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Effective Disciplinary

The Hot Stove Method



If you touched a stove while it was hot, would you blame it for burning you? The Hot Stove Rule is a phenomenal analogy created by Douglas McGregor that provides a framework for properly administering disciplinary action.


To discipline is to teach. It’s firm, fair, consistent, and focused on correcting future acts. When all other methods fail, disciplinary action may be the next best option. It’s an opportunity for employees to learn from their mistakes and try again. It allows the employee an opportunity to correct what’s happening moving forward.


Employees must first understand the ABC’s:

A.       Antecedent (expectation)

B.       Behavior

C.      Consequence


The ABC’s are not all negative, but employees must understand what the expectation and the consequences are based on the outcome of their behavior.


It’s important to understand when more training may be necessary and when disciplinary is necessary. If there is a new hire and they didn’t know, management didn’t communicate clearly, the employee didn’t know any differently, or all employees in the same department continue to make the same mistake, this may be an opportunity to train or retrain employees. When employes are clearly aware of the expectations and still decide not to follow them, an immediate investigation of the offense must be done to determine the facts. The outcome and facts will determine if disciplinary action is

necessary. If so, following the hot stove rule to undergo disciplinary action may be necessary.


The Analogy between The Hot Stove rule and Undergoing Disciplinary Action

A.       Antecedent (expectation): Don’t touch the stove / Be at your workstation on time.

B.       Behavior: Person touches the stove / Employee is late

C.      Consequence: Person gets burned / Employee gets written up


At any time, if you touch a hot stove, it will burn you. Immediately. You understand the cause and effect of the offense. It burned you because it was hot. You may get frustrated because it hurt, but you know it was your fault and you learn your lesson quickly. Urgency in disciplinary is extremely important. When a violation of a rule, policy, or procedure happens, corrective action must be taken immediately. The longer one waits, the less value and impact it will have on the employee.


There was a clear warning that the stove was hot. The stove light was on, or the color was red indicating it was hot. You know that if you touch it, you will get burned. You have been warned by the color of the light or maybe even previous experiences, so you can’t claim you didn’t know. When disciplining an employee, the employee must be aware of the policy, procedure, and/or behavior they are violating. This must be clear to the employee, so when they knowingly continue to violate the rule, they understand what could happen and the consequences of their actions.


The discipline is consistent. When the stove is red and you touch it, you will get burned. Every time. When disciplining an employee, it must be 1) consistent for all employees regardless of if they are the best or worst employee and 2) consistent for every time the policy or rule has been violated across the organization. Consistency is key to holding employees accountable. 


Make it impersonal. The stove doesn’t care who touches it. Rather it’s a kid, animal, parent, etc. it’s impersonal and regardless of who touches it, they will be burned. Disciplinary action must be impersonal and directed against the act, not the person.


To apply the Hot Stove rule in disciplinary action, organizations must have company policies, rules and regulations outlining expectations and consequences if the employee fails to comply with them. These policies and procedures must be clearly explained and documented, showing that the employee was aware of the expectation and when they fail to comply, they burn themselves. It’s extremely important that discipline should always be directed against the act and not the person. Focusing on factual information such as what happened, when did it happen (dates and time), where did it happen, and what policy did they violate provides a clear indication on the ABCs noted above.


Do you have a handbook or policy that may need to be revised or reviewed? If so, Advisor HR can help! Advisor HR can upload the document or handbook into your ISolved portal and require an acknowledgement from all employees indicating they have reviewed and understand the updated document.

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