Are You Disciplining Employees Effectively?
People are human. Mistakes happen. No matter how skilled, savvy, or well-intentioned, your team is bound to slip-up at one point or another.
It’s normal to feel uncomfortable with discipline situations because dentists are not trained to deal with the sensitive interpersonal dynamics involved in changing unacceptable employee behavior. There is a temptation to avoid conflict. But face it – a poor employee isn't going to get better unless she/he is made aware that there is a need to improve. By concentrating on the desired results rather than the employee's perceived shortcomings, you can improve the chances of a positive outcome.
The challenge is to use mistakes to impart knowledge, to expand skills, and to develop heightened awareness. Unfortunately for many, the word discipline is frequently misunderstood as it conjures up negative images and knee-jerk reactions....memories of being grounded and privileges denied.
The root of discipline is disciple…a student. To discipline means to teach. Discipline is to correct more than to punish behavior. If you want employees to be productive, you have to create a disciplined, teaching environment. Discipline is really a part of overall performance management.
Research indicates that perceived fairness is the key to effective employee discipline. It results in positive attitudes and behavior when it is perceived as being applied in a fair manner. Raise your employees’ responsibility, promote accountability, and enhance learning.
1. Review your personnel manual. Every dental practice needs sound, straight-forward policies as well as clear and concise job descriptions. Failure to do so leaves your employment-related practices vulnerable to challenges, grievances and possibly lawsuits, particularly if you are inconsistent in how you apply your policies and your pay structure/system. Of course, be sure to communicate rules regularly to employees.
2. Prepare. Only in a true emergency should you act without thorough planning. Do your homework. Research the situation until you have verified what the facts are and know that action is necessary. Anticipate how the employee will respond. Practice what you are going to say and in what sequence. Know your own communication style, how you are perceived, and how you will react in the event of a challenge or emotional outburst. The emphasis is on coaching the employee to do better. Knowing what you intend to cover in a face-to-face meeting, and sticking to the agenda, is much easier if you have planned in advance.
3. Have a conversation with your employee. Ensure confidentiality. Discipline should never happen in front of others. Remember the purpose is to teach not embarrass. Identify the problem as you understand it. Be brief but specific. Then offer the employee an opportunity to present their side of an incident. There may be a factor you didn't know about that will help the two of you to solve a problem jointly. Refusing to listen just builds resentment and makes improvement difficult. Be fair to the employee. Consider his or her side of the story and any evidence submitted. Never criticize the individual, but rather focus on the actual behavior.
4. Stay focused on work related issues. You should act as promptly as possible while the incident is fresh, but you need to make sure you’ve got the facts. Parties may also need a little time to cool down. The conversation must be business-based to be appropriate. Also, avoid addressing more than one or two concerns at a time. If necessary, schedule another meeting.
5. Document. There often is a misunderstanding about what and when to document. All disciplinary infractions should be recorded in some form. For minor, first-time offenses, write a note as a reminder that it is not formal. The employee need not know about this, and it does not require formal entry into a personnel file. If the problem reoccurs or if it is a serious offense, be sure to formalize the process by having the employee sign the document.
6. Follow-up. Know how you will monitor the situation. Discipline normally follows a series of defined, documented steps of increasing severity. The usual sequence is verbal warning, written warning(s), suspension or layoff without pay, and discharge. Only the most serious offenses require immediate discharge, but after careful investigation and documentation. Always confront an employee whenever there seems to be a discipline problem. You can learn to give feedback well. You must practice to improve your skill level – and be willing to be uncomfortable while you are learning. The goal is to help your employees achieve the overriding mission – to be successful in their careers and in your office!
Questions or problems with your employees? Contact Dr. Haller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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