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In Constant Fire-Fighting Mode? A Business Operating System Can Help

Posted by John Boudreau on Jun 5, 2018 3:59:54 PM

In my recent blog post, “Seven Signs You Need A Business Operating System”, I called out the seven common problems that small businesses face and how those problems can be solved using a business operating system.

We’ve defined a business operating system as something that helps to drive the following for your business:

  • Clarty
  • Alignment
  • Execution

What are the common problems? Here are they are:

  1. The business feels chaotic and out of control.
  2. Increased sales is not resulting in increased profit.
  3. There is a high rate of employee churn. As soon as you hire someone, another person leaves. Employee retention and hiring is a problem.
  4. There is poor accountability. Employees are not 100% clear on their key responsibilities. This results in dropped balls, frustrated customers and stressed out employees.
  5. Meetings feel like a waste of time and ineffective or seen as complaint sessions where nothing ever really gets accomplished or solved
  6. The business is in constant fire-fighting mode, moving from one fire to the next.
  7. There is no budget which is used to plan spending. You do not have the information to make decisions. Cash flow is a problem.

In this blog post, our focus is problem #6 - “The business is in constant fire-fighting mode, moving from one fire to the next.”

What Do I Mean By Fire Fighting?

Fire fighting is the feeling that problems never really get solved with a new “fire” cropping up each day. The problems never seem to end.

This barrage of constant problems can be very draining. It’s often accompanied with complaints from employees and a high employee churn rate.

Every business has problems. It’s just part of being in business, so you need a systematic way (a business operating system) to deal with problems. This systematic appraoch keeps you from dealing with the same issue over and over.

Repetitive problems can be a real drain on your business and more importantly, your people. Remember the saying, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”.   

If there is a problem in your business that you keep dealing with, but can never seem to solve - that’s a fire.

Lastly, issues that seem like different problems can just be a different manifestation of the same problem. This is why you need a systematic problem solving approach.  

You Need A System For Solving Problems...And Remain Calm

Now that we’ve identified what a fire is, how do we go about staying out of fire-fighting mode?

How do we solve problems in a systematic way which allows us to solve problems once and for all.

First, a little story.

I began my career as an analytical chemist and one of my key job responsibilities was to troubleshoot and fix the instrumentation I used to process samples - they were called mass spectrometers - "mass specs" for short.

Due to the dirty samples that were analyzed, the mass spec would often breakdown. Each instrument had to be cleaned and repaired quickly so I could analyze the next batch of samples.

I learned how to repair mass specs from my boss who had years of experience as an analytical chemist. One of the things he said to me that really stood out was, “there is only a finite number of things that could be wrong - there isn’t an infinite number of problems”.

Since the mass specs needed to be repaired quickly, you had to remain calm and systematically work through the issue. If you panicked, you would lose track of the problem and eat up valuable time.

And so it is with your business. There are not an infinite number of problems. You need remain calm and solve each one systematically.

Here are the steps I would suggest for staying out of fire-fighting mode.

Catalog - Get Your Arms Around Your Fires

The first step involves getting a full understanding of all the problems / fires the business is currently facing.

Make a list of each fire.

Don’t worry about solving them yet.

I suggest getting together with your team for their feedback here. You may find that employees are afraid to let you know the problems. Give them permission.

Rank-ordering the list from most pressing to least….again based on feedback from the team.

Envisionable has created a tool to do just this, but you can easily use a Excel spreadsheet to do the job.

Clarify - Clearly Define The Fire And Why It Is A Problem

Your next step is to create a clear problem statement for each problem.

What exactly is the problem and why is this a problem? How is it affecting the organization negatively. Resist the urge to invalidate an employees concerns. You may feel something is not a problem, when clearly an employee does. Make sure you take the time to listen.  

I’ve found that just doing this simple thing can keep a team from chasing its tail. This approach opens the team up to feedback from their team members and often helps to solve a problem right on the stop.

Meet As A Team To Solve

Once you’ve developed a prioritized list of fires, pick one to solve.

Set apart time at your next management team meeting to discuss. I suggest having a sponsor to share the problem and what they think the solution should be. This process develops the trouble shooting abilities of the team and gives each member and opportunity to present. Tons of learning and growth opportunities here.

Small business owners often fail to utilize and develop the talent that exists within their companies.

When my boss suggested that I learn how to troubleshoot and solve the problems with the highly expensive instrumentation, he showed me that I was valuable and was willing to invest in me.

Clarity, Alignment and Superior Execution Is A Cycle

I’m sure you can see how this systematic approach to solving fires can drive real results in your business.

Not generating superior results in your business? You need a business operating system.

Need help, contact us for a FREE 15 minute strategy call to see if we’re a good fit.

Topics: Problem Solving, fire-fighting