The Importance of a Good Pre-Discipline Process

How to Ensure Your Discipline Process is Good.

 An individuals discipline concerns itself with both their behaviour at work and their job performance. Managers need to provide clarity as to what is expected of each employee with regard to the standards of personal behaviour and levels of performance that are required and that are acceptable within the workplace.

In this article we will talk about the issues that arise for a Manager when they discover that either the behaviour or performance of an employee is below expectations.

We must remember that the objective of discipline is to improve the individual’s performance and/or alter whatever behaviour is not in line with the culture of the organisation.

It's vitally important to clarify joint expectations for the job before contemplating discipline. The mutual clarification of the job should be agreed to such an extent that there's no doubt in the employee’s mind about what the Manager’s requirements are. Some Manager’s believe that clarity within a job description is sufficient, however we emphasize that clarification of exactly what the requirements are, is an on-going process.

Managers should always acquire a personal and internalised way of clarifying what is required in as personable a manner as possible. This is known as the Manager’s Personal Performance Management System (PMS) and is a much more important process than any centralised HR-driven process of Performance Management. 

Utilising the D E F T model for clarifying expectations

A simple model that will help Managers develop a good process of clarifying beyond any doubt what is required in the job, is contained in a model of performance management called D E F T:  Dialogue, Expectations, Feedback and Timely Approach. 

The on-going practice and learning of the behaviours in such a model will skill any Manager in this pre-disciplinary requirement of clarifying expectations in a mature and professional manner. We will briefly look at each of the elements of this model below.


At the core of a proper PMS process is meaningful dialogue about job responsibilities. The ongoing dialogue between a direct report and their Manager is one of the most important parts of successful management. It provides an on-going opportunity for the planning of improved personal development and performance.

  • Manager identifies that performance and/or behaviour is not meeting expectations.
  • Manager takes note of the performance/behaviour.
  • Meeting is arranged between Manager and employee.
  • Manager asks employee how they believe their performance and/or behaviour is going in respect of the expectations between them.
  • Manager and employee discuss their view of movements away from expectations and ways of moving closer to delivering on what was agreed.
  • New developmental goals are agreed.
  • Another date for a further review of progress is agreed.


Expectations are best clarified by focusing on the priority areas within the job. These are Key Result Areas (KRAs). These KRAs are those parts of the job where really good performance is required and where the greatest employee contribution is made. Examples of KRAs for an Operations Manager/Team Leader are outlined below;

  • Output – product/service.
  • Quality – product/service.
  • Wastage/Re-work.
  • Lean initiatives.
  • Team work.
  • Performance management.
  • Materials.
  • Communication.

The key to the Manager/Team Leader’s role in this process is to ensure that they engage with the employee in a fully shared process.

Goal Setting

The next part of the expectations element of our model is the setting of goals within the KRAs. Goals should follow the SMART formula, i.e. that they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Based. All of the goals should have a beginning, a middle and an end, wherein the beginning and the middle describe what is to be achieved and the end adds a measure so that we know when it is achieved. 

Tips for Goal Setting within difficult KRAs

  • Take, for example, where a Manager wants to set some goals within the KRA of team work. As the initial task is approached, it may appear difficult to write specific goals. In this instance take a step back and identify those areas in which things may go wrong if the Manager was not setting goals.
  • Think specifically of what one would see (the actual behaviours).
  • This process might generate issues such as: - Lack of direction within the team – duplication of tasks – interpersonal conflicts within the team – poor ‘customer service’ behaviours.
  • It is then possible to set goals in some or all of the above which will help contribute to an improvement in team work

NOTE:  This technique is not only useful for a ‘blank’ with the more difficult qualitative KRAs but the technique is also useful with quantitative KRAs. 


The feedback part of the D E F T model emphasizes that the Manager/Team Leader should instigate regular reviews of how the employees performance against the expectations that have previously been agreed. This is even more important where performance is below par and the Manager/Team Leader is attempting to improve the level of performance prior to the consideration of any discipline. 


The timely approach within the D E F T model is doing all of the above in a timely manner for both the individual and the organisation. In general this process should be engaged in two or three times per year for all employees. However it may have to be undertaken more regularly for those employees whose behaviour and/or performance is not to the agreed standard. 

All of the four key elements of D E F T provide the basis for a solid approach to a performance management system for any organisation. The main thing is to encourage Managers to find a D E F T model or similar approach that they are comfortable with as a personal management technique. This will ensure that all the good principles of pre-discipline are carried out prior to any consideration of informal or formal disciplinary processes.

Also it should be readily seen that if the Manager focuses on KRAs, and goals within those KRAs in a joint process with the employee, then there should be a clear and mutual understanding of what is required in the job. Thus using D E F T or a similar approach is a necessary pre-requisite to commencing any form of discipline. 


  • Behaviour and Job performance at work are the main focal points for discipline.
  • A good pre-discipline process must be used prior to any discipline, formal or informal.
  • Pre-discipline involves clarifying expectations between the Manager and employee.
  • D E F T (Dialogue, Expectations, Feedback and Timely Approach) is a useful approach for clarifying these expectations.
  • Managers should use D E F T or their own preferred PMS as their way of clarifying these expectations with employees, and particularly prior to any form of discipline.

At HRforSMEs we provide individual help to organisations in their efforts to get all of their Pre-Disipline Processes into good order and we can help with all HR/IR issues.

Call us today on 01-278-8980 for more information

You can learn much more about the Pre-Discipline Processes and many other aspects of Discipline in the book ‘Discipline and Dismissal’ (written by Frank Scott-Lennon and Dr. Mary Redmond) which is available at