Breakfast With The Terminator

Let’s talk about DISCIPLINE

Admit it. That word just made you feel something. Some of you cringed. Others felt tingles in their happy place (don’t make it dirty, you know I meant inside your head).

I had a discussion this past week with a “leader” who was curious about some happenings on a project site. A serious near miss had occurred when an employee defeated a safety device. The “leader” (known by many as the Terminator) asked me first what had been done to discipline the employee. I honestly had no clue. I’m not in that business. No safety professional should be.

Next he asked me how I felt about the situation in general. My answer wasn’t what he wanted, so the conversation ended shortly after. I simply told him that there was more to it than the employee’s violation.

What made him think it was a reasonable risk?

How many times had he done it before without incident?

What expectations had he been given by his supervisor?

Why was the system designed in such a way that it could be easily defeated?

Those questions are all exponentially harder to answer (honestly) than simply identifying what the employee did wrong and punishing him for it. Sadly, in this case, discipline meant paperwork in the employee’s file. I doubt any of my questions will be answered.

What if it meant something different?

It’s easy to beat people with a safety stick. I’d wager that’s why so many organizations still do it. All that does, however, is create a culture of fear.

“But if people can’t follow the rules they need to be held ACCOUNTABLE!”

Sure. Maybe. Or maybe your organization needs new rules. Ever wonder why people continue to violate them even when they know better? You probably should.

Here’s a stark reality. It takes a lot more “discipline” for leaders to look in the mirror when things go wrong than it does to terminate an employee. That’s the kind of discipline organizations need. There’s ALWAYS more to the story than the stupid thing a person did. Unfortunately that information often walks out the door with the offender.

Let’s start learning

In my estimation, the discipline debate is one that will go on forever. That just means we have to prove there are better ways to “safety” than punishment. I’m up for the challenge.

If you’re one of the ones who felt the tingles at the beginning of this post, consider at least giving the alternative a try. Next time someone “violates” one of your rules, try to figure out why before you pull out your ticket book.

If it doesn’t work you can always go back to being a cop. I doubt you’ll need to though.