Much has been made of the recent American election, when accusations of fake news were heard daily. Fake news, most often circulated through social media, is intended to create misinformation, falsehood and, in some extreme cases, psychological warfare. But other than dealing with good, old-fashioned "gossip," who would ever think the concept of fake news would apply to the workplace? 

Well, that got me thinking, especially about situations in which managers are confronted with a significant employee discipline issue. Why did I make this connection? The reason is that it didn’t take much imagination to envision a disgruntled employee accusing their manager of providing "fake news" as a rationale for the termination.

If this was to happen, I guarantee I would find a manager who did not document any of the previous progressive disciplinary events with their employee, but rather provided some final documentation when they were at their wit’s end and finally wished to terminate.

Actually, this situation isn’t so unusual. It is well known that employee-performance management and the employee-discipline process are the worst managed of all HR functions. It’s hard to say why.

However, in my experience, management reluctance usually is the result of being too nice, too patient, too fearful of conflict, fearful of judging others and/or being so busy that discipline is no longer timely such that it is put aside, thus missing a key opportunity for correction.

Most of these excuses as you can see are psychological and/or relate to management style. Therefore, to be effective in managing discipline, the manager must have the appropriate frame of mind.

First of all, recognize that discipline does not automatically mean conflict, nor should it immediately translate into punishment. Discipline provides an opportunity for open communication to discuss a behavioural issue and to offer suggestions for improvement.

Today, working with employees to resolve areas of challenge is more about coaching and instruction, helping the employee to understand the impact of their problem and to take ownership for correcting it. Working these issues through with the employee shows confidence and trust in the ability of both of you to find a solution.

The following guidelines will help you to conduct an effective disciplinary meeting.

Conduct a review

If the situation is a first-time offence, then it is important that you conduct an investigation to confirm all of the details of the behavioural incident. This may mean interviewing other employees, witnesses and the manager regarding the issue at hand. Once you have a good handle on the issue, you can prepare for a meeting. On the other hand, if this is a recurring problem, then it is important to review previous documentation to determine earlier behaviour and what solutions were developed at that time and then prepare your thoughts on what steps to take next.

Schedule a meeting

Select a private room and invite another manager and/or the HR manager to attend with you. Invite the employee to bring someone with him/her to the meeting if they wish. Depending on the level of the concern and the status of the employee in a disciplinary process, provide the meeting notice in either writing and/or verbally.

Open the meeting

Once in attendance, explain the purpose of the meeting. Review the policies that apply to the employee’s behaviour and/or performance. This helps the individual to understand what should have been done differently. As well, by reviewing your policies, it ensures that the employee understands the standards that apply to them.

Present the problem

Present your issue to the employee clearly and carefully. Review what happened and why the behaviour is an issue for the employer. Do not leave out any details or issues and make sure the employee understands your concern. Pay attention to the employee’s reaction and probe for any questions, responses or feedback. Work to get confirmation that the employee understands the issue.

Outline the disciplinary process

Review your organization’s disciplinary policy with the employee, inform the employee of the status of his/her discipline process and share what steps will be taken next. Lay out all the options. You may not have to make a decision immediately, but alert the employee to what steps you could take and inform them when a decision will be made if it is not to be made immediately.

Determine coaching opportunity

Before the meeting, assess potential challenges with the employee and determine if they have the knowledge, skill and ability to perform the job function. Is the issue willingness? Is the issue related to the environment such as their workload and/or interpersonal conflicts? If you perceive that you can coach the employee, then set up another meeting to discuss a coaching engagement. If not, determine the various options that can be taken to resolve the situation and/or take it to the next step in the disciplinary process.

Make a determination

If a decision has not been made prior to the meeting, then take all the information gleaned from the meeting and discuss it with a senior colleague. Look at the pros and cons of each potential decision and confirm for yourself the severity of the infraction and what disciplinary measure is valid to apply. Serious infractions warrant more serious disciplinary actions.

Inform the employee

If you inform the employee in person, it is important to follow it up with a written letter confirming your decision. This can be delivered in person and/or by registered mail. If sending mail, follow up to ensure that the individual received the document.

Secure your documentation

Have someone take notes during the conversation with your employee. Document everything and place the notes and any formal letters in the employee’s confidential employee file. Documentation is important as it prevents the employee from reporting that they were not informed of policy or the seriousness of their behavior. It prevents the employee from complaining about "fake news."

Monitor behaviour

Should the individual be returned to work without a suspension but with a coaching framework, it is important to have several checks and follow-ups built in so that you can monitor behaviour. Should the individual be returning from a suspension, set up a meeting and discuss your monitoring schedule. Meet with the individual, provide encouragement and instruction as needed and avoid any vocabulary that can be interpreted as punishment.

Applying discipline is one of the hardest tasks for a manager, but it’s something that can’t be neglected. Following the steps stated above will prevent employees from accusing you of creating fake news.