Thursday, July 10, 2014

When You Reward (business) Firefighters

You encourage fires…..and arsonists

Not the criminal, actually setting stuff on fire kind of arsonist, of course – but the business version.

A project starts to fall apart. Everybody’s running around like headless chickens, in a panic. Then, someone steps in and takes over. People are assigned tasks, things get done, the project is back on track and your fat is pulled from the fire. People have reacted – and got ‘er done!

Is this a scene that plays out frequently in your business? Does your team seem to work better when the deadline is looming, or the more urgent matter (not necessarily the more important matter) is pressing in from all sides? You might not care, since they always seem to pull together and save the day. Or do they?

How much time and effort is wasted with this last minute craziness, the disorganization and the stress? When the process becomes chaotic, resources are strained, people are stressed and mistakes happen. It’s possible those mistakes get fixed – at least enough to get the job done – but wouldn’t it be nice to have things go more smoothly more of the time, you wonder?

It might be that you’re encouraging this scenario by rewarding those "firefighters", those people who always seem to be able to pull it together at the last minute. And why not? They most likely get a huge bucket of praise for doing so! You show them you value their ability to save the day. The only problem is that "saving the day" becomes the norm and you and your team are constantly fighting fires. No one prevents the fires. It must be more fun to put them out. Maybe planning doesn’t feel like "doing".

I really don’t think most of your staff thinks that crisis mode is fun, or the best way to do business, but if they’re rewarded for it, or if those that lead them are, there’s not much reason or opportunity to change. But, operating this way day in and day out is exhausting for them, bad for your business and your organization.

Assessing, planning, organizing and then "doing" is much more productive and in the end, more efficient and less costly – both in financial terms as well as human terms. Today’s work world is stressful enough without artificially setting the stage to create unnecessary turmoil. Stop rewarding firefighting and start rewarding working smart.

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