Discipline in the workplace - a skill?

Discipline op de werkplek ... een kunst?

Talking about discipline or addressing people about discipline sometimes appears to be taboo, even in professional organisations. Can managers still expect workers to stick to agreements and implement tasks promptly? Is it because discipline is associated with blind obedience, loss of autonomy, submission, or coercion? And isn’t discipline an archaic concept charged with negative overtones?

Discipline means:

  • You have mastered a subject, knowledge, and a set of skills and techniques so that you can contribute creatively to the success of your organisation and with a focus on results.
  • And also… that you know the rules and agreements within your organisation and you follow them.

Discipline in both senses is vitally important for organisations. Moreover, they reinforce each other. Anyone who helps to develop or sustain work agreements skilfully and knowledgeably will be more likely to carry them out with enthusiasm and commitment and continue to follow them. However, a lot of organisations need to improve the quality of implementation of what are often excellent strategies and ideas. But how do we refine discipline even more in organisations? Each organisation exudes its own specific culture and radiates specific values. Imagine: A department where discipline rules is a workplace where people dance to the rhythm of the takt time with focus and concentration. People don’t run there, they don’t get agitated, there’s no excess noise, and there’s no excess motion. The space is neat and tidy and the visual management is clear. Communication media are used widely. Everyone is at work, in purposeful operations, purposeful consultation. Unplanned deviations are dealt with systematically, according to set priorities.

Working on a culture of discipline means working on developing, building up, maintaining, and improving those processes which are designed to yield speed of action, result, and certainty. Such a culture values the training of workers and the development of expertise and experience.

But how do you do that? For Stanwick, these are the driving forces:

  1. Leadership. Discipline starts at the top. Managers show by their behaviour what is important and valuable. Workers are inspired (or distracted) by their supervisor’s personal behaviour. Expecting discipline certainly also means allowing oneself to be assessed for persistent disciplined behaviour.
  2. Attention. The things which gain the management’s attention are also the things which get carried out. Go to Gemba. Ascertain what happens in the workplace by contacting the workplace directly.
  3. Expectations. Ambition to achieve the organisation’s goals and pride in achieving the right steps are infectious. When it doesn’t matter, there’s no need for discipline. Be explicit with the expectations.
  4. Feedback. It helps to monitor workers. Monitoring first of all leads to support, secondly to improvement of the processes, and then thirdly to corrective adjustment. Give feedback yourself and refine the feedback capacity within the organisation.
  5. Commitment. Shared agreements are better agreements. If you want workers to observe agreements in a disciplined manner, make sure:
  • that the why of an agreement is clear.
  • that the agreement is discussed thoroughly, including from the worker’s point of view.
  • that the worker can think along with the design of a new agreement which affects him or her directly. Managers are the owners of the WHAT, but make workers the owners of the HOW.
  • that the worker is encouraged to pick up, master, and try out the new agreement/work method.
  • that every effort for change and correct behaviour are appreciated.
  • that the effect of the new agreement, the result, is visible for all those involved.

Discipline is the basis for freedom, the freedom to improve constantly and to grow on the basis of mastery of the material. A final synonym for discipline is dedication.  Dedication stands for attention, faithfulness, care, and thoughtfulness. Isn’t that what we hope to see in ourselves and our workers?

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