Progressive discipline: The beatings will continue until morale improves

by on February 8, 2010 · 10 Comments POSTED IN: HR Cafe
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Is discipline perceived as punishment in your organization? Are managers forced to wield your progressive discipline policy like a hammer?

There’s another way. A few years ago author Dick Grote (who wrote the book “Forced Ranking: Making Performance Management Work”) penned an article called “Discipline Without Punishment.” The most interesting idea in it was what he calls a “paid disciplinary suspension.”

This method was used back in the 1970s at a Frito Lay factory where punitive measures and multiple firings created the mother of all disgruntled workforces. It got so bad that numerous workers wrote obscene messages on individual potato chips, causing a PR nightmare for the company.

A better way

Instead of decreeing that “the beatings will continue until morale improves,” the company opted for a discipline-without-punishment approach.

Key to the new system was the paid disciplinary suspension, which worked like this: If an employee’s behavior was job threatening, they’d tell him,

“Tomorrow you’ll be suspended from work, but you’ll be paid. We’re going to pay you while you’re deciding what YOU want to do. Either you solve the immediate problem and make a total commitment to fully acceptable performance in every area of your job, or you quit and find more satisfying work elsewhere. But if you decide to stay, another disciplinary problem will result in your termination.”

I think this is clever because:

  1. It’s not punitive (heck, the company’s giving a paid day off!)
  2. Under the old system, the company was making all the decisions (“I’m writing you up,” “I’m suspending you,” “I’m firing you”), but the new system puts the decision squarely in the employee’s hands, which is where it should be.

By the way, the non-punitive disciplinary approach worked. Morale improved. The product sabotage stopped completely. In the first year firings went from 59 to 19. The following year there were just two.

photo credit: Ha-Wee

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10 Comments on This Post

  1. mbug
    February 8, 2010 - 3:00 pm

    Love the book….dont' like the paid-time-off approach. People are adults and can be made to “get it” without giving them a vacation day.

  2. mbug
    February 8, 2010 - 3:00 pm

    Love the book….dont' like the paid-time-off approach. People are adults and can be made to “get it” without giving them a vacation day.

  3. kenjai
    February 19, 2010 - 4:40 pm

    Really? Really? I could write a thousand best selling trashy novels from the experiences of my employees. If I had a nickle for every time a supervisor or manager told me they were babysitting, I’d be retired already.

    In the very hostile environment Frito Lay was facing, this approach allowed managment to step out of the punative role and assume the leadership role. The idea was to change the behavior, not to punish. In our unstable economy, finding a way to get someone’s attention without creating more hostility is good managment. And if your organization is facing any kind of union activity, this may be your best option.

  4. kenjai
    February 19, 2010 - 11:40 am

    Really? Really? I could write a thousand best selling trashy novels from the experiences of my employees. If I had a nickle for every time a supervisor or manager told me they were babysitting, I'd be retired already.

    In the very hostile environment Frito Lay was facing, this approach allowed managment to step out of the punative role and assume the leadership role. The idea was to change the behavior, not to punish. In our unstable economy, finding a way to get someone's attention without creating more hostility is good managment. And if your organization is facing any kind of union activity, this may be your best option.

  5. kenjai
    February 19, 2010 - 11:40 am

    Really? Really? I could write a thousand best selling trashy novels from the experiences of my employees. If I had a nickle for every time a supervisor or manager told me they were babysitting, I'd be retired already.

    In the very hostile environment Frito Lay was facing, this approach allowed managment to step out of the punative role and assume the leadership role. The idea was to change the behavior, not to punish. In our unstable economy, finding a way to get someone's attention without creating more hostility is good managment. And if your organization is facing any kind of union activity, this may be your best option.

  6. Kent Hall
    February 19, 2010 - 7:34 pm

    We adotped this at my workplace many years ago. It involved retraining our supervisors to think of themselves as performance coaches first and not just “the boss.” Problems are addressed with a four step approach we call F.O.S.A. , which stands for Facts, Objective, Solutions and Action. First you have to research what happened before the incident that lead to this problem or collect the facts. Second, you jointly have to come to an agreement on what are the objectives (for the organization) you are trying to reach. Third, you are supposed to come up with solutions that might work. And the employee and supervisor work together to come up with the solutions that will prevent this from happening in the future. Fourth, you decide on what action is going to take place in response to what went wrong. Coaching Memo are written and signed by all parties but they are not passed on to anyone else until the problem escalates. This system works if your people buy into it.

  7. Kent Hall
    February 19, 2010 - 7:34 pm

    We adotped this at my workplace many years ago. It involved retraining our supervisors to think of themselves as performance coaches first and not just “the boss.” Problems are addressed with a four step approach we call F.O.S.A. , which stands for Facts, Objective, Solutions and Action. First you have to research what happened before the incident that lead to this problem or collect the facts. Second, you jointly have to come to an agreement on what are the objectives (for the organization) you are trying to reach. Third, you are supposed to come up with solutions that might work. And the employee and supervisor work together to come up with the solutions that will prevent this from happening in the future. Fourth, you decide on what action is going to take place in response to what went wrong. Coaching Memo are written and signed by all parties but they are not passed on to anyone else until the problem escalates. This system works if your people buy into it.

    • kenjai
      February 19, 2010 - 4:40 pm

      Really? Really? I could write a thousand best selling trashy novels from the experiences of my employees. If I had a nickle for every time a supervisor or manager told me they were babysitting, I’d be retired already.

      In the very hostile environment Frito Lay was facing, this approach allowed managment to step out of the punative role and assume the leadership role. The idea was to change the behavior, not to punish. In our unstable economy, finding a way to get someone’s attention without creating more hostility is good managment. And if your organization is facing any kind of union activity, this may be your best option.

  8. Kent Hall
    February 19, 2010 - 2:34 pm

    We adotped this at my workplace many years ago. It involved retraining our supervisors to think of themselves as performance coaches first and not just “the boss.” Problems are addressed with a four step approach we call F.O.S.A. , which stands for Facts, Objective, Solutions and Action. First you have to research what happened before the incident that lead to this problem or collect the facts. Second, you jointly have to come to an agreement on what are the objectives (for the organization) you are trying to reach. Third, you are supposed to come up with solutions that might work. And the employee and supervisor work together to come up with the solutions that will prevent this from happening in the future. Fourth, you decide on what action is going to take place in response to what went wrong. Coaching Memo are written and signed by all parties but they are not passed on to anyone else until the problem escalates. This system works if your people buy into it.

  9. Kent Hall
    February 19, 2010 - 2:34 pm

    We adotped this at my workplace many years ago. It involved retraining our supervisors to think of themselves as performance coaches first and not just “the boss.” Problems are addressed with a four step approach we call F.O.S.A. , which stands for Facts, Objective, Solutions and Action. First you have to research what happened before the incident that lead to this problem or collect the facts. Second, you jointly have to come to an agreement on what are the objectives (for the organization) you are trying to reach. Third, you are supposed to come up with solutions that might work. And the employee and supervisor work together to come up with the solutions that will prevent this from happening in the future. Fourth, you decide on what action is going to take place in response to what went wrong. Coaching Memo are written and signed by all parties but they are not passed on to anyone else until the problem escalates. This system works if your people buy into it.

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