We don’t need no stinking burning platforms

Burning PlatformThe first step in change management is to define the “burning platform.” If you’re waiting for the platform to catch fire, you’re too late.

We’ve become a nation of reactionists instead of a preventionists. We’re constantly looking to identify a burning platform so we can put it out instead of spending our time making sure the fires never start to begin with.  What’s worse is that if we can’t define the burning platform because the fire hasn’t reached our room, we tend to ignore the fact that the smoke alarms in the house are going off.

If you really want to be successful, you need to stop looking for the burning platform and start looking at what your company does good today and what you can do to make it even better.  They say that Good is the enemy of Great and I believe it has to do with the fact that we wait for something bad to happen and until that time it’s “good enough.”

On top of that we’ve become a nation of hero worshipers, recognizing the fire fighters who wait until the house is burning down and then jump in to put out the fire.  Instead, we should be focused on those that do well at preventive maintenance and never have a house fire in the first place.

What this amounts to is that we need to live in a world of constant change where readiness to change is how we exist–we thrive on change through constant improvement.  This doesn’t mean that something won’t go wrong from time to time, but the more preventive we’ve been, the better we’ll be to react to the issue.  More than likely, we simply won’t experience the issue in the first place.

The problem is that leaders are often too blind to prevention and its value.  When something goes wrong, they can see the tangible impact of the fix, the money that was saved, etc.  Prevention is hard to measure and thus leadership devalues it.  I have worked on several projects that were focused on measuring this unmeasurable item–prevention and preparedness.  I’ve done this because, all too often, those that are getting ahead of problems are often challenged by the hero worshiping leaders because they don’t see them adding any value and simply costing the company money.

The fact is that these leaders need to get a clue about leadership and vision.  Constantly managing to the problem breeds poor leadership discipline.  Leaders need a strong discipline to stay ahead of problems and they need the courage to recognize those people who prevent the fire versus those that put them out.

Recently I was sitting in an event where a team was getting recognized for solving a problem that they did nothing to prevent.  When the problem finally flared up, they reacted quickly and put the operation back on track.  This team was honored in front of everyone as the shining example for all to model themselves after.

The fact is, if we don’t change this nation of reactionary thinking and hero worshiping, we’re going to end up being full of a bunch or arsonists putting out the fires they create.  Because, in the end, what gets measured gets done and if you’re only going to recognize me if I solve a problem, then by God, I’m going to create the problems to solve.

So leaders, put away your fire extinguishers and pull out your pocketbooks, because you need to start paying for prevention versus recognizing reaction.  Stop looking for burning platforms and start preventing fires.


About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

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