The Routes to Discipline
Discipline is essential in all organisations where rules, standards and measures of performance have to be followed. However, applying discipline doesn't automatically produce effective discipline, ie discipline that works. To do that, you'll need to consider and manage the following 7 routes to discipline. 1. Defining "Discipline" The word "discipline" has the same origins as the word "disciple". Just as a disciple follows the teachings of a master, so discipline means following the rules, laws, and procedures in an organisation or social unit. In the dictionary, "discipline" has a number of different meanings. It can mean instruction and learning. It can also mean improvement. And it can mean correction and punishment. 2. The Aims of Workplace Discipline Like the aims of social laws, there can be a number of different aims in workplace discipline. These include: a. conformance to rules b. correcting behaviour that doesn't conform to the rules c. re-asserting authority d. setting an example e. punishing wrong-doing. These aims will vary according to the organisation, the needs of the business, and the particular circumstances of someone's behaviour. 3. For and Against There are arguments in favour and against punitive discipline at work. Some argue that discipline is a poor substitute for good people management, sends the wrong signals, and doesn't always work. Others argue that, without discipline, the workplace would be chaotic with everyone doing exactly what they wanted. Psychologist Chris Argyris suggests that discipline encourages conformity and obedience when, today, in many organisations what people want, and the organisation needs, is change and rule-breaking. 4. The Contract of Employment The contract of employment between employee and employer is at the heart of workplace discipline. The contract is the set of explicit and implicit expectations that employees have of the employer and the employer has of the employee. When an employee fails to live up to the expectations in the contract, eg through failing to attend work, failing to behave appropriately, or failing to reach a level of performance, then the employer has the right and duty to warn the employee that he or she is in breach of the contract and therefore breaking the trust on which the contract is built. 5. Moral, Practical, and Legal Questions There are 3 sets of questions that you need to think about when manouevring your way through your organisation's approach to discipline: a. the moral question. As an employer, you do not have the right to pass judgment on an employee's moral behaviour, particularly if it occured outside work and doesn't affect work. b. the practical question. As an employer, you always need to weigh up whether the problem of ill-discipline is best handled by applying your disciplinary procedure, or whether it can be solved by some other means. Some of the issues you will need to think about are the costs of discipline, the likelihood of the discipline working, and whether you are being fair. c. the legal question. As an employer, you are almost certainly going to be affected by the employment laws in your part of the world. You may need to consider whether your disciplinary action is fair, just, or illegal. 6. Your Style Your approach to discipline will largely be determined by your assumptions about people. There are broadly 3 approaches: a. if you believe that people need to be watched, supervised, and controlled, what is generally known as a Theory X approach, you will favour a tight authoritarian model of discipline. b. if you believe that people can be reasoned with and all problems sorted out through dialogue, you will favour a consultative model of discipline. c. if you believe that people are able to take responsibility for themselves if well-led and well-managed, what is generally known as a Theory Y approach, you will favour a loose self-discipline model. In many cases, the best model will be a mix of some employee leeway within a framework of clear rules and guidelines. 7. A Model of Discipline While every organisation will have its own rules on discipline, most organisations use a progressive approach to discipline. This means addressing breaches of discipline at an early stage through warnings and then, if there is no improvement, using more punitive measures, culminating in dismissal. Getting your disciplinary procedures right can be one of the most difficult functions of management. The route to effective discipline will often mean a tortuous journey around the difficulties and traps that lie in your way.