Ask Timpo: How do you discipline staff? 

A: Head-to-head chats are an important part of good management. Loyal employees who make a mistake much prefer hearing the facts face to face than endure the embarrassment of having a warning letter delivered through their home letter box. 

Oral and written warnings, which HR departments have made an everyday feature of business life today, have, in my view, put a blot on the world of management. 

I don’t see the point of sending a disciplinary letter to a star performer. Why upset one of your best people when a blunt conversation is all that is needed? But most letters are sent to the drongos; the poor performers who you are hoping to dismiss. These letters are part of a process designed to set up a sacking without risking the wrath of an employment tribunal. 

They are often a blatant lie. They talk about training and a performance management programme to improve performance, but the whole process is a sham. Bosses don’t expect their employee to improve, they just want to get rid of them. It is an HR device to dismiss the drongos using proper process by producing foolproof files to present to a possible hearing.

Why not tell the truth? Sit down and admit that employing the colleague in the first place was a mistake, (they probably know they are in the wrong job). Offer to pay a few weeks extra pay to compensate and then help them find another job. To make sure we are not living a lie, we now only issue disciplinary letters that are approved by James or myself.  “I bet you finish in a lot of tribunals,” suggested a well-known entrepreneur recently, when I described our approach.  “Not so,” I replied. ‘We haven’t been involved in a tribunal for some years.”

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