Organisational health will keep disciplinaries at bay

Disciplinary processes can be stressful for everyone involved, so it is important to think about how they can be prevented, says Valerie Morton

Valerie Morton

Q: We've just been through a gruelling disciplinary process with a member of staff. How can we prevent this happening again?

A: Disciplinary processes can be stressful for everybody concerned, so it is a positive step to be thinking about prevention. Let's start by looking at why they might be occurring in the first place.

Some years ago, in my capacity as a non-executive director in the NHS, I sat in on a GP's surgery. I'd assumed I would see patients come in, describe their problems and be given remedies, or at worst offered some tests. But it was nothing like that. The problems were rarely a particular malady, but more often a combination of social and health factors.

It is all too easy to assume there is one root cause of a disciplinary - for example, the wrong person recruited to the post, a clash of personalities or one party trying to make a personal gain in some way. Of course, this might be the case, but my view is that there is a broader issue at play: organisational health.

There is no one single definition of the term, but an organisation could be described as healthy if it has the right culture, great systems and processes in place and the right level of governance to maximise operational and financial performance.

It can be easy to spot an unhealthy organisation. One sign is that sickness levels and turnover might be higher than average, there could be a general feeling of negativity among staff or there might be a lack of direction, with staff reporting that no one knows what's going on.

A healthy organisation is one in which there is a strong culture of common and clear purpose along with, for example, collective working, systems and processes that are up to date and effective and competent staff who are trained, developed and managed well. This culture starts from the top and permeates the entire organisation.

It could be interesting for chief executives to analyse how they spend their time. I suspect much of it will be spent on strategy, line management and, perhaps, policy and public affairs. Does this on its own make for a healthy organisation? Everything might seem to be fine on the surface, but can your charity be described as truly healthy?

In a healthy organisation, people don't criticise colleagues behind their backs, there are no shouting matches across the desks and sitting in the reception area can be very revealing - if people smile, chat and say goodbye at the end of the day to the person on the reception desk, that speaks louder than any staff survey.

Building a healthy organisation won't only reduce the chance of disciplinaries, but will also create sustainability, reliance and, best of all, an inspiring place in which to work.

Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

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