Hazard reduction, backburning or putting out fires? How do you manage?

As we experience our first bushfires of the season in the Blue Mountains, I think there’s a good analogy between the practices above and how managers behave.

Hazard reduction is the practice of burning, clearing and other practices done in advance of the fire season with the aim of reducing the impact of any future fires.  Back burning is when a fire is lit deliberately in the path of a bushfire with the aim of reducing the fuel load and slowing or stopping the progress of the fire.  Spot fires happen when a fire is underway and embers get carried into unburnt areas.

“I’m always putting out fires!” is a common complaint from managers.  I’m sure you’ve heard it before.

What if we use the bushfire analogy to avoid those management ‘fires’?

1.  Hazard reduction

  • skilled staff with the right attitude doing work they enjoy
  • adequate infrastructure, training and resources are available to do a job well
  • appropriate remuneration and benefits
  • clear and consistent policies and procedures
  • performance management systems in place
  • adequate insurance

2.  Backburning

  • disciplinary procedures
  • defined exit process
  • many team/morale building exercises, because there’s already a ‘fire’ when they’re implemented

3.  Putting out spot fires

  • immediate, on the spot decision making to avoid, contain or reduce damage
  • dealing with unplanned absences
  • summary dismissal
  • resolving client issues

Of course, just as with bushfires there are no guarantees but perhaps it’s time to ask: What would you rather be doing?

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