Verbal Warnings

Verbal Warnings – Do they have a place today?

 

As the disciplinary process evolves, it is helpful to reflect on your own organisation’s process and make sure it is up to date, current, fair and reasonable.

A key part of a traditional disciplinary process is the verbal warning – a step Managers can take when they believe an employee’s actions are serious enough to warrant more than an outline of expectations or a coaching session, yet not serious enough to warrant a Written Warning. Frequently these warnings are given by Managers without following a full process, and Companies often then mistakenly rely on them as the first step in a progressive warning process for misconduct.

A general rule of thumb for misconduct is that the progressive disciplinary processes should allow for three formal warnings for the employee prior to dismissal being considered. It’s important to consider whether a verbal warning forms part of the progressive disciplinary process for your organisation, and if so, specify this in your Code of Conduct.

For a verbal warning to be part of a progressive disciplinary process:

  1. It must be confirmed in writing, outlining the breach of policy and procedure and future expectations, and ideally have the employee’s signature
  2. You must still conduct an investigation, allowing the employee to respond after having the opportunity to prepare, have a support person present, and have access to all the information you have gathered about the misconduct

To be utilised and considered as part of a progressive process, the process you follow before issuing a verbal warning must be the same as if a written warning is given.

If you do not follow this process, then a verbal warning may be considered as part of the investigation into further misconduct but cannot be relied upon as one of the formal steps. It is instead background information confirming that the employee was aware of the Company rules and the impact of their actions.

If you do not follow this process, details of the verbal warning should not be stored on the employee’s personal file. Instead it would be considered the same as a coaching session, a letter of expectation or a Manager’s diary note.

For many Companies this requirement for a full process has meant that verbal warnings have become a thing of the past.

A more current approach is to streamline the process, doing away with verbal warnings altogether:

  • First instance of the behaviour – Informal discussions reflecting concerns. The Manager would be advised to keep “diary notes”
  • Second instance of the behaviour- Issue a Letter of Expectation alongside conducting a Coaching session driven by a Performance Improvement Plan (if appropriate). This is an informal process which does not require a formal investigation. The Manager outlines the impact of the behaviour and uses a coaching approach to help the employee identify ways they can improve. This is documented by the Manager and kept as part of the Performance Improvement Plan
  • Third instance of the behaviour – An investigation is initiated, which can then set off the formal disciplinary process, inviting the employee to respond. It also includes the other requirements of a full process. A possible outcome could be a first written warning.
  • Continuation of the Disciplinary process

Having a process which is sound, streamlined and allows for the employee to have an opportunity to change their behaviour is critical to minimising the risk of any comebacks on the process.  

This area can be a minefield, and is not easy to get right.

Positive People are experienced in developing performance management frameworks which are legally compliant, understandable and practical for both managers and employees. Contact us today and we can help you review yours.

Performance Management

How to have that difficult conversation

 

Preparing for performance reviews with your team should generally be a straight-forward process.

Typically, the steps include:

  1. Requesting the employee’s feedback on their own performance
  2. Gathering evidence, including things like sales figures, other KPIs/measurements, customer feedback, attendance records, etc.
  3. Completing your manager review
  4. Meeting with your employee to discuss the above, along with their personal development plan
  5. Finalising actions for the next review period

However, where you have a poorly performing employee, additional preparation is required. Here are our recommendations for approaching difficult conversations at performance reviews.

 

Be solution driven.

Any performance difficulties discussed need to conclude with an agreed way of moving forward so that every issue has a solution attached to it at the end of the discussion.

Use the phrase: “So, now that we have discussed this challenge, lets agree how to change this in the future…”

 

Keep the meeting on an equal footing.

Make certain that the meeting allows for the employee to feel that they are completely free to say what they want to – allow time and space for them to talk. If the meeting is not conducted on an equal footing, then half the communication (and much of the benefit) will be lost.

 

Discuss the differences.

Major differences between your manager review and the employee’s self-review highlight a gap in perception and understanding. The discussion will centre on why the perceptions are different and also what can be done to move the assessments up the scale.

 

Is it a problem of motivation or ability?

Ask questions to diagnose the root cause of the issue. Listen for whether it is a case of ‘can’t do’ or ‘won’t do’? Tailor the solution accordingly.

 

Discuss your role in improving the performance.

Are you helping or standing in the way of performance? Are you controlling too much or being too hands-off? Does the employee need more training? How can you can best support them to make positive changes?

 

Make a plan and follow up.

Agree and document the plan – what, who, and by when? Then don’t forget to follow-up. Too often a performance plan languishes unopened until the next review. Regular follow-up is essential to effect real change.

 

Following these guidelines should lead to a constructive conversation and the development of a quality action plan. Keen to learn more? Positive People run a Performance Management module as part of our popular Leadership Development Program. Contact us today at info@positivepeople.co.nz or 09 445 1077 to discuss our group or individual training and development solutions.