The Art of Correction: Employee guidance versus discipline

by Jay Perry 

Research shows that employees want to be productive and succeed in their workplaces. Obviously, that’s what you need them to be as well. 

Which of your people are perfect? Of course, the logical answer is none of them. Which is also why you need to have the right viewpoint of discipline in the organization.

Lately, I have taken to replacing the word discipline with guidance. It is not just a semantic adjustment, but it also denotes a different type of mindset required if you are going to be successful as a leader. This is what people actually need to thrive, not threats and warnings. Discipline is not the same as punishment and the word guidance better suits that distinction.

The overall viewpoint should always be one of correction (guidance) when it does become a necessity. Guidance should never be viewed punitively. There are some things that you must have as prerequisites if you are going to supply a positive, corrective, guidance session for someone in need of it.

First on the list is an employee handbook. Now I’m sure you are saying to yourself, “Of course, that’s elementary.” You are right; it absolutely is elementary, but also, how many of the handbooks that are currently in use are now out-of-date and have redundancies and errors and even no-longer legal things in them but are still in use? Too many!

The employee handbook should be reviewed at least once per year to bring it up to code and realign with changes such as privacy policies and/or customer interaction policies. The other important piece a lot of companies do is assume the handbook has been reviewed by all employees. That’s simply not true, and you need to check that it has been reviewed and further, understood by every employee to ensure success.

Do you have a set disciplinary policy? Many do not, but all lines to the exit door through discipline⁠—or guidance⁠—should be clearly marked so people know where they stand. What are the grounds for immediate dismissal? What would be an infraction that might require suspension of the employee? The more detail you have around these things the less variability (read: favouritism) is going to show up in your workforce.

Next, we must check our attitude. Is it constructive? Are you aiming to help people become successful within their post at your company or are looking for the pound of flesh? Are you totally invested in the success of your people? Tough questions for she who wears the crown!

Lots of guidance⁠—pun intended 😁⁠—is available to us. When situations arise, be sure to gather all sides of the story. Always avoid talking down to an employee, and definitely leave anger out of the session. Talk about the behaviour, not the person. Create correctional steps and recognize where someone has been doing well for the company. Handle matters privately, with at least one other person present and document the conversation. These tips can help you stay the one who’s driving!

Jay Perry is the founder of leadership development firm Ally Business Coaching. He is also the co-author of Success Manifesto with Brian Tracy and serves as an education partner to California Coast University. He can be reached at


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