As you consider the five key factors necessary when reviewing strategy to determine any changes in course, keep in mind that fires are generally not a reason to change strategy. However, you may have some managers who are all too eager to don the helmet and hose and swoop in to save the day through urgent but unimportant tasks. The problem with this firefighting mentality is the opportunity costs it bleeds from your business. Time, talent, and budget spent on fighting urgent but unimportant fires are resources that can’t be properly invested elsewhere to support the successful execution of your strategy. Research with 197 global companies on the reasons for the underperformance of strategy found that the biggest contributing factor is, “the failure to have the right resources in the right place at the right time.”3 Taking a few hours here and there each week to attend to fires might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Take those few hours a week and multiply that by the number of managers in the organization. It’s quickly evident how thousands of hours a year can be wasted with no way to regain those precious resources.
It’s recommended that at least twice a year you conduct a Fire Prevention exercise with your management team. The Fire Prevention exercise is designed to help you put out some of the recurring fires by taking action on the things that ignite them. The first step in the exercise is to identify the fires: urgent but unimportant activities that are not a part of your plan, but require a resource investment. The second step is to have a strategy conversation with all of the people involved in that fire to shed light on its cause. The third and final step is to create an approach to stop the fire from consuming your resources. There are three potential actions when dealing with a fire:
- 1. Control: Invest resources the first time (and only the first time) a fire appears in order to control it, prior to further analysis.
- 2. Delegate: Pass the resource investment requirement to a group or person with the appropriate accountability for such an event.
- 3. Prevent: Determine and eliminate the root cause.
Examples of internal fires include:
- • Senior leaders demanding lists or reports that require time, labor, and energy to put together, versus those that can be automatically generated
- • Flavor-of-the-month initiatives that aren’t directly related to people’s strategic plans
- • Attendance on conference calls that have no direct business value for the participant
Table 4.1 Fire Prevention
Action (Control, Delegate, Prevent)
Examples of external fires include:
- • The same customer continually asking for activities to be performed in a much shorter time frame than normal
- • Requests for proposal (RFP) that don’t match up with your business acquisition criteria
- • People outside the organization seeking teleconferences or meetings to discuss partnerships or alliances without first providing sufficient business rationale
The template in Table 4.1 will enable you to track your Fire Prevention efforts over the course of time, and decipher patterns of activity.