I stumbled into a forest fire a few years ago in the mountains out west. You are picturing the blazing forests with exploding trees and flames leaping across roads like on the 10 o’clock news. What I hiked through was much different. The trees were gone, it was an amazingly beautiful day and there was over a foot of snow on the ground, yet there was a huge fire burning beneath the soil. Amazingly, I walked through this huge mountainside, with little evidence that a fire was burning for many months under the surface and under the snow. The only indication was the occasional column of smoke venting into the sunny day. Can you imagine an underground fire, with little showing, and the end was nowhere in sight?
Cut to the next scene. I recently spent a day in a company that was quietly torn apart from two dysfunctional leaders that couldn’t agree on strategy, or just about anything. At face value, everything was fine. Yet, under the surface, there was a raging fire of discontent, conflicting school-boy egos, terrible direction, and a company in disrepair. To the outsider, everything was fine. To the staff, and the long-term customers, there was a spiraling swirling motion always found in commode. In a sense, a raging firestorm of a bad culture and stunted growth much like the underground forest fire. Both examples will wreak devastation. One on the ecosystem, and the other denoting the end of a business.
I will never know how the forest fire was started or how it manifested itself underground. What I do know is how to correct the really poor behavior and decisions in a business that lead to the erosion of the soul of an organization.
Many leaders refute the power of the “softer side” of running a business. They downplay the importance of a vibrant culture, or a mission/vision statement, or performance evaluations, or mentoring, or courageous, optimistic encouragement. If you want to prevent the below-the-surface fire in your organization, do the hard work now. You don’t have the time, manpower, or money to put out the fire if it burns below the surface.
Do the right thing now!