Wildfires have a life of their own. They feed on fuel from the ground (trees, shrubs, large downed logs) and wind. It was the wind that created the large explosion of fire growth overnight last week. The high winds blew embers into the air that floated away and landed on other fuel sources which started a fire in a new location. The winds were so strong, the firefighters couldn’t keep up. The wildfire exploded from a manageable fire to a mega-fire that grew 6000 acres an hour. Our wildfire firefighters are the best. They have the right equipment, the right training, the right support to create the best chance to stop wildfire growth. But the wind is always a factor in their success. If the winds are calm, they have a better chance of putting out the wildfire. If the winds are strong, the fire can explode.
Our recent snowstorm is providing some relief. The fire areas received 6-12 inches of snow overnight and while the fires are still burning, the snow and the moisture helped slow them down. The blanket of snow calmed the fires and allowed the firefighters to catch their breath.
As I contemplated the fires and the brave men and women who are committed to saving lives and structures in its path, I thought about the wind and the snow. The wind creates so much more fire and so much more work for the firefighters. The snow allows the fire to calm and the firefighters to rest and catch their breath.
I don’t fight actual wildfires. I know people who do and have the utmost respect for them and their colleagues. What I do, and what my peers in HR and management do, is fight “figurative” fires. We fight the fires that happen at work. The people who are causing disruption, discriminating against or harassing others, not doing their jobs, refusing to follow policy, etc. Fires that are much less devastating in comparison to actual wildfires, but challenging for the organization nonetheless. As we fight our “work fires” I caution all of us to think about what we are doing and ensure we are fighting the fire with “snow” and not “wind.” When an employee or manager is upset at work, they need someone who will listen and bring a voice of reason to the conversation. They need a calming force (snow). Not more fuel for the fire by engaging in emotional outbursts using threats of discipline or termination to change behavior (wind).