Referee giving yellow card disciplinary action and setting expectations
Disciplinary action and setting expectations
Posted by Stuart Falconer • July 9, 2021

When to – or when not to – discipline someone is one of the issues I’m approached about most frequently. There’s a blunter variation too that comes in the form of the question: ‘Can I sack them?’ To be honest, the answer is almost always ‘Yes’. Of course, there are risks associated with dismissing people, but businesses can mitigate against those risks by ensuring employees understand the grounds for disciplinary action and setting expectations.

Have you got a code of conduct?

A simple way to mitigate against risk is to have a code of conduct for all staff to adhere to. But don’t just stick it at the back of your employee handbook and hope it will get read. Make sure everyone knows what the code is and the consequences of not doing something they’re supposed to.

Here’s a straightforward example. Let’s say you want to introduce a policy about how phone calls are answered. It could include answering within three rings, it could be the tone you’re encouraged to use when speaking to a client or it could be an agreed crib sheet of things that have to be ticked off during the conversation.

Make your expectations crystal clear

With a policy in place, the following should be clear:

  • When the phone rings, this is what we expect you to do.
  • This is your job, so make sure you do it the way we need you to do it.
  • If there’s a problem, or you don’t think you can do it, then talk to us, so we can understand the difficulty and work out a solution.
  • If you do not follow the guidelines, please understand that we will consider disciplinary action. This is not an avenue we wish to explore, so please ensure you learn how to answer the phone the way we expect you to.

Document the conversation, whether it be with an individual or the entire team, and circulate it. Job done. How simple is that? What argument could they have? What mitigation could they provide? Now you know that if someone doesn’t follow the guidance, you could choose to discipline them. Importantly, your employees know that too.

The point I’m making is that any employer can put together a basic operating manual for staff. It can be as detailed or as basic as you want, but what it does is hold employees accountable for the job you expect them to do. It makes everyone’s job easier!

What would Ronald McDonald do?

Whether you’re a fan of McDonald’s or not, they had it down to a T when I worked there a number of years ago. They had six steps for serving a customer and you were not allowed to deviate from the script. In fact, that customer service principle is engrained throughout their entire operation. What it ensures is that whenever you step into a branch of McDonald’s across the world, you know exactly what you’re going to get. Employees understand what is expected of them in their role as the six steps are set in stone.

Don’t be left floundering

I’m not expecting my clients to introduce an operating procedure across their entire business like McDonald’s have. However, if you want to ensure staff answer the phone in the manner you want them to, why wouldn’t you introduce a policy for answering the phone?

Of course, it’s about more than just telephones. A watertight behaviour and conduct policy will mean you’re not left floundering the next time you’re considering whether disciplinary action is appropriate – whatever the issue.

You can find out more about expectations and standards of behaviour here.

Morgan Thomson HR can help you support your staff, from policies through to managing disciplinary action. To find out what we can do for your business, contact me on 0345 095 0139 or email