Lords Of Discipline

`Gimme 10!' is not the way to change your employees' behavior.

The dirty secret about managing is that most business owners hate to discipline employees who are falling down on the job. "For many entrepreneurs, disciplining employees is very difficult; they tend to put it off, hoping the problems resolve themselves. But things just get worse," says Bob Turknett, a licensed psychologist and president of Turknett Leadership Group, a leadership consulting group in Atlanta.

Another dirty secret is that most entrepreneurs have limited experience getting a positive response when and if they do discipline their employees. Traditionally, slumping workers were simply fired. Maybe the boss went through a scripted "disciplinary procedure" suggested by lawyers to avoid possible wrongful termination lawsuits, but a focus on actually changing employee behavior was rare.

Firing no longer works, however, because it's both costly to lose a worker and the talent pool is shrinking, says Turknett. Plainly put, firing a worker who's falling behind might seem like a good idea in the heat of the moment, but is there any reason to think there's a better replacement out there hankering for the job?

That puts a new onus on you: You've got to learn how to sit down with errant workers and set them on a more productive course. Will it be easy? Of course not. But, the experts insist, discipline is a skill that any smart manager can master, and, nowadays, smart managers know they must master it.


Robert McGarvey writes on business, psychology and management topics for several national publications. To reach him online with your questions or comments, e-mail rjmcgarvey@aol.com

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lords Of Discipline.

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