One of the biggest problems we see in many small businesses is that of fire-fighting. If you've owned a small business for any amount of time you know exactly what I mean. You and your team move from one fire to the next and the cycle never seems to end. Each day you're exposed to some "new" problem that must be addressed ASAP.
I recently read a great blog post on the subject in the Harvard Business Review. It described the vicious cycle where employees are subjected to a growing backlog of problems and offered a number of solutions to move away from a "fire-fighting" culture.
I thought I would share our solution and how Envisionable (our alignment software) helps companies stay out of fire-fighting mode.
Step 1 - Admit
The first step is to admit there is a problem and to refuse to live in a constant state of chaos. As the leader you set the tone, so watch your reaction to "emergencies". Keep cool and have positive "we can fix it" attitude.
Step 2 - Catalog
Catalog ALL fires / problems that need to be addressed, Ensure the list is comprehensive by getting feedback from your team. Questions like, "What problems keep occurring?" or "What issues are we just putting band-aids on?". This is where a tool like Envisionable can be helpful
Envisionable allows users to enter all the current "fires", prompts the user to articulate the key question / problem to be solved and what decision has been made. It also requires a sponsor for each issue and a status - "in process", "on-hold" or "resolved".
Just taking the time to catalog your fires may allow you to see patterns and even group issues. Being disciplined allows you to focus your attention on one issue at a time and truly solve it.
Step 3 - Prioritize
Prioritize. Now that you've listed out all the current fires, meet with your team and decide on which fires are the most important and which one you're going to focus on solving.
Brainstorm solutions and commit to solve one issue at a time. When I worked as an analytical chemist, I ran chemical analyses using sophisticated analytical instrumentation which would occasionally break down. It was very overwhelming to repair at times, since you often didn't know where to start troubleshooting. My boss would say to me, "John, there are only a finite number of things that can be wrong. Solve them one at a time". The same is true for your business. Focus is often the key to making progress.
These are very simple steps to get out of fire-fighting mode, but also very effective. Give them a try!
Want help getting out of fire-fighting mode? Here are your next steps: