Providing progressive discipline

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Dawn Altmaier
  • 92nd Operations Group first sergeant
It is 7:35 a.m., Monday morning, and Airman 1st Class Snuffy comes rolling into work carrying his favorite coffee house's special of the day. It is his first time being late so what do you do? Do you ask "where is my coffee," or "why are you late," or do you write up a Letter of Reprimand?

Now it is 7:45 a.m., Tuesday morning, and Airman Snuffy strolls into work. What action do you take now? What about on the following Monday when Snuffy is late again?

As an aware and knowledgeable supervisor, you know that Airman Snuffy is not meeting the standards, but you have a great relationship with him and you don't want to ruin that by telling him he has a responsibility to get to work on time. So what is a supervisor to do? You are his boss, not his friend, and you must set him up for success and the key is progressive discipline.

Progressive discipline is an underutilized tool designed to solicit a controlled behavioral response from an Airman who has failed to meet standards. In Snuffy's example, the correct choice for his first infraction would have been to ask why he was late. On Tuesday, a Letter of Counseling would have been warranted and then the following Monday you will need to break out the Letter of Admonition or Reprimand. You keep going until Snuffy is rehabilitated or shown the door to the civilian sector.

Progressive discipline is a three step process. First, as a preventive tool, you must establish standards. You must draw the line of acceptability and explain to your Airman what you expect and what will happen if he or she crosses that line. To gain credibility, you must lead by example and 'walk the walk.' Second, you need to monitor behavior and performance to ensure your Airman does not cross the line. Provide feedback when he or she gets out of line and when those same standards are exceeded. Feedback promotes communication and decreases the need to administer discipline. The third step is to apply discipline. You need to swiftly take action to correct standards violations.

Examples include issuing a verbal counseling, LOC, LOA, or LOR, or suggesting an Article 15 or court martial to the commander. The action taken depends on the circumstances, severity and frequency of the infraction. When all else fails, or when the Airman's action is severe, it is time to take corrective action--remember, only the commander may administer punishment.

Keep in mind that if a behavior is important enough for you to worry about, it is important enough to document. Too many times supervisors have ignored a behavior, or simply wrote an MFR that disappeared in a desk drawer. Then, when the behavior became extreme, the supervisor had to start with a verbal counseling or LOC because there was no documentation on past performance. You should not jump straight into an LOR or Unfavorable Information File if you did not correct the behavior the first time you witnessed it.

This process starts on the first day of supervision. Clearly and concisely set standards and document them during the initial feedback session. Look your subordinate in the eye and tell them the consequences for failing to meet standards. Provide timely and consistent feedback and you will pave the road to success for you and your Airmen. Now, where is my coffee?