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As labor laws continue to permeate into more and more aspects of our leadership responsibilities, it is a consistent pattern of accountability, the pattern of treating people with dignity, respect, compassion and integrity; that creates a feeling of value for all employees. When discipline becomes necessary, it is this philosophy of voice & touch that will assist an organization in maximizing the growth of its’ employees while minimizing its’ potential liability within work-place issues that arise.

Jesus always exhibited these patterns in how He treated people, all people. He never discriminated against anyone because of their ability level, race, appearance, political views, or national origin. He was a respecter of all persons. No one was ever made to feel small. Jesus never passed over anyone because they did not fit the accepted social standing of the day, or fit with what Jesus' contemporaries might have felt was an improper or an outcast group. For example, the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), whom Jesus befriended, was out-of-bounds in Jewish social circles. But as John records, the disciples marveled that He had been speaking with her, still no one dared to ask him why. Why? Because they knew why. Jesus treated all people with respect and dignity because Jesus knew that every person had value and was created in the image of God.

Using Jesus as an example of our heart’s attitude in how we treat employees throughout the discipline process is both biblical and practical. Some people would argue that it is how an employee is treated while being disciplined and not what actually occurred on the job that becomes the greater problem for both the employee and the organization. Surveys have shown that employees often perceive discipline as abuse. An employee believes the boss "didn’t care about me", " didn’t show me how to perform the job", or " did not give me the tools to perform the job". This typically is a response to a leader’s attitude and heart toward an employee and not a fair display of the employee’s actual job performance. If a leader is to be accountable to both the employee and the organization, an attitude of doing everything possible for the employee to succeed becomes the prequel to how the discipline is to be conducted.

Counseling the Employee

To help eliminate such problems, it makes sense that one would counsel an employee rather than warn or reprimand them for not performing their job responsibilities. If carried out properly, a counseling session becomes the antithesis of a warning notice. Counseling an employee is both a process and attitude that give a person feedback in a positive manner and the tools to correct their job-related problem behavior, as well as allowing the employee the opportunity to decide if he/she wants to correct the problem. A good counseling session will be a “voice & touch” - type meeting, assuring the manager speaks the "same language" as the employee and at the same time is clear as to the problem issues and solution.

Throughout a counseling session the leader becomes both a servant and steward of the employee. He values the person and lets the employee know that their success is more important than the problem behavior. The manager shares that he is there to do everything possible to help the employee correct their problem behavior. Hopefully the employee leaves the counseling session with a positive attitude and assurance that the organization and their manager are there to assist them in any way possible to work through, grow, and correct any issue about which they were being counseled.

As leaders in the Christian community if we will allow our pride to be set aside, be accountable for those under our care, and manage with the Christ-like characteristics of humility and stewardship, our employees can become great employees, not because they have to, but rather because they want to.

The Counseling Process

One of the most difficult areas of accountability to address in any work setting is an employee not performing their job. A consistent display of positive discipline becomes imperative for the employee to understand that their manager disciplines because he cares about the employee’s success. As shared earlier, positive discipline takes place through a process of counseling an employee. This is not a warning notice or pink slip; these only present an attitude that the manager is right and the employee is wrong.

Counseling is sharing with an employee the problem issue and giving the employee every tool and opportunity to correct the behavior. The focus shifts from the content of the session to the character of the manager and the process as he/she delivers the content.

If management can understand that a part of their accountability on the job is the consistent treatment of their people, and in doing so master the art of counseling, they will be known as both fair and caring. By disciplining employees in this manner managers can dramatically lower the potential for litigation while increasing the output level and degree of motivation among their workers.

To assist in the process, below is a list of practical items to consider when giving a counseling session.

The Practical ITEMS Within a Counseling Session

• Remember, if it wasn’t written, it didn’t happen. It is vital to maintain a distinct paper trail of how you counseled with your employee both consistency and fairly.

• Don’t wait. Provide discipline as soon as possible so as not to lose the impact of the incident.

• Be sensitive. Show discretion and meet in a quiet location away from others.

• Be prepared. Write up everything and have your supporting documents copied before the session begins.

• Support the session with objective information only. Do not give opinions or personal bias.

• Ask the question; ”If I were to leave tomorrow, and this issue went to court, would my counseling session report stand on its own merits?”

• Follow the rule of “just cause,” which means to remember to treat everyone the same in the same situation.

• Think & pray about the session. Go to a quiet area and ask God for both guidance and humility in presenting the session. Make sure your heart is focused on growing the employee, not showing you are right.

• Always have a witness present for a counseling session, ALWAYS. Your witness should be someone seen as being neutral, such as human resources.

• If you are counseling an employee of the opposite sex, have your witness be the same sex as your employee.

• Remember! How you present the counseling session is your choice, correcting the problem is the choice of the employee.

Conducting the Counseling Session

• Don’t read the counseling report when giving the session. Share in a narrative format. This helps put the employee at ease.

• Do read the counseling report at the end to make sure you have covered everything. This ensures that what is said is the same as what is written.

• Remember! An employee in a counseling session usually has one goal in mind: to leave the session.

• Let the employee know they will not leave until they can repeat back in their own words why they are at the session and what they will do to correct the problem. Don’t conclude the session until this occurs.

• Don’t be disheartened or angry if the employee cannot repeat the session back to you the first time. Their initial goal is to leave the session, not listen.

• Don’t try to “lump together” more than one discipline issue. One counseling session for every problem.

• Don’t be irritated if the employee refuses to sign the session. Simply write “refused to sign” on the signature line.

• Don’t get frustrated or mad during any part of the session. Be calm, especially when you have to go over a session several times.

• Directly after the session give the employee a copy of the counseling report.

• Don’t ever forget your goal during discipline—to do everything possible for your employee to succeed.

• Counseling sessions are not easy, they take practice, practice and more practice.

• Role-play your sessions with other managers until you feel comfortable giving them.

In Closing

Hard as it may be, administering discipline is an everyday part of a manager’s job description. The consistency of treating everyone the same in the same situation must become the benchmark if managers hope to be known for valuing others as Christ did. In closing, scripture paints the same picture in the book of Hebrews when it shares that, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (NIV, 12:11). God honors positive discipline, the law requires it and, if necessary, your employees desire it. Go now and make a difference.

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