By Joe Wynne

It’s happened. After briefly discussing with an employee in passing his inadequate behavior, there has still not been an improvement. You have got to get organized for a meeting consistent with your company’s progressive discipline procedure. The only thing keeping you from scheduling this meeting immediately is either:

  1. You want to bask in the anticipation of sitting in front of an employee to tell him about his inadequacies. You are glowing with the knowledge that the employee will see you as a sage and accept your opinion reverently.
  2. You feel ill every time you think about what may happen at the meeting.

The tips below are for those in category two. Category one is for your boss.

Want to start something?
The first meeting is crucial. If you follow your organization’s policies and handle the situation constructively, chances are that the employee will correct his or her behavior. Then you benefit, the employee benefits, the project benefits, and your company benefits. What’s not to like?

Of course, there are regulatory constraints and potential litigation involved. You must follow certain rules to keep the incident out of court. For the same reason, you must follow corporate policy consistently with all employees, while weighing the employee’s work history. How good of a juggler are you?

Perhaps the most important thing to remember in preparing for the initial meeting is that you must plan to do everything possible to enable the employee to understand what he or she is expected to do and what the consequences are if the employee does not do it. It looks simple, but it is not as easily accomplished as you might think. Believe it or not, studies show that inadequate performance is typically due to the employee not being clear on expectations.

How to prepare for the meeting
Most of the awkwardness and discomfort of this situation can be eliminated by preparing in a more sophisticated manner.

First, read and understand your company’s progressive discipline policy. You may actually have been trained in progressive discipline, so find that important corporate guidance.

Second, distinguish between whether you have a policy violation or inadequate performance. In this article, we will focus on inadequate performance. Handling policy violations will be discussed in a future article.

Performance inadequacy: The employee is not meeting expectations in criteria such as output, quality, and coworker interactions.

  • Compile any performance guidance provided to the employee, such as job description, job aids, process documentation, etc. Research performance standards communicated to the employee and when they were communicated. This will go a long way to clarifying whether the employee knew or did not know what was expected in the way of behavior. (Remember: The employee may not have a full grasp on expectations, no matter how unlikely this seems while you prepare.)
  • Determine what the consequences are if the employee does not meet expectations, including corporate procedure and/or any project-specific sanctions.
  • Make a list of all potential obstacles to performing to expectations prior to the meeting. Plan to get facts related to each. For example, if the employee in question says that a certain expectation was not covered in training, you can say, “Actually, just to make sure about that, I talked with the trainer and looked at the materials and that particular expectation was covered in training.” Being prepared in this way will likely reduce the total number of meetings you have with this employee and get desired results much more quickly.
  • Plan how you will describe consequences of continued inadequate performance during the initial meeting in a nonthreatening manner.
  • Plan how you will ask for the employee’s side of the story.
  • As you complete the above tasks, make sure you do not appear to be collecting information on the employee to justify a termination in advance. Keep to the process, making the initial meeting in part a fact-finding session. Treat all employees consistently and with respect.
  • Practice what you have planned to say. (Make sure no one sees you, of course.) Edit your comments as necessary. It is important to be unambiguous and friendly during the meeting. This will take a practiced presentation.

Preparation can go a long way to getting things resolved quickly without unnecessary stress on the participants. If you find yourself trying to take shortcuts on this because you are busy, simply visualize yourself in court trying to justify your actions based upon shoddy documentation. That should help motivate you.

Download gantthead’s Progressive Discipline Planner
Make it easy on yourself by downloading gantthead’s Progressive Discipline Planner, which is designed to help you prepare and properly document progressive discipline.

In the next article, we will look at what to do during the meeting to keep things from getting out of control—without having security standing by.

This article originally published on gantthead on April 16, 2002. Author Joe Wynne is the subject matter expert for the Workforce Management department on

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Related content:
Workforce Management department
“Progressive Discipline: Six Ways to Lose Control of the Initial Meeting, Part 1,” by Joe Wynne
“Progressive Discipline: Six Ways to Lose Control of the Initial Meeting, Part 2,” by Joe Wynne
“Nineteen Ways to Avoid Progressive Discipline: Part 1 of 2,” by Joe Wynne
“Nineteen Ways to Avoid Progressive Discipline: Part 2 of 2,” by Joe Wynne
Related downloads:
“Aligning Project Workforce With Business and Project Objectives Template”
“Progressive Discipline Planner and Documentation Organizer” (premium)