For many, having to manage a disciplinary meeting sounds like a nightmare come true. They can quickly escalate into shouting matches, creating tension and ill-feeling that may never dissipate.
As the manager, though, it’s up to you to stop that from happening. Even the best employee may have to have one at some point. Know what to do and how to get the best out of it...for both you and the employee.
Familiarize Yourself With Company Policy
Your company may have strict rules in place as to where and when a disciplinary meeting can take place. They may also dictate whether a third-party should or must be present - such as another manager to act as witness and note-taker, or a union rep for the employee - so check the corporate literature regarding this.
Set the Stage
Policies firmly understood, inform the employee of the time, place, and reason for the meeting. Resist the urge to get into discussion at this point, and firmly but politely stop them from doing so, too. Generally speaking, you should ensure the meeting takes place somewhere private (and ideally neutral) in the office and during regular business hours.
Before the meeting itself, prepare notes and items to be discussed. You don’t want to rely on your memory here. A disciplinary meeting can be a very serious situation, so treat it as such and prepare as you would for a formal presentation or meeting with clients. An itemized agenda is not out of place here, and you could even send it to the employee beforehand, giving them time to think on it as well.
Arrive early to the scheduled room. You don’t want to make the employee wait for you, and it more importantly gives you time to get settled (called “owning the room”) and collect your thoughts.
During the Meeting
Once the employee (and reps or witnesses as required) arrives, start the meeting proper. Keep it cordial, but firmly establish that you are in control. Clearly explain the reason why the employee is there, citing specific examples and dates of the inappropriate behaviour. Don’t allow the employee to interrupt you until you are done with this preamble. At that point, ask them about the examples, and give them an opportunity to talk about it without interrupting them. They might be apologetic, defensive, sheepish, or angry, but let them talk. You get your cue as to where to take the discussion from this point.
If they don’t or refuse to recognize the inappropriateness of their behaviour, then you have to spell it out for them. But don’t be condescending.
If they do recognize the inappropriateness, ask them about it. Why do they think they behaved that way? What could and should have been done differently?
At this point, you will likely discuss options. Will there be a formal reprimand? Will the meeting alone suffice for now? Clearly outline the next steps for each of you, if any. Issue any formal paperwork related to either the meeting or discipline, providing copies to all involved parties.
At the end, ask if there is anything else they would like to add (listen and discuss as necessary). Schedule a follow-up meeting before adjourning.
- Stay in control
- Keep calm. Resist the urge to shout, argue, or defend yourself.
- Be prepared. Well prepared. Very well prepared.
- Stick to the issue. Don’t allow the employee to railroad the meeting.
- Take breaks as necessary, especially if the meetings starts to get long and/or heated.
Other Useful Links
Guide to Managing Disciplinary Situations
The Facts About Disciplinary Meetings
A disciplinary meeting doesn’t have to be awkward, or uncomfortable, or intense. It is meant as a way to keep your ship in order. To mutually address an issue and agree on the best course of action to fix it. Keep it formal, but cordial, and it shouldn’t ever be traumatic...for the employee, or the manager.