Do you ever feel like your company is running you vs. your running it? Most executives truly desire to lead incredible and amazing companies. It’s at the core of their very being… even though day-to-day fires consistently beat down their core — resulting in a giant chasm between what we know at our core we want to be and what gets our focused attention each and every day. Let’s face it: The fires always win our attention.
Then one day, we wake up and realize all the ground we’ve lost putting out all those roaring fires. We start focusing on what we’ve lost instead of what we could gain. We’re tired; we get exhausted just thinking about how to regain our hold on the impact we said we wanted to have.
In short, there aren’t any easy solutions. However, there are some things you can do to get back on track relative to growing an awesome company. The tragedy is not doing anything at all, which in many cases can be the temptation. The daily fires aren’t going to go away, but how you respond to them is what can make the difference.
To that end, here’s a short list of ideas and thoughts to jump-start your thinking around new company-wide habits that can help you minimize and/or work through all those daily fires.
Tips to Minimize Time Putting Out Fires:
- Seek Variety vs. Sameness. Don’t try to solve everything yourself (individually or as an leadership team). During your Weekly Adjustment Meetings, invite people outside your group to join in the discussion on a key challenge or potential opportunity. Or…instead of taking the time yourself or with your executive team to solve it over time, consider pulling together a task force of cross-functional employees to offer a summary of potential solutions or thoughts.
- Why? When it comes to diversity, it’s not the numbers you want to celebrate; you want to celebrate the diverse thinking that comes from various perspectives and viewpoints. That’s strategic diversity in action. Plus, it’s more engaging to work for a company who seeks thoughts and opinions from the people who actually have to live within the system itself. Finally, you begin to teach people how to identify problems and solve them… in real time.
- To help you stop focusing on daily fires: How many times has each leader of your executive team come to a company meeting with a set of recommendations (or thoughts or insights) from a cross-functional task force? How many such groups did each executive create over the last six months? What specific results came from these task forces?
- Let Freedom Ring. If your people can’t think and express their ideas openly and candidly, then you can’t explore what might be holding your company back. Hence, you’ll have a lot more fires to put out. But, to do this well takes an authentic reflection on the true identity of your own company.
- Why? Without freedom of expression, you can’t explore what the problems really are or, worse, what solutions you might employ.
- To help you stop focusing on daily fires: Do a quick culture survey of all employees (by division). What are the cultural nuances that support or inhibit speaking up in that division? If you don’t get much response, then you might want to dig deeper to see why not many people took the time to participate. If you get an adequate number of responses, then what did you learn? To what degree (scale of 1 to 10 — 1=Not at all; 5=Sometimes; 10=Almost Always) does freedom ring, or not? And then: What are you going to do to enhance higher levels of freedom in departments and throughout the company as a whole?
- Ask, “What if…?” Remember: You’re busy putting out fires, so you tell yourself: “I don’t have time to ask ‘What if…!’” Well, that’s a bad habit. If you’re too busy, then you’ll either put fires out all day every day or else you’ll push them off on those around you. Either way, it’s not a healthy habit. S…L…O…W D…O…W…N.
- Why: Asking “What if…” allows you to dig deeper in dissecting a key challenge or potential opportunity. It also adds depth to your Monthly Meetings when you’re trying to solve one key problem or discuss one major opportunity. Secondly, solutions are almost always the result of a dialogue (vs. a monolog), and having a meaningful dialogue requires time. Like it or not, you’re part of an overall system. You might feel disconnected or others might see you as disconnected, but you’re a part of a system. If you disconnect yourself, then you’re busy focusing on doing everything but what’s strategic, while also being in your own silo. What if everyone in your company just decided to distance themselves from those around them? This is one way to perpetuate not only little daily fires but also huge forest fires.
- To help you stop focusing on daily fires: How many times in the last week did you ask, “What if…?” (without being annoying…)? How many ideas have been garnered over the past month or quarter because you slowed down enough to talk to people? Have one or two key things been solved because we took the time to have a discussion built on “What if…”?
- Celebrate Discoveries. I tell my clients Annual and Quarterly Planning are paramount, but what’s also needed is the willingness to be active participants in the implementation of the plan. The creation of your Annual or Quarterly Plan takes time, but you should participate more than you plan. This goes deeper than just doing the work to accomplish a goal. Active participants have to look for what’s discovered along the way—and welcome what organically emerges. This is an attitude; it’s an approach; it’s a way to extend the plan into the real world where your company lives.
- Why? Instead of expecting a smooth sail, expect (and welcome) the rough waters your plan will bring in order to come to full fruition. Otherwise, was your plan challenging enough?
- To help you stop focusing on daily fires: What are you learning from your journey? What course corrections do you need to make? What did you under-estimate? What did you over-estimate? What’s most surprised you, and why?
Just think of all the time you’ll get back and how much healthier your company will be if you can simply minimize all those little nagging fires. It always feels good to honor what’s at the core of everything you do. That’s operating with strategic intent.
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