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Sunday, March 04, 2012

Why Disciplining Should Really Be a Line Function

I conducted a "No Frills" Training Last February. The topic of the learning session was "Handling Discipline and Due Process Issues." I realize now that I should have added "for Line Managers in the title because I was hoping to get them to attend this seminar.

What I got instead are mostly HR practitioners who are still mainly responsible for policing and ensuring employees' compliance with company policies. Again, I heard stories of an Employee Relation Officer issuing an average of 200 memos per month, an HR Manager who cannot fully implement a suspension because the line manager won't approve of it due to some production needs and another one who think it is her job to do it so that the line supervisors and managers can focus on doing their job... But their job it is (the line managers/supervisors) to ensure employees are aligned, behaving and performing according to the company's values and are compliant to company rules and regulations!

There are so many reasons why line managers see discipline as an important responsibility. Here are a few:

They have a direct working relationship with the people they work with. What they say (and demonstrate) goes. If a manager says, she values professionalism and it is demonstrated through punctuality and delivering on commitments. If the manager says it and models it and make people accountable for following her lead, it becomes a much stronger message than an HR orientation that is harriedly done at the onset of employment.

Only line managers can effectively implement positive disciplining. This means communicating the importance of compliance, demonstrating it through action, constantly reminding employees to align themselves and coaching or counseling employees who may be getting themselves derailed once in a while. HR can't do it or at least not as effectively as a line manager. If you have a line manager who has complete disregard for company policies, HR will be facing a dilemma of employees getting confused with what HR says and what their immediate supervisor is demonstrating.

Lastly, handling discipline issues if done skillfully and with care can improve relationship between managers and their direct reports. Imagine this; a manager sees and employee violate a company policy, instead of calling the person's attention and addressing the issue, the manager goes to HR and asks HR to give employee a memo. What message does it convey? To me it's poor communication, absence of trust and punitive rather than corrective. You can say this is protocol in your company but to me, it does not make sense. If Manager and employee is to build a strong working and trusting relationship, issues like this should be addressed by no other than them. This builds mutual commitment and accountability, specially if the genuine purpose is behavior or performance improvement.

What is HR to do? Be the internal consultant that we are, be the support unit that we truly are. How? By keeping policies relevant in partnership with all stakeholders. By, giving sound advice to managers who need to carryout some disciplining tasks. By helping equip managers do their job (maintaining discipline that is) more effectively.

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