In today’s pampered age and increasingly politically correct climate, “applying consequences” has somehow become perceived as harsh, unfair, or as demonstrating excessive intolerance. Frankly, however, what is truly harsh and unfair is allowing people to underachieve—or fail outright—on your leadership watch because you don’t have either the skill set or mindset to effectively apply consequences. What’s also harsh and unfair is allowing someone to lower team morale, create poor customer experiences, violate your values and break team momentum because he or she isn’t held accountable with consequences for their actions. And speaking of “intolerant,” the highest performing cultures happen to be highly intolerant of certain behaviors and performances that may put the entire entity at risk. I recently filmed a DVD on this topic, and placed it on our virtual training platform. The feedback was so overwhelmingly positive, that I want to share some of the principles in this piece.
A consequence is defined as the result of an action or condition. An important Law of Behavioral Science states that, “If you want to change a behavior, you must change the consequence for that behavior.” Without consequences for inappropriate behaviors or results, you must continue to revisit the same issues continually without any long-term change in behavior, or improvement in results. Bearing this in mind, consider these seven rules, thoughts, and strategies concerning the effective application of consequences:
- Consequences are not one-size-fits-all’s. They should be customized to fit various offenses. Obviously, you’ll most likely have a different consequence for someone who is ten minutes late to a meeting than you would the person misusing a company credit card.
- Consequences are most effective when spelled out in writing. For example, in your employee handbook, you may have something like this clearly outlined: The first time you’re late to work within a twelve-month period, you will receive a verbal warning; the second time, you are written up; the third time, your employment is terminated.
These, of course, are just examples and I’m not recommending them; nor am I recommending you not use them. Again, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all remedy. Consequences may vary depending on your culture’s makeup, what you’ve done previously, and more.
3. Depending on the offense, consequences often include a form of progressive discipline. As set out in the prior point, the severity may increase with frequency of offenses.
However, for more serious offenses like sexual harassment, lying, cheating, theft, and the like, you probably don’t want to give multiple chances. In strong cultures there is no tolerance for those behaviors and the consequences philosophy is pretty much “one and done.” It’s wise to check with your HR team and legal counsel, as laws concerning outlining and applying certain consequences may vary from one city or state to another.
4. Once established, consequences must be enforced. Make exceptions to stated consequences at your own great peril. You can destroy your personal credibility and open yourself up to discrimination suits.
As weak and pathetic as the following will sound, it is true: you are better off not to have a standard at all, than to have a standard with a pre-established consequence that you fail to enforce. As parents who raise spoiled brats can testify, you’ll actually have more credibility not establishing a rule or standard than you will by doing so, declaring a consequence, and then flinching when the time comes to apply it.
5. Consequences must be specific in order to be effective and enforceable.
“If you come in to work late again there are going to be consequences” is worthless. What does that mean exactly? They get a spanking? You’re going to egg their house, or give them a wedgie? Laying out specific consequences is both more effective and credible.
6. You don’t necessarily need consequences for everything. In strong cultures, things like peer pressure provide an unwritten consequence for things like leaving dishes in the sink, taking someone else’s lunch, or keeping a sloppy work area. However, you should absolutely have consequences for your non-negotiable behaviors (core values), outcomes, and the essential activities and processes most predictive of creating the prescribed outcomes.
7. Consequences can include a wide array of possible actions.
- Verbal warning.
- Written warning.
- Suspended without pay.
- Loss of privilege.
- Loss of responsibility.
- Probationary period.
Keep this in mind: whenever you begin to tighten up clarity and consequences in your business, some may accuse you of micromanaging. This is nothing more than an attempt to manipulate your behaviors to their advantage, hoping you back off. Micromanage is defined as: to control with excessive attention to minor details. Bearing this in mind, it’s easy to point out that non-negotiable behaviors like core values, your desired outcomes, and the essential activities and process most predictive of creating those outcomes are far from “minor” details. In fact, the failure to execute said behaviors, activities, and outcomes puts your entire organization at risk.