When Do I Coach? When Do I Discipline? When Do I Fire?

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I get many calls regarding the process and necessity of coaching or disciplining an employee. What are your thoughts?

  • Do we give too much coaching? Or not enough? Do we give positive coaching?
  • Do we accept or create too many excuses for why work isn’t being done the way it should?
  • Do we fire someone without really giving them the proper coaching or discipline?

A written policy. What do you have as a written policy? Do you follow it for every employee in the same fashion? What you have written you need to follow. The policy should broadly outline the progression from discipline to termination. You should list items or situations that would lead to termination—through a process or immediately. While it may seem that an unwritten policy gives employers more flexibility, your employees may not see the “fairness” of the process.

What is your coaching process? Coaching is the process of helping employees in various situations move toward improvement. Coaching can take place to make a good job even better and to help employees better themselves. As an employer, your job is to give the employee support so they understand what is needed and they implement a plan to meet your expectations and job standards. Use questions so the employee comes up with the solutions.

When is coaching needed? Coaching may be needed if an employee seems to be performing poorly or is discontented, and there doesn’t seem to be a reason for the change in behavior. Or coaching may be needed if the employee hasn’t received all the training to do the job or understand how to approach others—levels of management, professionals, clients, etc. And employers should consider coaching if they haven’t explained work expectations in a clear manner, want better team work and want to expand an employee’s skill set.

When does coaching become discipline? When an employee understands what has to be done, agrees to the standards and has done the work as expected in the past, but doesn’t do so any longer, the case for discipline can be made. Discipline can be part coaching, but contains a verbal or written plan of action to correct the situation and lay out how an employee will be evaluated on success—and the results of not achieving the plan of action.

Discipline can move from verbal warnings to written warnings to final warnings. It should be a progression that is documented in the employee’s file and properly evaluated. Depending on the seriousness of the situation and the knowledge and readiness of the employee, the length of discipline can vary. Ultimately, change needs to take place; the employee does something different or the employee leaves. The process has to have a conclusion and be seen to be fair according to the situation.

When is it time to fire? You should lay out the consequences in the discipline process so that the result is not a surprise. You can’t continue a discipline process indefinitely or fail to properly evaluate the results. Others on the team will see that there are no real consequences for poor performance.

Look for any unintentional discrimination in your process and treatment of individual employees. Consult an expert, as well as local and federal regulations, if you have question.

Mary Dunlap, CFP®
Mary Dunlap Consulting
Pottstown, Pa.

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