It was never a taught skill, but someone how my sister and I mastered egging each other into a frenzy. My mom loved it (insert sarcastic face). On good days, she would call one of us a “tantalizer.” We just knew how to get under each other’s skin. When I watch Erica, Barry and Adam Goldberg interact, I am reminded of those glorious days of arguing, punching, smacking and annoying. The Goldbergs recreates those darling interactions between siblings in a heartfelt but true-to-form manner. It seems so effortless for them, too. I get it. Being naturally proficient in this was my joy as a kid (ok, a little bit now, too). But I know I am not alone in my mastery. Funny how it’s not a listed skill set on resumes today.
Well, perhaps, while not appearing on CVs, we do find ways to put forth this expertise in the workplace. The Human Resources Department is sometimes full of these expert tantalizers. And the most valuable weapons aren’t headlock nuggys anymore; it’s write-ups.
Through the years, when I have been privileged enough to come into an organization and establish a path for both individual and company development and progression, I’ve come face to face with the weaponizing use of discipline. And I get it. When HR is setup as a default discipline within an organization, the investment in skill development is minimal, if not non-existent. Companies relegate these de facto HR POCs (points of contact) into discipline machines – “you’re late, you’re not in uniform, you’re out of PTO, you’re not…” The list of infractions multiplies as the employee handbook grows from 30 pages to 70 and changes into a handbook of grievances. YAY, let’s work here!
Corrective action rather than employee discipline is the right consideration, but even that has become more about correction and less about action. Renaming the task of writing people up but doing the same thing is the old smoke and mirrors gag. Your staff knows it.
So, what do you do? Simple. How would you like to be treated?
Take the last 6 incidents where write-ups occurred and place yourself in the recipient’s shoes. Block the judgement about the actual individual for a moment. Consider instead the areas of expectation management, communication, job duties and performance. Focus on the role and the manner with which you understand the work to be done. Could it be that there are gaps in understanding or in the actual function of the role that have caused discipline to be the solution?
Look, if I am asked to come to the plate and hit a home run every time I’m at bat, there is a high probability that I will fail. Whether you are a baseball aficionado or not, you can appreciate this example. No one hits a home run every time. No one. But if that is how the expectation is setup and performance is measured, then write-ups will be aplenty. Does an employee who has been disciplined have such an expectation? I know you’re shaking your head no but stop and look at the situation. Could the department manager be someone who is hard to please? If someone has “failed” in the past, is the hole so deep for that person to climb out of that the manager won’t ever be satisfied? And before you think it could never be this, it’s likely this 50% of the time.
Simply, stop with the write-ups. Yes, yes, there are things that need to be documented. I could not have made it 30 years in HR-related work without appreciating a “note to file.” Instead, the first thought ought to be. “Let’s chat, Employee. What’s happening with you? The issue we have to discuss is based on “x”, but I wonder if there’s more to it. Can you help me to understand why “x” isn’t happening?” (or something similar). You already know, for instance, that the person has been late to work a few times. Can we just ask what’s up before we commence with the over-the-top dead-arm torture of the “1st Written Warning”?
And before any solidarity movement around how much employees suck comes my way, let me affirm that not every employee will respond well to this initial tactic. Some may just want the write-up and then, on the next shift, no call/no show for a final kiss off to you. Been there, done that. However, it’s still in our right interest to hope for the best. Notice I didn’t finish that with “and expect the worst.” Change the mindset, Tantalizer.