive Discipline: The Career Advocate Method for Salvaging Endangered Employees

Access this critical 8-minute training video now and help your managers save “endangered” employees who are worth keeping. You will learn:

  • The most important message that managers need to send to employees when disciplining them
  • The five steps in a “career-advocate” conversation with an endangered employee
  • Why the “offensive” progressive discipline approach prevents more lawsuits than the “defensive” approach.

Why are we giving you all of this for free? Because it’s the best way we know to introduce you to a new approach to employment law compliance training.

Here’s how it works: Request your video on progressive discipline now and we’ll email you a user name and password that gives you instant access to the Employment Law Compliance & Human Resources Rapid Learning Centers. There you’ll find your free video on progressive discipline and a collection of other training resources for managers, supervisors and HR professionals. You’ll have unlimited trial access to this powerful library of e-learning modules, reports and fast-read articles.

Too many managers overlook the positive role progressive discipline can play, and they miss out on opportunities to change behavior and salvage employees who are in danger, but worth trying to keep.

How two different managers view progressive discipline

Jim, a skilled machinist and 7 year team member, has been consistently late the last month. He also missed his performance goals.

Manager 1 is a command-and-control leader who sees progressive discipline as a hammer. The employee is screwing up and his behavior is unacceptable. When employees break the rules they need to be coerced with progressive discipline. His plan for Jim if the negative behavior continues: verbal warning, written warning, suspension and then termination. Manager 1 follows progressive discipline rules to the letter and uses the process to build a paper trail to support the inevitable firing. At the end of the day, Manager 1 feels he’s done his job and the company is protected. But they also lost a previously good worker.

Manager 2 recognizes that progressive discipline can also be a positive tool. He knows it’s hard to find skilled machinists, and Jim is a good one. Manager 2 wants to keep Jim. So he positions himself as Jim’s Career Advocate, discussing with him the reasons behind his sudden drop in performance. He discovers that being passed over for a promotion caused Jim’s performance drop. Manager 2 then counsels Jim and makes it clear that poor performance is no way to make up for a lost promotion and could cost him his career with the company. He also offers to enroll Jim in a leadership development course to demonstrate that company is serious about trying to help him achieve his goals.

“Delicate” progressive discipline
Instead of using progressive discipline as a hammer, Manager 2 used it more like a scalpel. He got under Jim’s skin by asking good questions, learned that Jim felt his career at the company was stymied, and came up with a simple, low-cost solution that renewed Jim’s hope.

Will Jim do the right thing?
Maybe not, but Manager 2 has increased the odds that he will. Why? The MOST important person at the company for Jim, his direct manager, presented himself as his internal advocate. He offered professional development to help Jim achieve his goal. Thanks to this alternative approach to progressive discipline, Jim walked out of that office with a whole new perspective on his job.

Access your free copy of Progressive Discipline: The “Career Advocate” Method for Salvaging Endangered Employees. This idea-packed video is part of a free trial to the Employment Law Compliance & Human Resources Rapid Learning Centers.

We’ve simplified a bit in our example, but you get the point. Leaders don’t just oversee people. They influence people. And one way they do that is by encouraging the heart – even when their people are screwing up!

“I am your career advocate” is the number one message managers need to convey to employees going through progressive discipline. Managers have absolutely nothing to lose by focusing relentlessly on the long-term positives and doing everything they can to help an employee whose job is at risk. If managers apply progressive discipline the right way and things don’t work out, it’s the employee‘s problem, not the manager’s.

What to say to “endangered” employees going through progressive discipline:

Here’s a five-step model for a “Career Advocate” conversation with a struggling employee:

  • State the problem behavior and lay out the consequences if the behavior doesn’t change.
  • Frame the conversation in terms of the person’s “career with the company.” Get them to focus on the big picture and their long-term goals.
  • Position yourself as a career advocate. You want to help the person change the short-term behavior that could jeopardize their career.
  • If possible, find the reason that the employee’s goals have become misaligned with the company’s.
  • Then, try to reestablish alignment.

Some employees are unhappy and misbehave because they have goals or core beliefs that can and will never be aligned with the company’s. It’s unlikely anyone can save them … no matter what form of progressive discipline you apply. It’s best for everyone that they move on to another job.

Using the “Career Advocate” approach to progressive discipline not only saves valued workers, it reduces the chances that employees will sue if they end up getting fired. People sue companies when they’re angry. The “create-a-paper-trail approach” often makes angry employees even angrier. The “career advocate” path defuses the rancor that makes employees want to sue. When a manager makes a sincere effort to save an employee’s job, the terminated employee is more likely to see that moving on makes sense for both sides.

Make sure your managers can become career advocates who can save valued but struggling employees and stop costly lawsuits. Access your copy of Progressive Discipline as part of a trial to the Employment Law Compliance & Human Resources Rapid Learning Centers.


Steve Meyer
Stephen Meyer
CEO, Rapid Learning Institute


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