Coach, Correct, and Communicate: The Three Cs of Employee Discipline

Employee discipline can be hard. It’s time-consuming. It’s often speculative, turning into a he said/she said game. It’s easy to feel like, as a supervisor, you’re responsible for the poor employee behavior. However, if you follow the three Cs of employee discipline, you may be able to create more engaged, committed employees who want to better serve your business.

1.       Coach: As a supervisor, you are a leader and therefore the coach. You’re there to make sure the whole team does well, and if one or two individuals are jeopardizing the team’s success, you must address that immediately. To act as a coach of your organization, try the following:

  • Encourage. Employees are more likely to repeat positive behaviors when a supervisor recognizes their efforts. Even if it is a small task or duty, consider praising your employee for a job well done.
  • Redirect. Rather than disciplining for the sake of punishment, try to redirect employee behavior. For redirection, stop and address the situation with the employee. Find a way to adjust or correct the behavior that encourages the individual to learn from their actions. Finally, follow through with the individual by ensuring that they have changed their behaviors or have another discussion if change still needs to take place.
  • Provide feedback. Coaches rarely leave the locker room without discussing the game with their teams, so why would you neglect to discuss workplace performance with employees? One of the top reasons employees leave a company is because they feel they’ve received a lack of coaching or feedback. Remember, feedback is more than just a written annual employee review, so talk with (not at) your employees.

2.       Correct: Disciplining employees should not be about control, but rather about correction to redirect behaviors. Your policies should be firm, fair, and consistent to avoid any accusations of favoritism and create a more equal working environment. When deciding on how to correct behaviors, remember that you should have an open conversation with the employee. Never mandate a behavior change without explaining yourself to the employee.

3.       Communicate. Without communication, discipline will likely be seen as a negative punishment, rather than an opportunity to grow and develop. To encourage positive employer-employee communication:

  • Set clear expectations. If your expectations are clear and enforced firmly and consistently, you can successfully avoid many issues brought on by a lack of communication.
  • Keep up a constant conversation. As a coach and a behavior corrector (not controller), you should continually speak to your employees. Open dialogue is a proactive way to recognize and deal with any problems before they get out of control.
  • Answer the 5 Ws: When you need to address specific employee behavior, answer the questions who, what, where, when, and why to better understand the situation and determine appropriate action. Be exact about what did or did not happen.
  • Be clear about future actions. Leave any employee discipline discussions with an exact plan of action. Be sure that both the supervisor and the employee understand and agree upon what behaviors need to change and when.
  • Never make it personal. When communicating with employees maintain a sense of professionalism and never bring personal comments into a discussion about employee behavior.
  • Always be honest and open. Remember, feedback goes two ways. Help employees feel comfortable enough to address any potential issues with you as a supervisor, and don’t be closed to employee feedback. Their perceptions of you may help shape you into a better coach and leader.


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