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Lords Of Discipline

On Probation

For discipline to stick, however, you have to set out consequences: What will the employee lose if he or she doesn't change?

First make sure you've asked yourself what really motivates this employee, urges Key. Why? Different employees want different things. Tell an employee who doesn't give a hoot about climbing the corporate ladder that he or she may lose out on a possible promotion, and you'll get no results. For a consequence to matter and actually make a difference, it needs to matter to that employee.

Once you've discussed the problem, helped come up with solutions and finally told the employee what consequences he or she may face, the session is complete--but that doesn't mean the issue should be forgotten. "Set up a time for a follow-up meeting in a few weeks," suggests Key. "That makes it clear you mean business." Neglect to set a follow-up, and the worker will likely strike this meeting up to your passing pique and won't take it seriously. But with a follow-up already scheduled, he or she will know you're genuinely insisting on change for the better and you plan to follow through with it.

At the follow-up session, if there's been forward motion by the employee, don't let it go unnoticed. Let the employee know you are aware of the effort he or she is putting in. "Praise it. Reinforce even approximations of success," says Hollands, who warns against holding the bar too high. "Shaping new behavior takes constant, significant attention."

It's a strong, solid approach to putting employees back on course--but will it get results? There's no guarantee. A lot depends on your execution as well as the individual employee's mindset. But chew on this worrisome thought from Hilgert: "Discharge is a failure of discipline. Whenever you cannot make an employee productive, it's a failure."

Just remember that changing most employees' behavior is within your reach. "We can learn how to discipline better," says Hollands. "Most managers find it tough, but with practice, most will get better." And the payoff is that so, too, will your workers--and that makes this one of the best rewards around.

Contact Sources

Growth & Leadership Center Inc., (650) 966-1144, http://www.glcweb.com

Silver Lake Publishing, (888) 663-3091, http://www.silverlakepub.com

Summit Consulting Group, (312) 899-9900, http://www.argosyeducation.com

Turknett Leadership Group, (770) 270-1723, http://www.argosyeducation.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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