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a blog by Chris Barrow

How do you put out a burning well-head?

You know the imagery here – a fire at an oil well, flames leaping into the air and a gigantic cloud shrouding the surrounding land. Rather similar to what happens when gossip breaks out in a business. An example of which was presented to me the other day as a coaching assignment. “A new nurse has been appointed at a slightly higher salary than her established colleagues. We had to do that because market forces, supply/demand, means that to attract the right person we had to pay a little over the odds. Our intention was to “restore differentials” later in the year – but just now we are reinvesting £250,000 into the practice and there is no spare cash to give everyone a pay rise. The new girl didn’t know any better – she blabbed her salary in the staff room. We don’t talk salaries here – never have done in 25 years. It has caused a commotion – none of the girls are talking to me and you can cut the atmosphere with a knife.” Ever heard that story? The principal sat in a city hotel with me the other day, head in hands. “What do I do?” The answer is to consider how to put out a burning well-head – although I’m going to slightly modify my metaphor. Option 1 – starve the fire of oxygen 1. Call a meeting; 2. explain that discussion of salaries is not allowed; 3. issue a contract amendment that confirms the fact; 4. tell them all to go back to work 5. and that you refuse to take part in the conversation – now or ever 6. and that if people don’t like that then they need to be looking for another job. Option 2 – create a controlled explosion, the force of which is large enough to extinguish the original fire 1. call a meeting; 2. ask them to explain their greivances in a team environment; 3. leave them alone for an hour and request that when you return they have designed a solution which incorporates the continued well-being and expansion of the business; 4. walk out of the room and shut the door; 5. return in one hour to listen to their business planning ideas; 6. having listened carefully – default to Option 1. My client decided that option 1 was his favoured choice. The points being: 1. don’t wrestle with the pig; 2. don’t give oxygen to a situation you cannot tolerate; 3. never justify the decisions you make to a aggrieved party 4. nobody is indespensable – nobody. Harsh? Yes. Effective? Yes. The fire is out.

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