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September 2021 – Question Of The Month

September 27, 2021 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

Question:  What about if someone has deliberately chosen not to follow a safe system at work or a work instruction, but he did not mean for something bad to happen? As this is a breach of health and safety regulations, he having deliberately chosen to deviate from the work instruction, is disciplinary action the right response?

Answer: Legitimate Leadership believes that the appropriate leadership action when somebody does not do what he/she should do or does what he/she should not do is to ascertain ‘why’. This is only fair.

There are in fact only six ‘whys’ – and the subsequent leadership action should align with the applicable ‘why’. The medicine, in other words, should match the malady.

The six ‘whys’, and appropriate leadership actions, are:

  1. Lacks the means – provide the means.
  2. Does not know how or why – provide training/coaching.
  3. Is incapable – remove from the role/redesign the work.
  4. Is sloppy/careless – censure/insist on careful.
  5. Wilfully does not do it/is deliberately malevolent – discipline/sanction.
  6. There is a mismatch in what is motivating/required – remove from role/redesign work.

So yes, if as is suggested the person wilfully or deliberately chose not to follow the work instruction, some disciplinary action or sanction is appropriate. If leaders fail to hold people to account for their deliberate malevolence they cannot be surprised if there is a continuation of the deliberate malevolence.

Wendy Lambourne
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