Several years ago I abolished discipline, and the need for it, in our firm. I'd never particularly liked disciplining people, and while I admit oral counseling can produce good results, sometimes oral or written counseling simply starts the long, slow process of waiting for someone to quit or be fired.
I replaced discipline with something better -- short, fast, easy, regular job reviews.
Every six weeks I sit down with each employee and we discuss six areas: the employee's role, responsibilities, accomplishments, goals, the areas in which the employee needs to improve, and the areas in which the company can better provide support.
Because the employee is ultimately the person who most impacts his or her performance, I start the process by asking questions. These include: "How do you see your role in this company?"; "What are the areas in which you think you most need to improve?"; "Which part of your job and which accomplishments do you feel positive about?"; "What are your goals for the next six weeks?" and "How can I or the company best assist you to be even more productive and effective?"
After the employee answers these questions, I give my answers. If we don't agree, we discuss it until we do.
Preparation time for a short job review normally takes five to ten minutes. During the six weeks between each review I keep a file for job review notes. When an employee does something very well or performs in a way that needs improvement, I give recognition or discuss the situation with the employee within 24 hours. Then, I jot a short note and drop it in the employee's folder. At the end of six weeks, I open the file and transfer the notes to the job review form. This way, nothing in the review surprises the employee.
While the review contains no new information, it provides the employee and me three benefits. First, the employee gains the opportunity to regularly assess his or her own performance. Second, the employee and I have a regular opportunity to focus on the employee's job, accomplishments, and areas of improvement and professional development. And, third, even though my employees receive frequent feedback, the full job review summarizes the main themes and serves as a springboard to continued job growth.
As a bonus, I gain an incredible tool that replaces discipline. When one of my star employees seemed to temporarily undergo brain death because of a personal crisis, I pulled out her most recent review and said, "X, last time we had a discussion about what you liked and wanted in this job, you said you wanted 'increased responsibility, the chance to take on varied and challenging tasks, and the opportunity to take on one or more major projects'. I want that too. Recently I've been unable to delegate projects to you that take judgment or concentration. So, what can we do?"
Because I was able to repeat back her recent words, I didn't have to discipline her. Instead, I simply called her attention to what she had told me she wanted. Her response? "Enough said, Lynne, you're right. I've been out of it. I'll fix things. Starting now." In short, we fixed the situation before either of us had the time to lock into frustration or poor habits.
How much time does a short review take? In addition to my five to ten minutes of preparation, most reviews average 15 to 30 minutes. How can we accomplish so much in such a short time? Because we do the reviews regularly, there's not a lot of problematic build up. Also, I've discovered most employees accurately assess themselves when they work in a system in which they're allowed to self-supervise.
Would you like the opportunity to identify and quickly resolve problems with every one of your employees? Would you rather supervise employees who supervise themselves? Would you like to focus as much time on employee accomplishments and goals as you do on employee problems? Try short, informal and regular job reviews -- and you'll kiss discipline good-bye.