Discipline Is a Necessary Tool

When dealing with employees, store managers and operators must be upfront with employees about the types of discipline that may be meted out in response to performance deficiencies and misconduct.

By Jim Callahan

Let me advise you that no matter how good or how important an employee is to your operation, the fastest way to lose control of your store, office or entire business is to delay meting out discipline when it’s most needed.

Even if there’s a temptation to provide your best employees more latitude and allow them to slide a bit when it comes to enforcing company policy, I can tell you from my own personal, painful experience that when attempting to establish rules for all, too much leeway for a few is the wrong way to go.

Discipline is essential for a healthy working atmosphere. For managers or supervisors who must maintain order in a store, they shouldn’t be indecisive about correcting employees.

When I worked in upstate New York, I had a great boss, Paul, who had a unique way of conveying a message that stuck with the individual. Once when I was in the wrong, when I thought Paul was going to threaten to fire me, he instead said: “If you ever talk to me that way again, I’ll sell the business.” If you don’t think I got the message loud and clear—and appreciated the respect he granted me—I did.

The message that I got was that my future and the company’s future were joined at the hip, and that a factor such as my individual attitude had a bearing on the company’s success.

Approaching an employee who is wrong often begins with a speech, similar to one I had to give a former shining-star employee, Billy, when I ran the show for the first time.

Exasperated with how far he had slipped from an elite level, here’s the message I delivered: “Billy, there was a time when I lived in fear of losing you and your great skills but, your performance has slipped so badly that your leaving would no longer make the same kind of impact on the company.”
I have never forgotten the occasion or the disappointment I felt at the time.

I went on to tell him what he had to do to keep his job, acknowledged my responsibility and Billy improved. However, he never recaptured the magic or the spirit of the past performance that separated him from most of his coworkers.

Running a business is like operating a boat in deep waters. The person in charge has to be the one to steer the wheel of the ship, maneuver the rudder, calm the seas when necessary and know when to drop anchor.

All of us need praise. It is a critical part of the human condition. It behooves anyone holding a management position to add this tool to his or her management toolbox. Providing praise when employees deserve it balances the equation, making it more tolerable to hand out discipline when that too is deserved.

Often, the individuals being corrected aren’t aware of their shortcomings and count on management to guide them. It’s also a hallmark of good leadership to help your employees go from good to great.

As part of the process, you must be up-front from the beginning about the types of discipline that may be meted out in response to performance deficiencies and misconduct. Also, discipline and possible punishment must be consistent.

This information can’t be a surprise after an adverse incident happens. There must be a mutual understanding from the beginning—even as early as in the interview process.

Of course, the hiring process is the first opportunity to assess that future employee. It’s the chance for a company to be thorough in its evaluation because eliminating potential problem workers is easier before they’re hired.

This old saying might sound trite but, there is a genesis to most all old sayings and those truths are well worth heeding. In this case, this maxim applies: “Hire hard and manage easy.”

The best employers take this adage to heart.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on CSDecisions.com. He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at jfcallahan1160@gmail.com.


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