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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Bring HR Closer to the Line Part 3

This one took some time to get here but I’m happy that I finally get the chance to write it.

When I conduct Basic Supervisory and Leadership courses, I talk about the roles managers and supervisors play in maintaining discipline in the workplace. Often, the participants act surprised at the amount of responsibility they have regarding the subject matter.

I’ve seen how much supervisors and managers feel uncomfortable about taking corrective and punitive action on erring employees. Heck, even I feel uncomfortable about doing it! I guess confronting people is something you don’t grow to love. This is one big reason why a lot of them relegate the role of policing to HRD. I remember a time when one manager asked me to “take care” of his staff. I asked him “why don’t you do it your self? I’ll just help you by seeing to it that you do not violate any law in addressing the erring employee. He said “ She might resent me and that would ruin our relationship, that’s why it is better for HRD to do it. Come on! Is that the kind of working relationship you want to have? One where there is no open communication and no way to address problems without the help of HRD?

But hey, I’m digressing. Maintaining discipline in the workplace have a lot less to do with taking punitive action than setting and leveling expectations. The first and right step towards having a disciplined team is ensuring that managers understand the concept, their role and what needs to be done to ensure that team members comply with company policies all the time. Here are some of the things that I think HRD needs to do in order to help maintain discipline in the workplace:

  1. Delegate disciplining to Line managers and supervisors. They must realize that Discipline is a line function and that the role of HRD is to draft it, get organizational buy-in and guide managers in implementing them. Considering the diversity of roles of HRD, HR people cannot possibly implement and enforce company policies with efficiency.
  2. Have the managers and supervisors communicate their thoughts about compliance with company policies. As expected, they should be for it rather than against it. Sometimes it hurts that the managers themselves are heard saying that a certain policy is just a whim of HRD and shouldn’t be taken seriously. If I were a line manager, this is what I’ll say: Team, I want you to understand that it is important for me that we all follow the rules and regulations of the company. I believe that they serve important purpose and they serve as guide for us so that we don’t overstep boundaries in the course of doing our jobs. I will not tolerate noncompliance and please don’t test me because I will not hesitate to take action against people who don’t follow policies.”
  3. Ensure that managers model right behavior. One sure way to put company policies into the waste basket is to have the ones in authority violate it and get away with it. Need I say more?
  4. Make managers accountable for their team’s compliance and non-compliance to company policies.
  5. Have a clearly written code of discipline with a schedule of disciplinary action and disciplinary action procedure. Have managers go through thorough induction and have them learn how to implement it.
  6. Clarify the roles of managers in the disciplinary action process and make sure that they are properly guided in exercising their roles.
  7. Send managers to relevant courses on maintaining discipline in the workplace. One particular course that I find very helpful is the Workers Institute on Labor Laws by UP SOLAIR. When I attended it in 1999, I found some line supervisors and managers attending the same program. These helped them understand what they can do to secure compliance to company policies without violating the rights of employees among other things.

Following points 1 to 4 will help reduce the need to take punitive action, while items 5 to 7 ensures that managers know what to do in case they have employees who violate company policies. I personally believe that taking punitive actions should come as a last resort. Maintaining discipline in the workplace requires both HRD and line manager to take a proactive stance by being serious about communicating company policies by talking about them, modeling them and ensuring that people follow them.

If you need help in getting this done in your organization, let me know. If you want to add to what I just said, please click on that little comment button below and post it.

Hmmm, I wonder what I'll write about next…


  1. Sudo Manijer9:25 AM

    Here's my two cents (every comment that is worth that much should have this as an intro). I think the responsibility of discipline should lie closer to the person than the line managers: it should be in the employee himself.

    This should be clear right in the interview process. The question "Do you think you are someone who can discipline herself?" should be answered positively (who will not answer it that way?! it is the interviewer's job to detect uncertainty or course). So that day to day discipline which is more instructive-preventive rather than corrective or punitive should be carried out by the manager in the spirit that "Hey, I can see you're missing out on the job of personal discipline, so I'm helping you now; I'll do it (disciplining) for you (here's a whack in the head while we're at it! ;-) ) I think that the employee's responsibilities include both pushing herself in doing the right things and keeping himself from doing the wrong things. But this is not a perfect world, so there's the manager.

  2. Thanks sudo manijer! I agree! your comment is definitely a lot more than two cents worth!

  3. As Clair pointed out, I too think this should be clear in the hiring process, but also what this expected dicipline consists of. The company is responsible for truthfully describing its internal culture and rules to the person they are recruting, so that people who feel unconfortable with these rules can bail out before they cause any harm to the company or themselves.

    Also, if most current employees attempts to breake a rule, it is probably not the employees who are at fault, but the rule... The examples are countless, especially when it comes to rules about technology, like firewalls filtering certain ports that people needs to use for their work, like ssh.

  4. Hi redhog, thanks for giving your feedback. Please let me share my views about what you just said. I assume that Clair is the one who gave the first comment and yes she is right, a responsible recruiter should be able to determine if the applicant is someone who is capable of disciplining herself. I also agree with you that the company should be able to communicate properly its rules and regulation and the things that are expected of employees. But as (Clair) said, this is not a perfect world. There is no pool proof way for a recruiter to determine if an applicant (who of course will try to put her best foot forward) is telling the truth or not. Also, it is utterly difficult for applicants to fully appreciate the company's culture without experiencing it first hand. The world we live in is so imperfect. Self discipline is confined to a limited number of people and these people do not look very different from those who have less self discipline. And yes Clair is right, the reason why we have line managers is because they are responsible for seeing to it that people are able to meet expectations in terms of performance and in terms of following the rules of engagement among others. If everyone can be trusted to do this without managers we'll probably have a lot less managers.

    With regards to appropriateness of rules, I agree with you that some rules are counter-productive and do not help at all. What can you expect? nothing is perfect. My recommendation is for people to review these rules and see if they are still applicable. If not, why keep them? Change them into something that will benefit the organization.

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