What we can learn from New Jersey?

view of New Jersey

3 simple lessons we can learn from a little Municipal Court in New Jersey, USA

Being pioneered is a new program that underpins a lateral view to procedural fairness – that ‘people are far more likely to obey the law if the justice system does not humiliate them, but treats them fairly and with respect’ -  and this all starts with how they are spoken to.

Take away #1: Staff are more likely to listen, participate in and constructively respond to a disciplinary counselling discussion when they are treated fairly and with respect.  Even a slight hint of humiliation, sarcasm or hidden agenda often becomes evident to the listener although not evident to the speaker who is operating through unconscious filters and bias.

Remedy: Take time to have a genuine discussion with the relevant manager about their intentions and what they plan to say to their staff member.  If you are delivering the discussion, take time to reflect and prepare to check that your intentions will underpin a genuine and respectful conversation.

So what happens in this Municipal Court in New Jersey?

In this New Jersey courtroom, the judge will impose a sentence (if applicable) but will suspend the sentence if the defendant satisfactorily completes a mandatory program consisting of community service, counselling and attendance at support groups.

How is this relevant to workplaces?

This can be likened to a best practice disciplinary process which allows staff members to be made aware of the outcome (usually termination of employment) should behaviours or practices not improve (or should they  deteriorate) and supports a staff member to  avoid this outcome by devising a plan that is objective, measurable, achievable, monitored and provides regular feedback opportunities.

More about this New Jersey process…

This New Jersey process then imposes a new twist: the defendant is required to write an essay which the defendant must read in court to the Judge. One example might be to answer the question – ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?’

Take away #2: I am not proposing the manager set the staff member an essay topic. In this situation, setting an essay required  the defendant to engage in (what can be) a  powerful process of self reflection, personal goal setting and the imagining of a desired future state which evokes heightened motivation to act and achieve.

Remedy: What I am suggesting is that participation in a coaching program be made mandatory by policy. A coaching program is a supportive process that can offer a powerfully motivating environment for meaningful change and progress. Essentially, a disciplinary process requires change. We think we have supported someone adequately to achieve this change by giving them a plan but really, all we have done is provide a map to get to the finish line. The staff member might have the vehicle in which to make the journey, but do they have the fuel to make the distance?

In court, the defendant reads their essay and the Judge asks constructive questions. This process makes the defendant feel listened to and demonstrates that the Judge has a genuine and real interest in their future. Importantly, through this process, the Judge has affirmed the new vision and the defendant’s ability to achieve their goal.

Take away #3: In a busy workplace, we don’t always stop to listen to staff, ask coaching questions to understand their view, vision and potential and then affirm this information, their ability to problem solve and to achieve goals. Yet this process is so powerful in motivating and engaging staff.

Remedy: An organisation’s investment in a coaching program sends a message to the staff member they are valued,  the organisation affirms the contribution the staff member makes and believes in the staff member’s  ability to be self reflective, gather new learnings, set goals and achieve them.

If you are looking for coaches who understand the workplace and are skilled and experienced in delivering a coaching program as part of a disciplinary process make contact with us today.

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About the Author

Catherine Gillespie brings a wealth of skill to her clients. With particular expertise in teaching communication and workplace conflict resolution skills, Catherine has made a marked difference to the organisations she has worked with. She empowers teams and managers to adopt constructive styles that support harmony, productivity and progress in the workplace.