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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The "Hot Stove" Rule of Discipline

In a recent supervision class I learned of an interesting analogy between touching a hot stove and applying positive, corrective discipline. The similarities are: immediacy, advance warning, consistency, and impartiality.

  1. A hot stove burns immediately. Likewise, discipline should be applied quickly after an infraction. There should be no question in an employee’s mind as to cause and effect.

  2. A hot stove radiates heat and gives a preliminary warning – so should discipline.

  3. A hot stove always burns when touched. Likewise, discipline must be applied consistently.

  4. A hot stove plays no favorites. Neither should discipline.
While I don’t directly supervise people anymore I still found this analogy useful. I am sure anyone with kids has had to discipline them at some point. It would be ideal to avoid discipline and we should work toward this but sometimes it is necessary. Are you impartial, immediate, consistent, and do you give warning when discipline is needed. Just think of touching a hot stove before you act.


  1. Tim,

    Nice post. It definitely made me reflect on my many years of past supervisory experience and my child rearing (still working that - 3 teenagers!). Unfortunately, I came up short - not always immediate, sometimes inconsistent, pretty much impartial. Corrective discipline often involves some level of emotion and thus is not something that we always relish. However, the need for positive, corrective discipline is real if an organization ever wants to facilitate process adherence and a lean culture.

  2. The thing with discipine, or behavioral development, is that you need feedback. The stove provides feedback.

    The closer the feedback gets to "time = zero" or real time, the more effective it is. If I give you feedback at the end of the year in a performance appraisal, it is almost useless.