I have been reading articles about how firefighters actually fight wildfires. What I have learned is that the basic techniques have not changed all that much in all the years people have been fighting them. With climate change creating a warmer world, a dangerous profession is even more hazardous.
We still have aircraft dropping water and chemicals from the skies while people use chainsaws, shovels, and bulldozers to hold back the flames on the ground. The fires, however, have changed: burning hotter and moving faster.
This is also not unlike the way many managers are managing their employees right now. Even though the pandemic has created a myriad of challenges that have created a stressed-out workforce (many of whom are reevaluating how their employment fits with their values and lifestyle objectives), managers are managing the way they always have managed.
In both cases – traditional techniques are being challenged. Much like firefighters who won’t be able to protect us if they don’t address the complexities of climate change, managers are going to have a tough time attracting, motivating, and retaining employees if they don’t address workplace climate changes.
What to Do Now:
Be Hybrid – Managers had lots of data about what it was like to have a workforce on site all the time. They now have data about what it’s like to have much of the workforce remote all the time. What they DON’T have is a great deal of data about what it’s like when they have a workforce that is hybrid most of the time.
Employees will quickly adapt to the convenience and solutions that a hybrid workplace might offer – and then from THAT data, managers can further refine an adaptive workplace. (For example, when stores had people at the checkout stands, and then they offered self-checkout. Now customers can opt for either – depending on what meets their needs.) Data collected post wildfire indicates that discouraging development near fire-prone forests better zoning and increasing the space between structures and trees is a way to improve human resilience in combating wildfires.
Be Nimble – There needs to be a balance between going to the workplace and working from home. It’s extremely difficult when people can’t interact in person when working remotely. And there is no one to look to for a ‘how to’ on this point.
This means that leaders must embrace agile, flexible planning. Firefighting used to have a ‘season’ but with climate change, the new reality is all year long firefighters are preparing, fighting or assessing post –fire. Like managing a start-up, leaders will have to be humble, determined, and possess both patience and perseverance. Evaluation is required daily with an eye toward continuously improving. Managers will need to stretch their creativity as they redesign learning processes, relationship dynamics, and hierarchical relations that they were used to.
Be Tougher – How will you prosper during the chaos and rise above the fray to create a competitive advantage? Chaos is a Greek word that means the combination of speed and uncertainty. With a chance that the virus will continue to mutate, time might be well spent creating a number of different post-lockdown scenarios.
Be Able to Accelerate – Due to the rapid speed of change today, who can you collaborate with to create systems that service your customers (internal AND external if things ramp up faster than you can handle? Firefighters are experiencing more frequent responses to weather related incidences, so some are teaming up with inmates who have volunteered to join firefighter programs for the incarcerated. Temporary partners allow you to join forces for the common good. It serves everyone if you can accomplish things together you would have been unable to manage alone.
Be Interested – Rather than looking at change with fear, aim to embrace change in a constructive way. Curiosity can engage people passionately in their work. Why not build recovery plans before a wildfire hits? That would allow people to implement that plan more quickly after a fire, which could reduce erosion and habitat damage.
These are all shifts that may create a totally different way to look at leadership. The Pandemic is reminding us that things change forward – not backward.
Managing AND Firefighting
Today firefighting is complicated not only by climate change but also by the coronavirus pandemic. There is always a risk and sometimes it comes down to how much you are willing to accept. I remember reading an article that pointed out that we evacuate before hurricanes and move to higher ground when threatened with tsunamis but we fight fire – because we think we can beat it.
The fires now are different. So is the workplace.
Make adjustments accordingly.