Years ago I worked for a small machine shop owned by my parents. One thing that you might not know about steel is that it can vary wildly from piece to piece. The quality, flexibility, hardness, etc. are all subject to the creation and subsequent treatment processes on that individual piece. Occasionally we would have to send off a piece of steel to be heat-treated at a specialized facility, but there were times when we had a small piece that could actually be treated in our oven by “baking” it for several hours at a specific temperature.

steelWell, you might imagine where this story is going. One night I came home and saw a very unique-looking piece of steel sitting on the counter.

Being a curious soul, I did what anyone would do after seeing something interesting.

I picked it up.

It’s at this point that I want to remind y0u that steel doesn’t share physical qualities with items┬álike marshmallows, water, or plastic. When it’s heated to 450 degrees, it looks exactly the same as it did when it was room temperature. There are no bubbles, steam, or awful smells to distinguish it from any other hunk of metal.

I burned the fingers on one hand pretty bad from that short (seemed like forever at the time!) moment I held the steel. And that, my friends, leads me to the lesson for today.

What this means for your organization

Yes, there’s a lesson here for all of us. Sometimes things are going on that we can’t always see. There are constant changes, ebbing and flowing throughout the organization. It’s your job to stay tuned into those things as a way to manage the people side of the business.

Whether that comes in the form of a survey, employee focus groups, solid informal relationships with your supervisors, or another channel for employees to bring items to your attention, you need to be aware of what’s going on.

Why? Because more often than not, if it turns out to be a problem, you’ll be the one called in to solve it. I can’t count the number of times being in tune with the “rhythm” of the organization allowed me to head off molehills┬ábefore they became mountains.

Oh, and next time you see a piece of steel, make sure it’s not hot before you pick it up. The safety tip is free. :-)

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  • One thought on “How I Burned Myself on 450 Degree Steel (and what you can learn from it)

    1. Great post – I like how you used your personal story to get the message across. I feel bad that you got burned, but at least it eventually paid off with a good story. You took a lemon and made lemonade!

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