Is Employee Discipline Performance Management?

discipline oct E-tipYou’ve had numerous conversations with your employee about the need to improve performance.

You’ve told the employee if they don’t change their behavior you’ll have to take disciplinary action. This is serious. And today, it happened again. Why doesn’t the employee learn?

Once the disciplinary process begins, are you still doing performance management? Does the performance management process include disciplinary steps? Well, the answer is yes and no.

In theory, these are two separate and distinct processes with different purposes. The performance management process is intended to provide frequent feedback to employees to ensure their performance is on target and recognized. The performance management process may also be summarized in a regularly scheduled discussion or evaluation. Employee discipline however, is a series of consequences intended to change an employee’s behavior when it is not meeting expectations. Granted, discipline may result from performance conversations that aren’t effective, but discipline should never be delivered at performance evaluation time.


Think of it this way…performance management is a cyclical process that every supervisor does every day with every employee; set expectations, give feedback, keep documentation, summarize, repeat. In my books, Painless Performance Evaluations and Painless Performance Conversations, I’ve illustrated this process like this:


The employee discipline process will likely be a spin-off resulting from a performance conversation that does not result in improved performance. Imagine each performance conversation you have with employees as the start of a journey. The employee determines the direction of the journey, based on how they respond to the conversation. If the employee’s performance improves as a result of the conversation, you will recognize and reinforce the improved behavior. If the employee’s performance does not improve as a result of the conversation, you will need to re-address the issue. If the behavior warrants, you may also decide to assign consequences. At that point the disciplinary process begins. This journey may be illustrated like this:


Employee discipline should never be punishment. Rather, the goal is to help the employee meet expectations. When repeated efforts to improve performance fail, termination may be in order. Still, to consider employee discipline as part of the performance management process is like mixing oil and water. They will always be separated.

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