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Discipline Without Punishment
The Proven Strategy That Turns Problem Employees Into Superior Performers

by Dick Grote, Richard C. Grote
243 pages, $18.87

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Striking the right chord with problem employees is a challenge for every manager. Confronting a subordinate with their need to change is a manager’s toughest job. Overly harsh punishment creates lingering resentment and coddling offenders leaves the door open for further unacceptable behavior. Discipline Without Punishment resoundingly hits the proper chord for dealing with improper workplace behavior by focusing on correcting problems instead of punishing offenders. This book should be studied and practiced prior to problems arising, as the valuable information here can head off concerns before they become realities.

The book begins by recounting Dick Grote’s public relations nightmare as Manager of Training and Development at Frito-Lay. The company received numerous complaints concerning obscenities written on the chips, and factory workers were obviously responsible. Frito-Lay used a traditional "Progressive Discipline" system with oral warnings, written warnings, an unpaid disciplinary layoff followed by termination. The system generated little but resentment. Grote employed a new system he dubbed "Discipline Without Punishment," emphasizing that offenders were responsible for their behavior. They received a paid day at home, during which they were to determine if they would solve the problem and commit to acceptable performance. This sent the message that the company valued its employees, and the results were impressive. Yearly terminations dropped from 58 to 19, then to two.

"Yesterday’s punitive discipline system no longer fits the culture of today’s organizations," concludes Grote. Discipline Without Punishment uses anecdotes, charts, and examples to support his system for solving problems and maintaining relationships with employees. Often, managers become intent on terminating an employee and seek to build a case against them instead of looking to achieve rehabilitation. The authors aren’t simply taking a touchy feely route to dealing with problem employees. They’re quick to point out that a manager should be a coach, not a counselor. "The Discipline Without Punishment system reminds employees of two things: the company’s expectations and their personal responsibility," writes Grote.

The first step in building superior performance is recognizing good performance. The book tells the story of production manager Alan, the archetype of the old school, rock ‘em sock ‘em managers who terrorized people who fell short of his expectations. For a week, Grote instructed Alan to go out on the plant floor and single out a person who was doing their job right and thank him. The employees were slow to respond after years of Alan’s browbeating, but after the production manager kept it up for a couple of weeks he had a breakthrough with an employee. After he singled out this worker, the worker asked Alan for help with threading a machine. Eventually, the walls that had built up around Alan and his employees came down and he made more positive contacts.

Discipline Without Punishment breaks people problems down into three categories: attendance, performance and conduct. Supervisors will benefit from Grotes’ straightforward approach to conducting a coaching discussion by beginning with "Joe, I’ve got a problem and I need your help." These ten words let employees speak and listen and gain their agreement. In addition, specific instructions include noting dates of previous conversations, plainly laying out the expected performance and the actual performance, and the consequences if the action is not corrected. Salvaging potentially good employees is worth time and effort and this book contains the tools to help managers build superior performance step by step.

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