Creating Policies to Level the Field for Everyone

Dear M & M:

How do I create policies to discipline employees and keep the playing field level for everyone from the management team to the part-time employees?

– Ben

Dear Ben:

The job of managing employees isn’t as simple as it sometimes seems. Determining what rules that need to be followed is equally important as what happens if you don’t follow them. How you set up the rules and layout punishment need to be considered. The term discipline actually comes from the Latin word discere, which means to learn. Douglas McGregor was one of the first credited to use what he coined “the hot stove rule.”

The hot stove refers to four guiding principles to follow in setting up disciplinary rules in any organization. Rule number one: You always know what will happen when you touch a hot stove (it carries a clear warning). Rule number two: If you touch a hot stove it burns you right away (it is immediate). Rule number three: A hot stove always burns you if you touch it (it is consistent).

The last rule number four: A hot stove doesn’t care whom it burns (it is impersonal; everyone that touches it will get burned). Just like the hot stove principles, all employees should know if you break the rules there are consequences. Punishment will be handed out immediately. Anytime someone breaks the rules they should know you will be consistent. Breaking the rules will burn you every time, you can count on it. Finally, rules should be impartial, fair and apply to everyone equally.

In any organization developing rules and guidelines to discipline when the rules are broken is extremely important. Remember, people need to know what to expect and nothing in this area of following the rules and what happens if they don’t should be a surprise to anyone. Establishing a level playing field where everyone is dealt with equally is crucial.  The focus should be on learning not punishing indiscriminately. Please take the time to compare what you have to see if you meet the four “Hot Stove” principles. I am certain you won’t get burned.


To ask your questions: Call the Small Business Development Center(SBDC) at Cochise College (520)-515-5478 or email or contact the Sierra Vista Economic Development Foundation(EDF) at 520-458-6948 or email


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