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Monday, October 23, 2017

HR’s Role in Maintaining Discipline in the Workplace

Discipline is a line function. I believe that to be true, but HR plays a very important role in making discipline a shared responsibility.  I recently initiated a survey in Philippines HR Group, an online community of HR Practitioners in the Philippines about their practice in implementing disciplinary action. The result shows us where most of us are in terms successfully sharing the responsibility for maintaining discipline in the workplace.  Let me share my analysis of the result and my opinion on why and how HR can help the organization build a culture of accountability.  I also came up with a 5-level model that shows how  I think HR can grow from being solely responsible for disciplining to making everyone share the accountability to organizational alignment.
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  1.  HR does most of  the disciplining -  From orienting employees on the code of discipline, catching violators or acting on reports, issuing notice to explain memos (NTE), conducting investigation and issuing and implementing disciplinary action. To me, this is level one. It’s ok to do it if managers are not ready to take on their role in maintaining discipline in the workplace. I believe that HR should work towards preparing managers share responsibility for this role by training them  and helping the realize that making HR do this alone is untenable. This breeds a low trust culture where managers could not address performance and behavioral issues that they must go to HR so that they can deal with the problem. It promotes a cat and mouse culture where people try to avoid getting caught by HR while managers don’t feel responsible for calling people out for violating company policies.
  1. HR does all the paper work while managers discuss disciplinary action and implementation to employees - This is a good next step. When managers are not yet strongly familiar with policies and procedures for implementing discipline, HR takes on the role of the technical expert who ensures that all documentations are in order by doing all the documentation themselves. This should be a temporary situation. Equipping managers and providing them tools will make the process more efficient. Note that the survey shows, a lot are at this level. There are rooms for improvement!
  1. Managers are very familiar with policies and procedures, issue NTE, conduct investigation for non-grave offence, issue disciplinary action memos, discuss them with employees, submit record to HR and seek HR’s advice as needed -  It is quite a challenge to achieve this level as many supervisors dread this part and would gladly have HR do this instead of them. However, they are the best people to be responsible for this. When people know that their managers are keen on implementing discipline, they become more compliant because their managers are closer than HR. To achieve this level, HR needs to work with line managers and equip them with the necessary mindset, knowledge and tools for maintaining discipline in the workplace.
  1. Manager take on a more proactive approach to ensuring compliance with company policy – When managers realize that the way to avoid violation of company policies is to implement positive discipline by modeling the way, communicating and reinforcing performance and behavioral expectations. When managers serve as champions of good behavior, people become clear about norms and boundaries. They recognize the seriousness of alignment and behave accordingly. To achieve this, managers need to be oriented and buy in on the concept. HR’s job is to provide the information and resources to help managers become capable of positive disciplining
  1. For me, the utmost level of company discipline is when everyone in the organization is so aligned with the company’s core values. When the company culture of accountability is strong, all the rules make sense and people don’t just comply, they advocate them. This is a tall order, I know but I believe it can be done. It starts with having a clear and authentic set of core values that the company’s leaders model. HR hires people who are aligned with these values, the leaders talk about the values every chance they get and point out behaviors that are consistent with them. When the culture is strong, the organization builds an antibody of sorts that make people who are misaligned, leave the company or fail to get regular employment. 

In many organizations, HR strive to master the labor code especially in the area of disciplining and termination. There’s nothing wrong with that. I believe, however that it should not be the end. The ultimate goal should be to build a strong and aligned culture that makes people advocate discipline, wherever they are in the organization. It will require a lot of hard work but I think it’s worth doing.


If you have an opinion about this topic or a related experience you want to share, please feel free to leave a comment but please be respectful. No bad words please or I will be constrained to delete it.