Not many managers enjoy the prospect of calling an employee into a disciplinary meeting to dish out reprimands. But if you look at disciplinary meetings as opportunities to provide goal-focused feedback instead of punishment, you can turn the disciplinary process into a positive tool for employee growth.

How is that possible? It starts with making sure you have a clearly defined code of employee conduct, scheduling regular performance reviews and documenting all disciplinary actions. By level-setting expectations and being consistent with your policies, you are in a much better position to handle employee disciplinary meetings in a positive way.

If handled correctly, an employee disciplinary meeting can turn a negative situation into positive progress toward achieving measurable goals.

Setting the stage for a disciplinary meeting

If an employee has violated one of your company policies or displayed conduct that isn’t acceptable for your workplace, you need to take immediate steps to make your position known. Don’t ignore behavior that violates your written policies and hope it will go away. Doing that could set you up for problems later (an employee could claim he or she didn’t know the behavior was a problem, or other employees could see your lack of response as biased).

Instead, make it a policy to immediately issue verbal warnings to employees about any conduct that is a problem. Bring the employee into a private room, state what policy was broken or why the performance is unacceptable, discuss what changes you want to see happen, and provide a timeframe. Ask the employee for suggestions about how he or she can improve or correct the situation. Keep your tone professional, on topic and avoid bringing up other issues. Keep a record of your verbal warning in the employee’s file.

Escalating your response to repeat behavior

If an employee’s behavior or performance doesn’t improve after one or more verbal warnings, it may be time to issue a written warning and call the employee into a disciplinary meeting.

As part of a progressive discipline approach, a disciplinary meeting provides an opportunity to engage in a two-way discussion about performance issues that may hinder the employee’s continued value to your company. Such a meeting may be the first step in creating a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), which will outline in writing specific actions the employee needs to take to correct any problems and achieve measurable goals.

Consider these steps for handling a disciplinary meeting:

  1. Review the file. Review the employee’s file and performance records to get a better understanding of past performance and behavior. Determine if the problem has occurred in the past, and if so, how it was handled. If necessary, speak to the employee’s supervisor for additional information.
  2. Prepare for the employee discussion. If this is a formal warning, it’s crucial that you write out an employee warning notice collecting all the details of the issue with the employee prior to participating in the disciplinary meeting. Collect the facts on what and when the incident occurred and plan what actions you are taking now. Is this a first warning? Have you warned the employee about this before? Be very clear about the consequences should the incident occur again.
  3. Hold a meeting. Schedule a meeting with the employee (and his or her supervisor, if applicable). Let the employee know you wish to discuss a performance or behavior concern.
  4. State objectives. Start the meeting by stating why you called it, and what outcome you want to achieve. Review the employee’s performance records, and point out any positive performance issues as well as the negative ones. Explain why certain actions are a concern or problem for the business. Let the employee know he or she is valued by the company, and that you would like to help resolve the issue.
  5. Ask for input. Ask the employee for ideas about how the situation or performance can be improved. Discuss specific goals, steps that will lead to improvement and any deadlines by which improvements must be made. Determine if additional training or supervision is needed to improve the situation. Keep your conversation focused on ways to improve, rather than placing blame or finding fault.
  6. Provide a copy. Give the employee a copy of the warning notice and place a copy in the personnel file. Discuss the timeline for a follow-up meeting to check on progress toward improvement goals.
  7. Schedule a follow-up. Plan when the next meeting will occur and what the expectations are for improvement by that time, as well as next steps if employee doesn’t meet the goals.
The disciplinary meeting doesn’t have to be completely one-sided. It’s fine to engage the employee in the discussion regarding suggestions for improvement. Ask him or her, “Do you have any ideas or suggestions on how this situation can be resolved?“

During the meeting

Make sure your disciplinary meeting stays on track and is productive rather than inflammatory, both for your employee’s well-being and your businesses’. Keep these best practices in mind:

  • Keep it private. Make sure you hold the meeting away from co-workers in a private area.
  • Include a witness. Inviting a third person, such as the employee’s supervisor, provides backup later if any disagreements arise about what was said. You can also ask the witness to sign the meeting documents to acknowledge their presence.
  • Focus on the current issue. Tell the employee in specific terms what the problem is and what improvement is expected. Explain the impact on the company or coworkers. Don’t bring up past problems, or digress into other concerns.
  • Be respectful. Listen to what the employee has to say and explain that you want to help him or her improve.
  • Stay calm. Make sure you keep the meeting professional and focused on company policies or goals, and not personal issues. If the employee responds with anger, complaints, blame or emotional outbursts, remain calm and restate the goals.
  • State the consequences. Make sure the employee knows what will happen if the improvement plan or changes you request are not made.
  • Confirm employee understanding. Be sure the employee understands the next steps and consequences if changes are not made as outlined. Have the employee sign the disciplinary document.

    Plan regular performance evaluations

    Employee performance evaluations should be a regular part of managing a progressive discipline process. Use interim evaluations to correct behavior, motivate employees, and set goals. Most employers conduct written performance reviews annually or semi-annually for all employees. However, you might consider unscheduled reviews when changes in an employee’s performance or duties happen.

    Regular reviews are useful to help groom and encourage employees (through coaching and training) better performance or behavior. Documenting behavior (good and bad) and productivity over time gives you specifics to discuss in a review.

    Help documenting employee discipline

    Keeping an accurate record of all employee discipline issues, goals for improvement, deadlines and checkpoints is important for holding successful employee disciplinary meetings and for managing a progressive discipline process. The Progressive Discipline app can help you document, maintain, and organize relevant information in the process.

    Key Takeaways:

      For successful employee disciplinary meetings:

    • Follow a consistent process
    • Document all disciplinary actions
    • Focus on positive improvement changes
    • Establish goals and deadlines