Deliver effective workplace bollockings

There comes a time in every manager’s life when a junior oversteps the mark.

If the offence is too serious to go unnoticed, yet not bad enough to crank up formal discipline, you need to have words with the person.

How you handle this will have a long-term impact on your relationship with the junior – it can also have a wider impact on how you interact with the rest of your colleagues.

Take care not to alienate

Aim to deliver a powerful, unambiguous message reinforcing good behaviour while correcting or halting bad behaviour. You need to do this without alienating or demotivating the junior.

What’s more, you need to do it within the context of company policy and employment law. Balancing these forces requires a subtle approach and a workable game plan.

It only takes a minute

The One Minute Manager suggests a useful basic template for disciplining subordinates.

Although the book’s corny approach borders on the embarrassing, Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson offer useful advice on administering day-to-day management discipline.

The “One Minute Warning” goes like this:

  • Keep the carpeting short – there’s a reason we call it the one minute warning,
  • Check with the person concerned that you have the story straight before saying anything more,
  • Quickly reprimand the behaviour, not the person,
  • Let them know exactly how you feel about the incident,
  • Pause while this sinks in and then…
  • Praise the person and remind them of their strengths.

Beyond the basics

While this is a good basic template, it doesn’t always work.

The One Minute Manager was written for Americans. They take certain workplace ideas as understood, these don’t necessary translate into other cultures.

Workers in New Zealand and Australia are generally stroppier than their US counterparts, are more argumentative. We have been conditioned for better or worse by a more confrontational industrial climate.

One Minute Bollocking

In the early 1980s, a British friend of mine refined this technique, which she described as a “One Minute Bollocking“. The difference being at the time Pom employees were less susceptible to the kind of empty flattery that goes down well with Americans.

She followed the Blanchard and Johnson recipe up to the last step where she simply told the person that this wouldn’t affect their career prospects and that she knew they were capable of delivering the goods: “Now get out and get on with your work”.

Although British employees are often more deferential than their antipodian counterparts, I’ve found, depending on the motivational needs of the person in question, the British style bollocking generally goes down better than the saccharine ‘warning’.