What is progressive discipline? Progressive discipline is a practice used to deal with job-related behavior which does not meet expected job performance standards. The purpose of the progressive discipline model is to help the employees understand how to modify their behavior to improve performance issues.
Many industry experts think that progressive discipline is an outmoded behavioral policy that often yields poor results. The traditional progressive discipline model has several steps that progress in severity—verbal warnings, written warnings, suspension, and eventually termination. While discipline is vital to addressing safety concerns and maintaining a safe work environment, progressive discipline only considers the desired outcome. It doesn’t consider the root cause, whether the issue occurred due to an honest mistake or reckless actions.
Understanding what led up to an incident or safety infraction allows fleet managers to develop strategies that correct a problem rather than forcing it into a progressive discipline model. The following are some of the benefits of utilizing a more effective, behavior-based coaching approach to discipline:
- Fix the actual problem. If an incident is due to an honest mistake (not a reckless mistake), the “three strikes and you’re out” mentality doesn’t apply well. By addressing “why” the incident occurred, managers can discover the root of the problem and fix it. For example, a driver performing a process incorrectly can lead to safety issues (e.g. not performing a thorough enough pre-trip inspection). However, if their instructions on how to complete that process were unclear, management can address the problem at the root cause to prevent it from happening again.
- Build a foundation of trust. The words discipline and coaching evoke very different reactions from trucking employees for obvious reasons. One indicates penalties while the other suggests a learning opportunity. Drivers can become defensive or evasive if they think honest mistakes will be held against them as severely as purposeful misconduct.
- Maintain good morale. Progressive discipline is a blind, zero-tolerance approach to workplace incidents. It doesn’t take into consideration previous good conduct or tenure with a trucking company. This is problematic because valuable, experienced drivers may consider looking for a new employer if they’re suddenly slapped with a first strike and put on notice for future disciplinary action after years of otherwise stellar service. Coaching avoids this problem and allows for a scaled, reasonable response to incidents.
- Provides managers more authority over risks. Some incidents are enough to warrant immediate termination. However, depending on the workplace handbook, managers may be adhering to an outdated progressive discipline model. This means they have to muddle through several dangerous repeat violations when one strike should be the only strike.
Progressive discipline is a rigid model that doesn’t address the root causes behind incidents. By digging into the cause of a problem, fleet managers can identify the issue, determine how best to fix it, and coach their truck driver to help reduce risk without putting them into the penalty box. To learn more ways to improve fleet safety, contact the experts at Interstate Motor Carriers.