Putting an End to “Progressive” Discipline

Dear Coach,

I’m coaching a senior manager who asked for advice on how to handle employee disciplinary issues. Do you have any?



Dear William,

You bet I do!

The first thing is to run the other way from traditional HR administered, so-called “progressive” discipline: first warning, second warning, final warning, last chance agreement, PIP (performance improvement plan) and similar nonsense. There’s nothing whatsoever progressive about it.

The focus should never be on judgment, punishment, discipline, threat of consequence, and so forth. It should be on fit: whether the employee in question belongs. If there’s a current gap in performance, attendance or conduct expectations, a solution oriented, not blame oriented mindset should control. The question is: “What intervention might close the expectations gap?”

From my coaching toolbox, the tools to use are: (1) The No-FEAR conversation, (2) the Same Day Summary, and (3) the Crossroads conversation.

When an expectations gap arises, at your earliest opportunity, have a No-FEAR conversation with the employee. A demonstration of this approach can be found here.

Following the conversation, you send the employee a Same Day Summary using the approach described here.

If the problem continues or if the employee’s No-FEAR response doesn’t give you confidence that the desired behavioral change will happen, you have the Crossroads conversation. Explain that the status quo is no longer an option. Either the employee owns responsibility and makes a commitment to change, or the parties recognize that the fit is not right and the employee moves on to another employer.

Unlike conventional disciplinary action, this approach maintains dignity and respect at all times. It maximizes the likelihood that positive sustained change will occur, or alternatively, that a dignified, respectful and peaceful termination takes place.

I hope this helps.



Jathan Janove is a Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching Master Coach and Practice Leader. You can learn more about him here. If you have a question you’d like him to address, please email us at AsktheCoach@mgscc.net.


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