Breaks in discipline / performance can’t wait until later to fix.

Discipline has become a dirty word. The word itself brings up connotations of punishment and detention (at least in my mind anyway!). A new dog in the house has forced us to look at discipline in its truest form, that it, correcting behaviour that is not at the right standard.

A new puppy brings all sorts of discipline issues: toilet training, feeding times, barking, sitting. All of these basic requirements didn’t come ‘built in’ with Jake – they had to be taught and refined over time, with many mistakes along the way.

During that process, Jake ‘pushed’ the limits many times and the standard expected needed to be reminded to him. No, rubbing the dog’s nose in his business is not the most effective way to get him toilet trained – but correcting behaviour as close to when it happened seemed to be the key.

The same behaviour change process applied with Jake is also used by successful leaders managing successful teams.

As soon as you put two people working together, there are going to be opportunities for differences and conflict. This is perfectly normal; differing cultures, experiences and expectations result in all of us having differing standards of behaviour that we expect to be ‘normal’. The opportunities for conflict increase dramatically when you have someone new in the team, whether that is a team member or team leader. Lesson 7 and 8 discuss team rules and setting expectations, but sometimes these rules get broken.

What often happens when this occurs is for the behaviour to be left and not addressed straight away. Have you said (or heard) these phrases before?

‘It was just one time’

‘I am sure he/she didn’t mean it’

‘He/she is having a bad day, it wasn’t their fault’

‘He/she has so much on their plate at the moment’

‘I should have done it myself’

One or all of these reasons could be true, but it shouldn’t stop us from addressing the behaviour. Not discussing a break in expected behaviour is the same as accepting it.

Imagine Jake has just done his business on the carpet in the lounge room (you have to imagine – I don’t). If I don’t take him to site of the crime straight away and express our displeasure at his actions, he will assume that it has been accepted as normal behaviour. From experience, it will take many more opportunities to correct the behaviour properly after the first time has been missed. You can almost see the thought and confusion on his face – ‘It was OK last time I did it, why not now?’

Knowing that an issue has to be addressed doesn’t make having the conversation any easier. It will always feel uncomfortable and awkward the first couple of times that you have to address behaviour that isn’t acceptable.

Here are a couple of tips that make it easier:

  1. Pick the Location. ‘Praise in public and criticise in private’. I was taught this very early in my military career and it has held true for over 20 years. Pointing out when someone has done something wrong or inappropriate should never be done in public or in front of others.
  2. Accept that Differences are Normal. Remember that misunderstandings and differences in standards are perfectly normal when working in teams – working out a common standard between people happens all the time.
  3. Don’t Judge. It is very easy when discussing discipline issues to focus on your judgment of what has been done rather than focus on the action that took place. You may think that missing a deadline is unprofessional, but focus on the missing deadline. Judgments won’t fix behaviour – they just create resentment and add to the emotion of the situation.
  4. Clearly describe what you want. Sometimes people fail to meet our expectations because we have not been clear about what we have wanted. Check to make sure that want you want has been clearly understood – this could involve getting the person to state what they need to do in their own words. Any misunderstandings can be clarified before the task has begun.
  5. Explain the Consequences. Why did you set the standard or behaviour in the first place? What will happen to you / the team if it is not done? Make sure you aren’t keeping these reasons to yourself. If your team understands the reason for having a standard or behaviour, and they also understand the consequences if it is not done, they are more likely to do what you want.
  6. Remember – you aren’t the ‘bad guy’. You have explained what you wanted clearly, it was understood, you explained the consequences of not completing and you have provided time to do it. If it isn’t completed or done correctly – guess what? – you are not the bad guy for pointing it out! You have provided every opportunity for someone to do what was required – they made a choice not to do it. That may seem harsh, but if all the tools were provided a choice was made at some point to miss the expectation. It could have been a lack of attention, a lack of time, a lack of effort or a lack of seeking help– none of which were your fault. When it comes to discussing the issue you are not being mean, you are merely discussing the differences between expected behaviour (what you wanted) and actual behaviour (what actually occurred). Addressing the gap between the two is a key role of every Manager.

What performance issues have you ‘let go’ recently? Are you judgmental when people don’t meet your expectations? Do you know what standards you expect?