Discipline in the Work Environment

As a person who manages people, one thing I have found to be problematic is when an employee doesn’t perform well. Their lack of performance could be quality issues, poor time management or other things depending on the industry and position. But how do you attempt to correct their deficiencies? One thing I have read about lately is something I have a feeling that many companies discredit, something called “Corporate Knowledge”, or some amount of information that the employees possess which would be lost if they leave the business. So if the discipline exacted is harsh, such as firing or terminating the employee, now all the knowledge they possessed is lost and needs to be re-taught to a new employee. Over time the new employee may be better, but is the learning curve of the replacement and the time lost by the veteran employee during training lost money that would have been better spent keeping the original employee? They may not have performed up to expectations, but still provide a better alternative than training a brand new person and replacing the knowledge the other had already learned.

Let’s say there is an employee who has for some reason been previously spoken to about poor performance, let’s call him Jeff. Performance doesn’t really increase over time as hoped from the previous discussions, missing deadlines being the worst infractions, but it seems clear that he hasn’t given up heart and is still trying. Additionally, he has great organizational skills and always puts in the time. After several months, the decision was made to see if Jeff’s skills could be better put to use in a different position. I hate to call it promoting him for poor performance, but that is kind of what we did. He has been put in a position where he is given more responsibility over projects and has more contact with our clients. This was seen as a compromise position where we don’t have to find a replacement that has to be trained, and Jeff is given the opportunity to prove to us he has skills better suited to a different position. I can’t tell you if it will work or not, I’ll do a follow up in a few months, but it is definitely a decision I wouldn’t have made prior to getting my MBA. Before business school, I would have thought of the only options to fire him or give him less responsibility. Now I see that there a plethora of different options if you can see potential in people to perform their job in a different way. In reality, his position and what he does hasn’t really changed, but by loosening the reins on the right people, they will actually surge forward and surprise you. I surely hope that happens to Jeff.

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