How to Stop Firefighting – Getting Past the Blocks

From fire-fight to calm is a common continuum for many businesses. Over the last two weeks I have looked at how to get calm and how to prevent the fires. But with the best will in the world – you’ll come up against blocks that will impede your progress to calmly functioning business with no smouldering corners.

Its important to get into the detail of the problem and collect the data needed to help you move through it and ensure it doesn’t happen again.  But if you’re already in the thick of a fire-fight then investing further time to get into the detail and collect the data etc. is a tough call.

In my experience the “no time” excuse comes up often. I can only stress the importance of establishing a clear vision of the calm state, and breaking actions down into tiny pieces so at least some progress can be made.

More fundamental blocks often come from our personality traits, for example impatience, preferring the big picture, or wanting to stay in control (and not wanting staff members to start driving the improvements). All of these can easily block progress. Ask yourself some searching questions and make sure your personality is not the cause of your problem.

Coming from a maths and engineering background, I enjoy charting data to see trends and monitor progress, but I suspect a lot of even quite senior business leaders perceive they lack the relevant maths skills, or at least feel uncomfortable with data handling and would rather not do it.

Take courage from a foreman from my production days. He made the most progress of anyone in my team. He’d left school at 14 with no qualifications and had never even seen a computer before. He was able to grasp plotting quality data and soon found that this small piece of additional information made a huge difference to his productivity and effectiveness.

So I’d challenge anyone who claims that the kinds of analysis I’ve talked about would be beyond them. In the words of quality guru W. Edwards Deming, “you do not have to do this – survival is not compulsory”. It’s your call!

About Hilary Briggs

A management consultant with over 15 years of industrial experience having held senior management positions at Rover Group, Whirlpool Corporation and The Laird Group plc. For the last 10 years, she’s worked with SME’s to improve their performance. Hilary is Managing Director of productivity specialists R2P Ltd.