Progressive discipline: It’s not always about firing people

by on September 28, 2011 · 2 Comments POSTED IN: HR Cafe
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Managers are told to document, document, document, so if they have to fire somebody, they’ll have an airtight case. Progressive discipline provides an orderly, fair way to manage that documentation. After all, once employee Jack has had an oral warning, a written warning and a suspension for absenteeism, what judge will agree that he was really fired because he’s over 40?

It’s easy to see why so many managers think of progressive discipline as a way of easing people out the door. But it can be much more than that.

Done right, progressive discipline gives managers the tools to save an endangered employee’s job – assuming the employee is merely having temporary problems and is otherwise worth keeping.

This kind of progressive discipline is called the “career advocate” model – because the manager is working with the employee to save her career with the organization. With this approach, progressive discipline is no longer a hammer used against the employee.

The career advocate approach provides many benefits to managers and employers. Among them:

  • A chance to pull valuable people back from the brink
  • A diplomatic, consultative way of persuading those who can’t be salvaged that they actually will be better off somewhere else
  • Protection from lawsuits, if the person does eventually have to be terminated. Traditional progressive discipline makes people mad, and angry people are usually the ones who sue.

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2 Comments on This Post

  1. September 30, 2011 - 4:04 pm

    Stephen,

    I absolutely agree.  As a longtime HR professional, I’ve tried to coach managers in this direction for many years.  Early on in my career, I was influenced by “Discipline Without Punishment,” a book by Dick Groat that advocates very much the same approach.  Legally defensible, yes — but, as you note, much more importantly, it is uplifting and beneficial to both the employee and the organization.

    Michael Brisciana
    http://hrperspectives.wordpress.com

  2. September 30, 2011 - 4:04 pm

    Stephen,

    I absolutely agree.  As a longtime HR professional, I’ve tried to coach managers in this direction for many years.  Early on in my career, I was influenced by “Discipline Without Punishment,” a book by Dick Groat that advocates very much the same approach.  Legally defensible, yes — but, as you note, much more importantly, it is uplifting and beneficial to both the employee and the organization.

    Michael Brisciana
    http://hrperspectives.wordpress.com

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