Over and over, I hear from entrepreneurs who fret over the prospect of needing to discipline an employee. I get it. You want harmony and happy, productive employees in your office, and you worry that you’re going to upset your staff when you call a performance problem to their attention. Stop for a minute, though. Discipline doesn’t have to equal drama. Here’s how you resolve problems, keep the office calm, and get right back on track without missing a beat.
- Start on day one. On new employees’ very first day, I always take the time to ask them how they like to handle issues that arise. I say, “How should I bring things to your attention?” but you can word it any way you like. Your goal should be to acknowledge up front that there will be issues that need to be addressed, and you’re setting the stage to handle it professionally, calmly, and in a way that doesn’t stress your employee out.
- Document your employee’s preference. Even small businesses need HR files, and I always make a note of an employee’s stated preference for conflict resolution. Some staff members like to have problems pointed out immediately; some prefer a closed-door meeting at the end of the workday. Resolving conflict isn’t one-size-fits-all, and you’ll have much better results if you take your employees’ preferences into account.
- Respect your employee’s preference. When a problem comes up, use the technique you’ve agreed on, and call attention to the fact that you’re respecting the staff member’s request. When you deliver your message in a way that feels comfortable, your employee will actually hear what you’re saying, rather than getting all wrapped up in the emotion of having to handle a dramatic conflict.
- Document the incident. Now you may not need to keep a letter on file just because you discover your IT guy passing around a Superbowl block pool during business hours, but you do need to be mindful of the possibility of frivolous employment lawsuits and unjustified unemployment claims. CYA. Cover Your Ass(ets,) and make sure that you document serious issues.
- Focus on the solution, and follow up if necessary. The whole point of bringing a problem to an employee’s attention is to solve the problem and move on, so your meeting needs to focus on resolution. Lay out the problem, briefly discuss the consequences of that problem, and make a plan – with your employee’s assistance – to fix the problem. Whether you agree to check back in to review sales performance or review a time card in the event of chronic lateness, make sure you follow up and ensure that your employee’s back on track.
You can’t avoid conflict, not if you strive for excellence. Demonstrating that you respect your staff enough to resolve problems without drama shows that you are committed to them and to the health of your business. Your staff, in turn, will be far more likely to strive to meet or exceed your performance standards.