As I sit down to write this, I have an unsightly burn on my right hand. Before my keynote tomorrow morning, I’ll have to find the nearest drugstore and buy a discrete looking Band-Aid to cover the sore. Perhaps the front desk of this lovely bed and breakfast has Band-Aids. I’ll check there first. But not before I talk to you about hot stoves and pain points to coaching your employees.
My children and husband love my homemade bread, so before business trips I try to make a fresh loaf and leave it for them to enjoy. In addition to my basic white bread, I made a dessert bread for my daughter, Key Lime Bread.
It was my first time making this dessert bread. I did the toothpick test to make sure it was cooked nicely all the way through. When I removed the toothpick from the bread, I bumped my hand on the top of the inside of the hot oven. It immediately stung. I stood in front of the open oven, toothpick in hand, for a couple of seconds wondering how I could have been so careless.
Two days later in a bed and breakfast in Ohio, I have an ugly sore on my right hand. I talk with my hands, so this a problem on the big stage. I’ll definitely get a Band-Aid for tomorrow.
I was careless and I got burned. The oven is impersonal. It didn’t care that I was baking bread as a loving gesture for my family. I touched the hot surface, so I got burned. The sting of the burn was immediate. If I went back and touched the inside of a hot oven again, say in two weeks, I’d still get burned. I knew the oven was hot, so, the heat was foreseeable. If you touch the inside of my oven while it’s hot, you, too, will get burned.
Giving feedback and addressing unacceptable performance with employees should be like an oven throwing off heat. The feedback should be immediate, impersonal and consistent. Consequences for not making corrections after receiving feedback should be foreseeable.
It’s what Douglas McGregor, management consultant, calls the Hot Stove Rule.
Feedback to employees should follow the Hot Stove Rule.
When we fail to follow the hot stove rule, we make coaching harder for ourselves; we’re unfair to our employees; we may put our companies at risk for litigation.
1. Immediate – Unacceptable employee performance or attitude needs to be addressed immediately. Not after things have built up overtime, not on the annual review; immediately. I felt the burn immediately. Your employees need, and deserve, immediate feedback on their performance.
2. Foreseeable – I knew my oven was hot. I simply got careless and allowed my bare hand to come in contact with the metal surface. The potential for injury was foreseeable. I turned the oven on, I let it preheat, I felt the heat. Any disciplinary action you take on an employee; verbal warning, written warning, probation, etc., must be foreseeable. Your expectations must be clear. Consequences for failure to meet expectations must also be clear. Constructive feedback and discipline should never be a shock to your employees.
3. Consistent – If I go into my kitchen next week and touch the oven while it’s hot, I will get burned. Again. The oven is consistent in delivering its consequences. Feedback, coaching and discipline are to be consistent if they are to be effective in ushering in change. You can’t ignore a variance today and then stand firm against the same infraction 6 months from now. You must consistently address unacceptable performance and poor attitudes. You must consistently offer support, coaching and counsel.
4. Impersonal – I touched the inside surface of a 375 degree oven. That is why I got burned. It was not personal. The sting and ugly sore are the consequences I must endure because I touched a hot oven. The burn had nothing to do with my years of experience in the kitchen, or lack thereof, professional title, or how the oven felt about me. It was impersonal. Your feedback and discipline must be impersonal too. Consistently give the same level of feedback, coaching and discipline to any employee who fails to meet expectations.
The bed and breakfast does not have Band-Aids, but there is Target 3 miles away. I can cover my mistake with a bandage. But it’s not that easy for you. You have a professional and ethical responsibility to coach your employees fairly and to give them every possible opportunity to deliver their best performance. You do this by ensuring that your coaching and discipline is immediate, foreseeable, consistent and impersonal.
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