‘There’s no smoke without fire’ is a phrase I remember from my childhood, but these days it seems to have fallen into disuse – or at least into much less frequent use.
If you have a wood-burning stove at home, as I do, you can observe the truth of this statement quite literally. If the ashes from the previous fire are still producing smoke, you can make a new fire by adding more fuel.
In business, you need to follow the smoke trail to its source. You need to find the ashes. If they are smouldering, fan them into flame or put them out. Don’t just leave them!
Fires, from a business perspective, can be good or bad! One trail of smoke might be an increase in customer complaints. If you don’t measure this, or worse, if you are measuring the levels of complaint but not getting the message they’re telling you, you will have a fire on your hands. And that could be destructive!
If you don’t find the ashes and make sure they have been put out, you are kidding yourself about their potential to re-ignite.
Continuing with this metaphor, another example can be found when good people leave the business. Exit interviews will often shed light on situations, events or people, but if you don’t utilise the feedback this provides, you’ll be wasting the time spent in the interview.
More difficult to spot are the trails of smoke that lead to ashes you want to fan into life. These could be process improvements or innovative ideas that haven’t been fully formed and presented. That’s when you must encourage, coax and cajole the embers to leap into life.
Take the time to spot and follow the smoke trails.