Never reprimand in real time

Many human resource personnel and small business owners handle their employee reprimand procedure in different ways. Is there a wrong way to warn an employee?
Most employers answer this question with experience, and with individual employees. The focus should be on how to best bring around an employee that is out of line.

Employee reprimand occurs for many reasons, like late arrival to work, insubordination, poor work performance, or other policy missteps. The reprimand can come as a written warning, dock in pay, or just a simple discussion about the problem. Many employees react positively to an employee reprimand done professionally and without malice.

The worst thing in the world, especially during a crisis, is for a manager or leader to reprimand someone while the issue is still unresolved. It solves nothing, and it minimizes the probability that the problem will be solved because the person who knows the most about the issue (the blamed) is made to feel guilty and defensive. Imagine that someone who worked with you ran into your office screaming, “My office is on fire! My office is on fire!”, and all you could offer was, “Gee, that was stupid. Why did you do that? I’m so very disappointed in you.”

Managers do this all the time, and it’s hard not to wonder why. My theory is that some people believe, due to osmosis from bad managers or parents, that the way to start fixing issues is by pointing fingers and distributing blame. Of course, making people feel bad and establishing who should feel the worst does nothing to improve the situation (knowing who started the fire doesn’t often help put it out). Instead, it’s the time after the issue has been resolved, when heads are cool and the pressure is off, that there is every opportunity to come back and figure out what happened and why, and what are the resulting lessons for the individual, the leader, and the team.

“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” — Shakespeare, Hamlet

Some managers and employers still have this daft notion that if people are doing things right then that’s what they’re paid for and they don’t need complimented. Ask almost any employee in Industries throughout the world and they’ll tell you that they don’t feel appreciated by their manager.
When you notice someone doing something you do like, tell them about it. When you notice them doing something you don’t like, tell them about it. Whether it’s good news or bad, the same rules apply.

Do it as soon as possible. Acknowledgement of a job well
done is not much good six months later. Also, if you don’t immediately call someone’s attention to something you are not happy about, then they’ll assume it’s okay. Either that or they’ll think you didn’t notice or you don’t care.

Do it in private. Why is it that some managers still feel it’s okay to reprimand someone in front of their colleagues? Even the mildest rebuke can have a negative effect on morale.

When you speak to the person use “I” messages. Say things like “I liked the way you did that” or “I think there is another way to do that.” Avoid “You” messages such as “You’re doing great.” That can come across as patronizing or insincere. “You’re doing that all wrong” may cause conflict, lower morale and may not sort the problem.

When your giving feedback, focus on one or two things. You’ll only confuse the person if you run off a whole list of attributes or misdemeanors.

Leadership, in the traditional sense, demands that individuals have some sense of self-reliance. You can take a risk or make a tough choice only if you have an inner compass guiding you toward what you think is right. Without self-reliance, all of your decisions will be based heavily on the opinions of others, or your desire to please them, without any centering force to guide those influences. Tom Peters, John P. Kotter, and other authors call that centering force a value system. They suggest that a set of values can act as your core, or an organization’s core, guiding you through difficult situations.

This approach can work, but I’m suggesting something deeper and more personal. Self-reliance starts by trusting your own opinions—it’s possible for you to believe something is true, even if others do not. Differing opinion should negate yours only if you consider it and, in thinking through it on your own, change your mind. Otherwise, there is no reason to give up your opinion on a subject (you might still give in on a decision, yielding your authority to theirs, but this doesn’t require you losing your own opinion).

Your beliefs should be self-sufficient. If you were to change your mind only because other people think differently than you, you’d be committing an act against trusting yourself. Betraying trust in yourself can be just as dangerous as betraying trust in your team. For the brave, self-reliance goes further. Not only do you trust your own opinions, you trust your core enough to allow your opinions to change, and even to admit to your mistakes. Without change and the occasional struggle, we can’t learn or grow.

But if you do trust yourself, you’ll recognize that you are still you, even when you fail or grow into new ideas. Emerson wrote: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” He meant that keeping the same ideas just for the sake of keeping those same ideas makes no sense. A wise person should be learning more all the time, which will require him to develop new ideas and opinions, even if they contradict ones he had in the past. If you lead an active intellectual and emotional life, your ideas will grow with you.

This means a self-reliant person can be confident in herself, while finding ways to let others influence her and help define her vision of the future, allowing all kinds of positive changes. You are free to make mistakes, admit to them, and change your mind, without violating your own identity. So, if you can learn to trust yourself in these ways, you will, as a by-product of your leadership role, help others learn to trust themselves. No act of delegation in the worlds of projects or human psychology is more powerful than helping people believe in their own ability to become more self-reliant.

“It is only as a man puts off all foreign support, and stands alone, that I see him to be strong and to prevail. He who knows that power is inborn, that he is weak because he has looked [only] for good out of him and elsewhere, and so perceiving, throws himself unhesitatingly on his thought, instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, commands his limbs, works miracles; just as aman who stands on his feet is stronger than amanwho stands on his head.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, from “Self-Reliance”

Here are some other don’ts when it comes to reprimanding:

1. Don’t attack someone personally. Never begin a reprimand with a statement such as, “Listen Fred, you idiot, …” Address the problem at hand. Be specific about what was done incorrectly. It is never okay to insult a person just because you are upset.

2. Don’t store up reprimands. By this I mean don’t wait “for a good time” to deliver one or more reprimands. The best time to give a reprimand is immediately after the incorrect behavior or action has occurred. If you wait a week or so to discuss the problem with the individual, and then throw in some other problems you have observed in the past months, your impact on that person’s behavior will not be very effective. Accumulated griefs and problems will only make you feel bad. When you do finally “dump” on the person, there will be so much to digest, and the error so far removed from the actual event, you’ll just end up blowing off a lot of steam, which will have little or no impact or effect on behavior.

3. Don’t threaten people. uch threats will either immobilize them with fear or cause considerable resentment. tick to the point. Point out the error or incorrect behavior. Then reaffirm them by telling them they’re okay—but their actions need to be modified.

4. Don’t reprimand people in public. Public fireworks, such as chewing out an employee in front of a customer, is a technique used only by bullies. It’s thoughtless, damaging, and embarrassing for everyone. If you have occasion to reprimand a person, do it privately.

Before you give a reprimand—think! If someone has done something wrong you must ask yourself, “Should he or she have known better?” If the answer is “No” then the person is obviously still unfamiliar with his or her assigned responsibilities or task. In this case, Do Not Reprimand. Never reprimand a beginner—be it an experienced employee working in a new position or your own child learning to tie his shoelaces. It will only cause confusion or outright discouragement. In this instance, your role as a manager is to help, or redirect, the person who is having a problem.

However, if a person should have known better, then you must ask yourself, “Did they make the mistake deliberately, or might it have been because they lacked confidence?” If the problem revolves around confidence, Do Not Reprimand. You need to determine the reason for the problem causing this lack of confidence. It could be that there is a new situation which is unsettling to an experienced worker. For example, perhaps a long-time sales clerk makes many errors on the new cash register. If so, the reason is probably a lack of confidence with the buttons or the new routine required when ringing up sales. In such a situation, a supportive managerial style is required. No one needs to reprimand this clerk. Rather, the clerk needs some training and some practice on the new register, coupled with support from an understanding boss. Reprimands have no place in this example.

How to Create a Written Reprimand

What should go into the written reprimand? Obviously, it needs to be clear and to the point. Plainly state what behaviors you are reprimanding. It should include a signature line for the employee to sign proving the employee saw it. There must be no question the employee involved does not understand the nature of the reprimand and the consequences if he or she repeats the behavior. Take your time composing the letter of reprimand; you should never write one “on the fly” or in the heat of anger.

How should you present the written reprimand to the employee? Clearly you should do this in private, giving the employee opportunity to vent his or her feelings. In no instance, should you discuss it with other employees. Be prepared to listen to the employee’s response to the reprimand. It may not be the contrite attitude you would wish; the employee may respond in anger. Also be prepared for a sudden resignation. In that event, you need to be ready to follow good procedures for termination. In the heat of such a moment, you cannot afford to neglect important items like collecting any keys or business property in the employee’s possession.

If the written reprimand does not change the employee’s behavior, you can use it as documentation. It proves you made substantial efforts to correct an unacceptable situation. Such documentation will be invaluable if the employee files a labor dispute claim against the business. However, always consider this type of reprimand as a tool for improvement first rather than a means of ridding your business of a difficult employee.