I have a pair of direct reports that can be rather nasty to my other direct reports.  I've been working with them to improve for about a year through the use of 03s, feedback, and some coaching.  I've started formal discipline with both of them, and one has had a 3 day suspension and the other received a letter of counsel.

So much of what they do is difficult to record and present to HR in such a way that a clear case can be made.  It isn't what is said, it is the way it is said.  It'd be easy to record obvious things (such as face turned read, screaming, giving the bird, etc.), but it is so subtle.  For example, B and L recently asked S about her status on a project in the office.  S has been overwhelmed with two big deadlines, so the project they had asked about was a little behind but nothing that would concern me.  B & L both then said, in front of J & V (S's co-workers), comments regarding a spreadsheet related to the project not being up-to-date along with a few other snarky comments related to the project.

S, J, and V all interpreted B and L's conversation as a dig on S.  S stated to me she felt attacked.  I wasn't present so I didn't directly witness it, but I asked S, J, and V if there were raised voices, furled faces, etc., etc., anything concrete that I could document and report to use to take to HR as further evidence that the previous formal discipline had been ineffective for resolving the negative behaviors regarding poor office communications and conduct unbecoming because I believe - actually, I KNOW - further disciplinary steps are going to be necessary.  

But B and L seem to be really good at subtle digs that are difficult to formally discipline because if HR reads the words that were said on a black and white page, they don't seem all that bad.  But I know from experience if you are THERE for the event these communications from B and L are undoubtedly meant to attack and make the other person (S in this case) feel like they aren't doing their job.  B and L regularly do these types of things that damage the relationships in the office and the ability of the team to be effective.

How can I record and report these types of behaviors in a way that HR will feel comfortable taking to the next step?  So that when these people appeal the discipline (because they will), the people hearing the appeal will be able to read what happened and say "no, this discipline is totally justified."?  Is there some sort of dictionary of bad behaviors and childish behavior that I could reference when crafting my recommendations to HR?


Chris Zeller's picture
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Hi JByrd,

Your best friends here might just be patience and consistency.

I'd recommend documenting both positives and negatives for everyone on your team. Firstly, because it's good practice and will give you material to reference when it comes time for performance reviews. Secondly, it allows you to demonstrate even-handedness in the event that you get accused of "having it out" for B and L or "targeting" them. Being able to show 10 piles of documentation (positive and negative) for B, L, S, J, and V takes the wind right out of those sails.

Also, have you rolled out any of the MT frameworks? Three things spring to mind: "Communication is what the listener does," "tearing down the team is a fireable offense," and the Peer Feedback Model.

Once everyone is clear on that, then B&L are responsible for how their communication is received by the others on the team. This limits their ability to let innuendo undermine others' efforts while being "technically appropriate."

The Peer Feedback Model is a tool that S, J, and V can use to let B and L know that the things that they are saying and how they're saying them, (behavior) make them uncomfortable, like they're being attacked, etc.

You can observe that, and provide your own traditional Feedback to B and L. "Can I give you some feedback? I've observed S, J, and V tell you that they feel uncomfortable when you XYZ and you continue to do it. Having a positive team dynamic is critical to our success. Will you change that going forward?" As always, look for patterns (I think MT recommends 7 times) and understanding coupled with refusal to change on their part.

You can also document communication that you receive from the others regarding B and L's behavior that you don't actually witness for yourself. It probably weighs less, but still has a place in the basket.

Keep steady, stay effective, and deliver results.