Reverse-Discipline Strategy Allows Managers to Play the Good Cop

Any manager worth his salt knows exactly what to do when he notices an employee arriving late to the job.

He’ll have a line or two memorized for the first (and the second) time he observes a frontliner who’s not wearing their uniform correctly (i.e. exposed tattoos, hat on sideways, etc.). He’ll also have HR on speed dial just in case he should ever spot one of his direct reports removing a $20 bill from the register and slipping it into his or her apron.

It’s a manager’s responsibility to vigilantly enforce company rules. Failure to gain strict compliance around the policies passed down from HQ can lead to slipshod behavior in other areas and, pretty soon, you’re dealing with chaos in the workplace.

However, putting an emphasis on catching rule breakers can leave you feeling like the company cop. It can also lead to burn out and it will accelerate turnover in the rank and the file. If I’m hitting you where you live, here’s an idea that will allow you to assume the role of a good cop without losing control of your operation and the respect of your employees.

Reverse-Discipline Rule followers

Instead of focusing on ‘busting’ the rule breakers, redirect your energies into rewarding rule followers. This converts a “three strikes and you’re out” environment into a “hit the safe zone and cool stuff happens” culture.

Don’t confuse this strategy with that of a recognition and reward program for outstanding performance. This is not a technique to get employees to go above and beyond the standard of expected performance, but rather a long-term methodology that will help you get your people to consistently adhere to rules and policies they may not like.

CASE IN POINT: My daughter attended a high school that had a very strict dress code. Whitney, a fashion princess, always wanted to push the dress code to the limit. Then she learned that students who made it through an entire semester without a “code violation” could opt out of a final exam from any class of their choosing.

That’s all it took; she never again pushed the dress code boundaries. Taking the final exam wasn’t a punishment, but not having to take it was certainly an incentive — not for achieving excellence, but for obeying the rules. Whitney bought in to that.

How can you apply this to your workforce?

Imagine, for example, that instead of paying your front liners $7.75 an hour, you paid them $7.50 an hour with a stipulation that, every month, if their personnel record was free of dress code infractions, they’d receive a 25-cent-an-hour bonus retroactive to the first date of the month. You’d be rewarding them for adhering to the code (pleasant and fun for both of you) rather than punishing them for not adhering to the code (unpleasant and not fun for either of you).

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Instead of being perceived as the heavy who’s always out to correct anyone who steps out of line, you’re now a coach who’s on their side, helping them maximize their time spent on the job. Big difference for both you and your team.

You can find ways to make this strategy work in a variety of problem areas.

Offer a premium for perfect attendance and punctuality instead of constantly “writing-up” employees who are late or who don’t show up. Offer an incentive for turning in a cash drawer that balanced instead of taking money out of their paychecks when their drawers don’t balance. Or randomly offer a free car wash or oil and lube for all employees who parked in the spaces you asked them to park in, leaving the close-in spaces for your customers.

The concept is simple (albeit foreign) to those who are accustomed to slapping hands for each and every infraction. Rather than focusing on punishing those who break rules, reward anyone and everyone who complies.

By taking a reverse-discipline approach, you’ll eliminate some of the biggest challenges with your front liners, and you’ll look forward to coming to work a whole lot more.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit

Eric Chester is a leading voice in the global dialogue on employee engagement, and building a world-class workplace culture. He's an in-the-trenches researcher on the topic of the millennial mindset, and the dynamics of attracting, managing, motivating and retaining top talent. Chester is a Hall-of-Fame keynote speaker and the author of 4 leadership books including his newly released Amazon #1 Bestseller On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in their People without Burning Them Out.  Learn more at and follow him at @eric_chester


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