Have a Disciplinary Process

Chris SmithsmartPRENEUR Blog Series

We hire well, have a documented process, onboard employees to that process, and regularly (usually weekly) manage our teams with dedicated time and intention…

Wait, you aren’t doing all those things??? Separate article and discussion… but still, not everyone will make the cut. When employees are falling short of what is needed we have to take action. Having a clearly defined action plan, a Disciplinary Process, before the issue arises will serve you well.

Before we get too far, it’s incredibly valuable to have a relationship with an employment attorney that knows the rules for your given state(s) where you do business. Please run your ideas and process by them to make sure you are on the correct side of any legal argument. I found our employment attorney to be incredibly helpful in so many ways.

Disclaimer behind us…

Employee issues may manifest in various ways:

  1. Lack of technical aptitude (in any given role). 
  2. Behavioral problems (attitude, cleanliness, timeliness)
  3. Falling behind the company growth curve (we are always changing and they need to change with us)
  4. Outright dangerous behavior that puts someone at risk (Harassment, Drugs/Alcohol, Illegal Acts)
  5. Or anything else you can imagine (and all the things you haven’t yet imagined that will also happen!)

When they do, ask yourself:

  1. Is this truly important or am I being overly critical or unrealistic?
  2. If it is important, do I have the given expectation clearly defined and in writing?
  3. Have I taught/coached the employee on the given expectation?
  4. If I do nothing will the given situation improve on its own?
  5. If I do nothing will I or my team be resentful?
  6. Am I prepared to do nothing and live with the situation “as-is” with any/all consequences?
  7. If I do nothing will that set a poor precedent in the company which could lead to further issues?


  1. Do nothing. This is the acceptance model. In this case stop talking about it (right now and forever), move on to everything else you have on your plate, accept all consequences that come with it.
  2. Take Action. Implement your Disciplinary Process up to and including termination of the employee.

Typical Scenarios:

  1. Immediate: Certain situations require immediate action. If an employee was harassing another employee or client, drove a vehicle while impaired, was caught stealing, etc. we likely wouldn’t run them through a lengthy multi-step process of correction. It would typically be grounds for immediate action (usually termination).
  2. Corrective: Outside of immediate issues we would usually try to correct the behavior. This can simply be thought of as “Coach Up or Coach Out”. We can implement a process to fix the issue (ideal) or terminate the employee (if necessary). In this scenario speed is still of the essence. Get to “Up” or “Out” as quickly as reasonably possible!

Example Escalation:

  1. Verbal Discussion: A direct manager (or higher) has a conversation with the individual. In the spirit of “Praise in Public, Criticize in Private” this is done as an informal one-on-one (could be out in the field or during a regularly scheduled meeting as you see fit). The issue and correction are addressed in a simple discussion. It is noted to the employee that, should this not be enough to resolve the issue, Step 2 of a Formal Write-Up will follow.
  2. Formal Write-Up: The issue persists. The employee is brought in with the direct manager and whomever handles your company HR. If this happens to be the owner/operator in both seats, I would suggest a witness be present for the interaction. A formal document of the given policy and lack of employee performance/adherence are placed in the employee’s file and that document is emailed to the employee’s personal (non-work) email address. It is noted to the employee that, should this not be enough to resolve the issue, Step 3 of a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) will follow.
  3. Performance Improvement Plan: Same as with Formal Write-Up except that now we document a 30 Day review period, with start and stop date, with three (3) to five (5) items, that must be executed correctly. These are not new items or elevations beyond the employee’s role and responsibility (read: we are not moving the goal post). These items are the policy items that are not currently acceptable in terms of employee performance/adherence. The document states that failure to correctly perform these duties during the PIP period will result in termination. As before, that document is emailed to the employee’s personal (non-work) email address.

Most employees get the message during the Verbal. A few will require the Write Up. By the time we make it to PIP its usually a forgone conclusion that the employee needs to go. During a PIP some employees will become petulant or may even devolve further. Regardless, a line has been drawn for a reason. See the process through to its logical conclusion.

My typical experience is that you, as the owner/operator, will tell yourself all sorts of excuses as to why you shouldn’t terminate an employee. In fact, right now, I can hear the voice in your head objecting to me. I know, impressive right?! If that happens, please read back up in this article about “Choices”. You can accept it and move on or you can take action.

In all seriousness, one of my favorite thought experiments is to imagine an employee walking in to your office and resigning. Do you fight to keep them? If not, you should probably let them go and find their replacement anyway. You’ll be glad you did. And your team will respect you for doing the right thing.

About the Author

Chris Smith

Chris Smith is the Principal and Founder of TheCoTeam. Bringing 20 years of industry experience to the custom installation space, they Coach | Consult | Collaborate with integrators and manufacturers to solve problems and run a more efficient business.

Website:   http://thecoteam.com