Putting out fires at work? Stop igniting them!

Updated: Sep 27


“Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” Proverbs 26:20 Do you know the best way to put out a fire? Quite simply: “Don’t ignite one in the first place.” Although this may seem very obvious and straightforward, avoiding the igniting of a fire takes wisdom, planning, and time. And thankfully, putting processes in place to avoid putting out fires at work will lead to efficiency, calmness, and better use of time. About Risk Management One of the roles of an owner or manager is to engage in risk management. There are many definitions of this crucial task. I like the one by The Corporate Financial Institute that states, “Risk management encompasses the identification, analysis, and response to risk factors that form part of the life of a business. Effective risk management means attempting to control, as much as possible, future outcomes by acting proactively rather than re-actively. Therefore, effective risk management offers the potential to reduce both the possibility of a risk occurring and its potential impact.” In summary, risk management means identifying what risks may occur, analyzing why they might happen and figuring out how to avoid them. It could also be defined as “knowing how to avoid putting out fires before they start.” As you think about your business, can you see common components in the fires you regularly put out? Is the same issue occurring over and over? Do you find that your staff is constantly dealing with the same challenging scenarios? If so, it is time to sit down and talk with your team about why. A good idea is to have a “brainstorming session” and ask the questions about “what is going well, and what is not going well” or “what is continuing to fall through the cracks” or “what issues are we continuing to deal with that are wasting our time and energy.” You may consider having a brainstorming session with your whole staff, management team, or specific departments. Although you will see some things that need to improve as the manager or owner, the people “on the front lines” will have the best input regarding the severity and frequency of issues and potential solutions. This past week, I had a brainstorming session with the staff involved in Osteo-Circuit, our osteoporosis program. We went through the SWOT Analysis, where we reviewed Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. COVID has brought many changes, and we now have to decide how to deliver the program differently. One of the risks (or threats) is that many of our patients and clients have become accustomed to a particular structure. Much of the session revolved around their potential concerns (and complaints) and, therefore, how to provide choices to them that considered their past preferences, present financial realities of the clinic, and potential costs to them. If you are continuing to “put out fires at work,” then it is time to ask yourself three questions: What are the risks? This question refers to the specifics of the fire you are putting out. This will, of course, vary from business to business. It could be about ongoing customer complaints about service delivery, being short-staffed, running out of inventory, or continued staff change-over. In your brainstorming session, find out from people what ongoing issues they see that are concerning.

Why are the risks occurring? There could be many reasons why there are ongoing inefficiencies. They often refer back to the 4 M’s: “Man, Method, Material, and Machine.” In your brainstorming session, determine the “why.” It could be as straightforward as a machine not working or lack of materials. Some “Whys” under Man could be poor communication, lack of delegation, or lack of training on dealing with difficult people. Perhaps time frames are too tight to deal with unexpected emergencies. Some “Whys” under Method could be the lack of clear Policies and Procedures, or they are out of date. Some other “Whys” could include not giving adequate responsibility to front-line people or a lack of a clear strategy to communicate updates in Policies and Procedures. How can you avoid the risks? The strategy to prevent the risks depends on the risks and the reasons they are occurring. A brainstorming session on how to professionally and creatively mitigate these risks will be the next important step. Then, implementing a change should be followed up with how successful it is.

This week, plan a day and time to have a brainstorming session with your staff on avoiding putting out fires at work. This session is essential to do even if you are assuming that all is going well. Risk management is about dealing with present situations and wisely reflecting on possible future risks.

May God richly bless you this week as you wisely consider Risk Management in your business.

Have a great week!

Bonny, Christian Women at Work

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