If you recognise that you tend to go from fire-fight to calm and back again then its important to importantly establish a 100 day plan to help focus your activities on moving towards calmness permanently.
Develop the vision, work out the details of what it would take, check the reality and identify where improvements can be achieved. Keep monitoring the data and adjust the plan as you go.
Remember the key is to take action to improve the situation. Constantly fire fighting will leave you for ever in that mode. You need to put out the fire and then, crucially, stop a new one from igniting.
It’s easy to get stuck in the fire fight mode, especially if you are struggling with a lack of revenue (or profit or customers), lack of cash, lack of time, poor delivery, or people issues. Pretty much any time there is a gap between actual and planned performance it can move you in the direction of fire fight and away from calm.
Even if you’re thinking “that’s not me” – beware. It’s very easy to get knocked into fire fight mode. Any change in your business or business circumstances can push you in that direction. For example, changes in the market, the failure of a key customer or supplier, a key customer unconditionally extending payment terms, a project going off track (e.g. internal IT upgrade, or new product development), a member of staff leaving unexpectedly or experiencing extra demands outside work e.g. a young family. All of these have the potential to put you in fire fight mode.
Failure to take action on a problem in time means that the fire fight becomes a vicious spiral – as things go wrong, you’re likely to get involved in explaining to shareholders/customers/staff/spouse what’s going on and what you’re doing about it – taking up more precious time. You’re likely to feel under pressure and stressed, which further reduces your effectiveness. It can also reduce the effectiveness of your immune system, rendering your body more susceptible to colds etc, having a further negative hit.
In extreme cases it can lead to nervous breakdown – something I have witnessed in the car industry on more than one occasion.
So take action now. If you are fire fighting already use these techniques (over the last four weeks) to move you towards calm and if you’re lucky enough to be in the calm phase, then don’t get complacent – make plans to ensure that the unexpected doesn’t start a fire under your feet.