In the summer of 2016, the news in Vancouver, Canada was saturated with the story of a fire in Delta BC. The fire erupted in an ecologically sensitive area called Burns Bog. For many days, firefighting crews struggled to contain the fire and prevent it from spreading. You see, the smoke was some distance away from the actual fire, which made it really hard to fight. Just like some problems in business.

The Burns Bog Metaphor

I have used the Burns Bog fire as a metaphor for years now to illustrate an important principle: sometimes when you are leading or managing an organization, and you feel that you have an immediate fire to put out, you have to make a choice. Do you reach for the water bucket? Or do you reach for the shovel?

The Water Bucket

The water bucket is the immediate solution to where you see the flames now. In most cases it can not be ignored. Typically, you can douse the flame and defuse or solve the immediate crisis situation. But then when you are done with it, you feel good about what you accomplished and decide to carry on with business. Until the next fire appears. And the next one.

Yet the bog fires can be extremely difficult to prevent and contain. These situations arise in organizations when an immediate, visible fire or difficult situation is right there staring at you. But you realize in your gut that there are causes you have to look at that are not so visible.

This is where you need a shovel.

The Shovel (aka Business Process Improvement)

Like long-burning coal fires in some parts of the world, the fire is not where the smoke appears. The fire can be miles away. Organizations are no different. Problematic situations can appear requiring immediate attention. But ask yourself what caused the fire in the first place. Was it bad decisions? Did it result from a lack of standardized procedures or guidance? Decisions that had to be made without sufficient available context? I can carry on, but I hope you get the point.

The question is whether your organization is willing to spend more time with shovels in its hands and less time looking for water buckets. Conversations may be needed to discuss and prevent situations that can lead to smoke and fire. These discussions need to go underground and look for things that are just not functioning properly. It takes leadership to build a culture that allows and encourages behaviour that looks for continuous improvement. And for someone to reach for a shovel when most people around them are already carrying water buckets.

Does your team keep fire buckets on standby, or do you encourage them to use shovels and fix problems long-term?

If your business keeps finding itself in firefighting or crisis mode, and you want to change this, then contact me. I will help you clarify your business model, to free up your business for great results.