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More Guidance on Replacing Conventional Employee Discipline


Two businessmen sitting at a conference table.


Former employment attorney and author Jathan Janove writes for SHRM Online on how to inject greater humanity into HR compliance. Jathan welcomes your questions and suggestions for future columns. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.  

I recently made the case in this column to end conventional employee disciplinary policy and practice. In response, I received many comments and questions from Society for Human Resource Management members, including the following:

  • From Frederick, Md.: "What do you do when an employee does not respond or acknowledge receipt of the Same Day Summary [SDS]?"
  • From Scranton, Pa.: "Please share more about the role of HR in administering a Three Tools system and how HR would work with management."
  • From Fort Wayne, Ind.: "How would the Three Tools approach work in a unionized setting?"
  • From Salt Lake City: "Is this approach ill-timed during the Great Resignation?" The individual noted that "Bill" would probably read the first SDS and say, "The heck with this!" He'd quit and get a job someplace else, "while I, as HR director, continue to struggle to find enough employees to keep our doors open."
  • And from Portland, Ore.: "The example applies the Three Tools approach to an hourly worker on a specific shift. What about higher-level, discretionary positions?"

In this column, I will address each of these questions in the same order.

Question 1: 'I Never Saw This Before!'

HR professionals often raise the risk that since the SDS does not require a signature, employees will simply say they never got it.

Based on my experience that goes back many years, including when I practiced employment law, I can confidently say you can reduce this risk to the de minimis level. The key is consistent application, storage, retrieval and use of the SDS.

Question 2: HR and Management

For the Three Tools approach to work, a solid HR and management partnership is essential. Managers and HR professionals will need to be trained and coached on this method. IT support will be needed to ensure proper capture, storage and retrieval of each SDS. As I discussed, the SDS is simple, but that doesn't mean it's easy at first. Thus, I recommend that HR business partners be trained on how to teach and coach managers on the process.

One of the things I like best about the Three Tools approach is how it promotes something so often missing: true HR/management collaboration.

Question 3: The Three Tools Approach and Unions

The simple answer to this question is trust. In my former career as a management attorney, I found that if I could establish trust with my union counterparts, a lot of good could be done.

When dealing with problematic employees in a union, chances are their misbehavior is being felt by fellow union members. Therefore, if problematic employees are fairly managed up or out, everyone wins. The key is to build sufficient trust and administer the Three Tools approach free from arbitrariness, capriciousness or as a retaliatory device.

Question 4: The Great Resignation

Should you suspend the Three Tools approach until the Great Resignation passes? I don't think so, even though I've heard from many HR professionals who are struggling desperately to staff the positions necessary for their companies to operate.

Over the years, I've observed that many employers overlook the retention and productivity cost when they choose to ignore problematic employee behavior. In my experience, tolerated employee misbehavior can be contagious. Also, it can induce good employees to go elsewhere.

I'll add one more point for employers worried about retention. From recruiting to onboarding to learning and development, what are you doing to make your organization attractive to employees with choices? As an example, here's a column I wrote about how one company turned onboarding into an important recruitment and retention step.

Question 5: The Three Tools Approach and Upper-Level Positions

In my experience, the Three Tools approach applies whether the employee works at the lowest hourly rate or is the president and CEO. Here's an example of a CEO using this approach with a talented CFO who was perceived by others as abrasive and intimidating. Following a real-time discussion that included the No-FEAR Confrontation and the Crossroads Conversation, the CEO sent the CFO the following SDS:

 

To: CFO

From: CEO

Today's Date

Re: Issue of treatment of others

Here's a summary of key takeaways from our discussion this morning. Please let me know if I missed or misstated anything.

  • I pointed out that I had received complaints from some of your reports and fellow members of the executive team. They shared that in many of their interactions with you, they find you to be abrasive and intimidating.
  • I expressed that as CEO, I'm committed to ensuring that everyone here is treated with respect at all times, and no matter how talented or senior they are, if they can't support this commitment, they need to move on to another organization.
  • You said you'd give the matter some thought and get back to me by this Wednesday.

Best,

CEO

 

In one case, the CFO submitted his resignation and left quietly. In another case, the CFO expressed a willingness to learn new ways of interacting with others. The company got her a coach, and she became a long-term, highly valued and highly appreciated member of its leadership team.

If you're not yet persuaded that it's time to end conventional employee disciplinary policy, and that the Three Tools approach is vastly superior, that's OK. Just keep your questions, comments and challenges coming.

Jathan Janove is a former state bar "Employment Law Attorney of the Year," author of Hard-Won Wisdom: True Stories from the Management Trenches (HarperCollins 2017), Master Coach & Practice Leader with Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered CoachingÒ, and a faculty member with the University of California San Diego Masters Series.

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