Discipline Without Punishment: The Proven Strategy That Turns Problem Employees into Superior Performers

Discipline Without Punishment: The Proven Strategy That Turns Problem Employees into Superior Performers

by Dick Grote

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Discipline Without Punishment: The Proven Strategy That Turns Problem Employees into Superior Performers by Dick Grote

More than 30 years ago, Dick Grote developed a powerful, nonpunitive discipline system that turned a troubled Frito-Lay plant from a hotbed of employee sabotage and toxic relations into a productive, respectful environment-one where employees took personal responsibility for their behavior, and managers helped problem employees become productive players. Grote's method spread to other companies, and gained national recognition with the 1995 release of the first edition of Discipline Without Punishment. The book has become a management classic, helping thousands of companies and managers move to a responsibility-based approach for handling unacceptable performance, problem behaviors, and excessive absenteeism. But, despite the effectiveness of the DWP method, many supervisors and workplaces continue to cling to their long-established system of verbal warnings, written reprimands, suspensions without pay, and probationary periods-all fear-based approaches that instill lots of resentment, with little or no payback in improved performance. This new edition of the bestselling Discipline Without Punishment has been updated to help a new generation of managers and HR professionals adopt a positive, proven method for getting problem employees back on track. Packed with real-life examples, sample dialogues, helpful worksheets, and a no-nonsense sensibility that busy readers will sorely appreciate, the book remains an eye-opening, forward-looking, practical guide to making your disciplinary system equitable and effective. Dick Grote is Chairman and CEO of Grote Consulting Corp., in Dallas, Texas. He is the developer of the GROTEAPPROACH (SM) Web-based performance management system, and the author of The Complete Guide to Performance Appraisal, The Performance Appraisal Question and Answer Book, and Forced Ranking: Making Performance Management Work. His articles and essays have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Across the Board, and many other publications.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814473306
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 03/10/2006
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 275,854
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.75(d)
Age Range: 17 Years

About the Author

Dick Grote (Addison, TX) is Chairman and CEO of Grote Consulting Corp., and the author of The Complete Guide to Performance Appraisal, The Performance Appraisal Question and Answer Book, and Forced Ranking: Making Performance Management Work. His articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal , and many other publications.

Read an Excerpt

Discipline Without Punishment

By Dick Grote


Copyright © 2006 Dick Grote
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8144-7330-X

Chapter One

Solving People Problems

For an organization to enjoy universal high performance, it must recognize the good performance delivered by the great majority of organization members. The more that the manager provides positive consequences (Positive Contacts) for good performance, the more likely it is that good performance will be delivered.

In spite of any action that managers take, however, people problems will still arise. When they do, managers need to confront the problems and make sure that the individual's performance returns to a fully acceptable level.

Some performance problems can easily be defined in a specific and measurable way. In the area of attendance, for example, the employee's variation from organizational expectations is clear and visible. The company expects the employee to be at work every day on time; in the last three weeks Henry has arrived at work more than twenty minutes late on three separate occasions. In this case both the desired and the actual performance are clear.

In other cases the gap between desired and actual is more difficult to define. When the concern is related to the quality of an individual's work, or to her relations with customers and coworkers, or to his general demeanor and attitude, it is more difficult to develop astraightforward description of the variance between what is expected and what is delivered. But whatever the issue may be, problems can not be solved until they can be identified specifically.

Types of Problems

To begin, it is useful to recognize that all problems of human performance in an organization fall neatly into one of three categories: attendance, performance, and conduct:

1. Attendance. Attendance problems arise when an individual fails to meet the company's expectation that she will be at work on time every day. When a large health-care organization recently implemented Discipline Without Punishment, they articulated their attendance expectations in a way that could not be misunderstood. Their policy states: "Our attendance expectations are simple and clear. We expect every employee to be at work, on time, for the full duration of the scheduled work shift, every day that the employee is scheduled to work."

2. Performance. These issues involve problems with the quality and quantity of the individual's work. Issues in the performance category include such things as failure to meet deadlines, failure to attain goals, excessive scrap and waste, provoking customer complaints, or wasting time.

3. Behavior/Conduct. The behavior or conduct category involves those issues that deal with violating the organization's rules or standards. Examples would include smoking in a restricted area, inappropriate use of company vehicles, failure to comply with expense reimbursement procedures, safety violations, unauthorized acceptance of gifts, and theft of company property.

Sorting a problem into its appropriate category is helpful for two reasons. First, these three categories describe the universe of possible problems the manager may encounter. Any problem that arises in an organization will be either an issue of attendance, of performance, or of conduct. It is helpful, therefore, to start the problem-solving process by narrowing down the specific category into which the specific concern falls.

Second, it is helpful to note that the three categories of performance problems are mutually exclusive. In other words, not only do all performance problems that the manager will ever encounter fall very neatly into one of the three categories, but there is no overlap between the three. The employee who has a problem arriving for work on time every day (a problem in the attendance category) may do an excellent job while he's there and never violate any of the organization's rules. Another individual may smoke in a restricted area (a conduct issue) but perform at a highly competent level and maintain an excellent attendance record. Or there is the person whose quality of work is unacceptable (a performance concern) but who maintains an acceptable attendance record and follows all the company's rules and standards.

Wait a minute-managers frequently respond once they've encountered the idea that all problems fall in an orderly way into the three uncluttered categories of attendance, performance, and conduct-what about somebody with an attitude problem? Which category is that? Or is that a separate category all its own?

No, it's not. Attitude is a behavioral issue, so consider it to be in the behavior/conduct category. But attitude problems are a bit of a sticky wicket. We deal with attitude problems in detail when we get to Chapter 9.

Segregating problems into one of the three categories will be particularly useful later on when we explore how to administer a discipline system. One of the most difficult issues managers confront is figuring out when a disciplinary step should be repeated and when it's appropriate to move to the next more formal level. How many Reminder 1s can an employee get? When should that individual move to the Reminder 2 stage? If the organization tags problems as attendance, performance, or conduct issues, it becomes much simpler to provide workable guidelines on the number of disciplinary transactions an individual may receive.

Making Problem Definitions Specific

Problems in the attendance and behavior/conduct categories are fairly easy to describe in terms of the specific difference between desired and actual performance. You want all employees to be at work, ready to go, at 8:00 a.m. In the last four weeks there were three occasions when George didn't arrive until 8:15 a.m. You want all machine operators to wear safety goggles any time they're using a lathe; Harriet was running the lathe without safety goggles on. The gap between desired and actual performance is clear in both cases.

That's not always true when the issue is one of performance-quality and quantity of work. Some of these cases are fairly straightforward: Managers are expected to get all performance appraisals written and submitted to their bosses for review by April 27; it's now May 4 and three managers have yet to complete their appraisals. The difference between what you want and what you get is obvious.

But other performance issues aren't as clear. Our tendency is to generalize about problems. While our generalizations may be accurate, they're not helpful in getting employees to understand the exact gap between desired performance and their actual performance.

In a seminar at a large hospital in the Southwest, the director of the dietary department began the problem identification process by describing an individual who wasn't a team player. "What makes you say that?" I asked her.

"He doesn't show any team spirit," she responded.

The whole seminar group and I then analyzed what had just happened. To support one generalization-"He's not a team player"-she had simply offered up another-"He doesn't show any team spirit."

"Let me try a different approach," I responded, once she and the others saw how common it is to try to support one judgment or generalization by offering up another. "If you had to prove in court that this person truly wasn't a team player, what could you offer as evidence?"

I divided the group in half. I asked the dietary director and her teammates to come up with a list of the actual things that an individual might do that would be acceptable evidence that the person really did have a problem with working effectively as a team member. The other half of the group I set to work generating a list of actions that they would accept as specific evidence that an individual was indeed a team player.

Their results:

Actual Performance (evidence that someone was not a team player):

Works on obviously low-priority job tasks when she could be assisting others with much more important parts of the job.

Wanders in other areas with no valid reason.

Does only those tasks that are specifically assigned.

Says, "That's not my job," when asked to take charge of an unusual situation.

Makes negative comments about the quality of others' suggestions (for example, "That's a dopey idea ...").

Makes negative personal comments about other people (for example, "What doofus here is trying to say is ..." when a fellow worker got tongue-tied during a team meeting).

Makes no effort to get along with others, as shown by sitting alone in the cafeteria at lunch and not participating in group social activities.

Says, "I don't need anyone's help," when the manager asks a fellow employee to work with her on a minor project.

Desired Performance (evidence that someone is a team player):

Demonstrates a spirit of cooperation as shown by not monopolizing time during a team meeting.

Offers up solutions to team problems and not just complaints about their existence.

Supports coworkers' ideas and suggestions by saying things like, "That's a good idea, Mary."

Offers to assist others in their duties when time is available.

Supports coworkers by making positive statements about them and asking if they need help.

Asks coworkers for assistance in her projects to demonstrate that others are also members of the team.

Assists others when they ask for help, or politely explains why she can't at that time.

The best way to overcome the temptation to generalize or be judgmental about problems is to ask the question, "What do I know for sure?"

Determining the Cause

Once we have clearly identified the specific gap between desired and actual performance, the next step is to determine why the employee isn't doing the job properly right now.

When a person isn't performing the way we expect, there are only two causes. The performance deficiency involves either a lack of knowledge or a lack of execution. Either he doesn't know how to do the job right, or he does know how to do it right but something is getting in the way. The easiest way to determine the actual cause is to ask the question, "Could he do the job properly if his life depended on it?"

If the answer is "No"-no matter how hard he tried or how motivated he might be, he couldn't do the job right-then we're probably looking at a problem caused by a deficiency in knowledge. The individual doesn't have the knowledge or skills required to do the job right, and some kind of training is probably required.

But if the answer is "Yes"-he could do the job properly if he had to, but he still isn't performing properly-then we're dealing with a deficiency in execution. In this case, the employee has the knowledge and skills required to do the job properly, but isn't executing.

It's important to distinguish between knowledge and execution problems because the solutions will be very different. Training is the obvious solution to a knowledge problem, but training won't help when the cause of the problem is a lack of execution.

When discussing performance deficiencies on their subordinate's part, managers often make the mistake of describing them as "training problems." If we define performance problems as training problems, we are confusing the cause of the problem with its solution. We are committing the same error as the individual who goes to the doctor with a headache and explains, "Doc, I've got an aspirin problem." He doesn't have an aspirin problem ... he's got a headache. Aspirin may be a solution. Antibiotics may be a solution. Brain surgery may be a solution. But his problem isn't aspirin-the problem is, his head hurts. The manager doesn't have a training problem, he has a performance deficiency.

Training may occasionally be the solution to performance problems. But based on my experience of working with thousands of managers, it rarely is. Hundreds of times I have asked managers to make lists of the specific performance problems they face. They write down the things their subordinates are doing that need to be changed. We refine them into detailed and measurable statements of desired behavior and actual behavior.

Once they have written their statements in terms that are specific and unarguable, I ask them to determine whether each of the problems that they have identified are knowledge issues or execution issues. Is this one caused by a lack of knowledge and skill, or is this situation one where the individual could be performing properly if he had to, but isn't?

The results are always the same. Out of two dozen problems the group has listed, perhaps one or two will be caused by a deficiency in knowledge. Another two or three may represent a combination of the two. But by far the great majority are issues where the deficiency is one of execution. The individual could be doing the job right if he had to. He does know how, they tell me, but he isn't executing.

Recognize the limitations of training. To be blunt, the only thing that training can predictably do is provide knowledge and skills where they don't already exist. As valuable as this may be, most of the time it takes something other than training to solve the performance problems managers face.

Solving Execution Problems

Deficiencies in knowledge are cured by training. What do you do when the person knows how to perform properly, but still isn't doing the job right?

These are the cases where managers are particularly inclined to blame the employee's bad attitude or complain that he just doesn't care. While in some cases it may turn out that the individual truly does not care, usually the problem results from something interfering with proper performance. The need here is not for training; it is for job engineering. Three solutions are available to put things right: Remove obstacles, provide feedback, and arrange appropriate consequences.

Removing Obstacles

We can only expect people to perform their jobs well if they have all the resources required to do the job properly. If a person does not have the equipment needed to do a job or receives conflicting instructions, or if a bad environment or poor working conditions interfere with job performance, the employee will be unable to do the job right.

Job interferences are frequently difficult to identify since we may be so used to going around them that we don't even notice that they exist. It is often useful simply to ask if there's anything that gets in people's way as they try to perform successfully.

In today's business environment, no organization is able to provide all of the resources that would enable every employee to do his job without interferences. Limited resources are, and will continue to be, a fact of life. Too often, however, the obstacles that interfere with job performance are ones that could be easily eliminated if the manager actively seeks to help her employees perform well.

Providing Feedback

A recent survey reported that fully 80 percent of American men believe that they are in the top 10 percent of athletic ability for their age group. In the absence of accurate feedback, people tend to believe that they are better than they truly are.

Regular, accurate, and timely information is one of the most important tools for any individual to use in maintaining acceptable job performance.

The classic application of using performance feedback to improve job performance involved Emery Air Freight's success in increasing the use of containers to consolidate several small packages into one large container. The company's stated goal was 95 percent utilization of containers and, while it was not precisely measured, the assumption on the part of most managers and employees was that the 95 percent goal was being achieved regularly.

One day an Emery senior manager actually audited the operation to see what percentage of shipments that could be containerized actually were containerized. He was astounded at the result. Instead of 95 percent, it was 45 percent.


Excerpted from Discipline Without Punishment by Dick Grote Copyright © 2006 by Dick Grote . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1. The Birth of Discipline Without Punishment

Part I: Building Superior Performance

2. Recognizing Good Performance

3. Solving People Problems

Part II: Performance Improvement

4. Preparing for a Performance Improvement Discussion

5. Conducting the Performance Improvement Discussion

Part III: Discipline Without Punishment

6. The Mechanics of Discipline Without Punishment

7. Decision Making Leave

8 Discharge

9 Solving Attendance and Attitude Problems

10 The Administration of the Discipline System

11 Creating a Discipline Without Punishment System

Appendix A. Discussion Worksheet: Pre-Meeting Checklist

Appendix B. Discussion Worksheet: Post-Meeting Summary

Appendix C. Sample Reminder 2 Memo

Appendix D. Sample Decision Making Leave Memo

Appendix E. Sample Policy Matrix


About the Author"

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Praise for the First Edition of Discipline Without Punishment

"Unique strategies for handling employees who are not willing to shape up. Grote outlines a complete program for coaching, building superior performance, and disciplining employees that is useful in handling absenteeism, bad attitudes, and poor performance. He also provides tips on solving people problems before they require disciplinary action." — HRMagazine

"There is an important difference between Discipline Without Punishment and most other management tomes: The positive discipline system espoused here actually works. It's simple, it's tested, it's proven, it's easy to implement, and it makes good sense. Readers will wonder why their organizations haven't been applying this approach to performance improvement all along." — Ron Zemke, coauthor, the Knock Your Socks Off Service series"

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