Skip to main content

Edition 36 – Fire Fighting Or Fire Prevention

We’re enjoying the onset of Spring at the moment. Everything is in bloom, the sun is rising earlier and the days are turning warmer. It is one of my favourite times of the year.

In Australia, it is also the start of the fire season. Shortly we’ll hear the old adage “the state is as dry as a tinderbox”. Bushfires are a natural part of our environment and before too long, the first one of the season will be upon us.

All of this made me think. Why are so many Family Business owners into fire fighting rather than fire prevention? Why do they want to douse the flames of the latest hot issue, rather than look ahead at what will build a stronger, more resilient business?

Most family business owners are focussed on the immediate, not the important. I see this as a huge impediment to the success and prosperity of many family businesses.

Family business owners could heed the lessons and preparation of the Rural Fire Service when considering what needs to be dealt with, and how to prioritise it:

  1. Hazard Reduction Burns
    Too many family business owners know they have a slow burning issue in their business, yet take too long to deal with it, if at all. Slow supply, poor quality, recalcitrant employees. Whatever the issue, deal with it early. If you don’t, you’re leaving fuel on the ground for a bigger drama in the future.
  2. Build fire breaks
    Create capacity in your business. If you’re tendering for a large project, make sure you have a readily available pool of talent to call upon. Same goes for contracts that are heavily cashflow negative upfront. Speak with your bank early about building a cash buffer.
  3. Getting the best equipment.
    You can have cheap or you can have good, but you can’t have both. Invest in the best equipment that you can afford and consider not what it costs, but what it generates. Equipment is an asset, not an expense.
  4. Testing that equipment.
    Some family businesses have equipment they use, or staff they call upon, sporadically. Have a programme for ensuring all equipment is reviewed periodically and is in good working order. Know when your non-permanent staff are available. Then, when an emergency strikes, you’re not making excuses about equipment failure or being short staffed.
  5. Training the best people.
    Unfortunately, a majority of family business owners significantly underestimate the value of training. They look at the time it takes and the cost it incurs, not the efficiency it generates nor the capacity it creates. Training now avoids going back to site later, to rectify what inexperienced or poorly trained employees have not delivered — none of which is their fault!
  6. Forecasting
    The Rural Fire Service are forever forecasting. When to initiate a hazard reduction burn or issue a Total Fire Ban? They rely on internal resources and outside experts (such as the Bureau of Meteorology) before making a considered judgement. What forecasting are you undertaking in your family business to ensure you deliver what you’ve promised, when you’ve promised it?

This Week’s Tip

Look back at the past two days. Have you been dealing with the immediate, or the important? If it is the immediate, what changes do you need to implement to ensure they impact less on your day?