Tactical business firefighting syndrome is a common denominator across many of the small to mid-size businesses (SMB) I work with. I describe it as the adrenaline rush leadership gets when there is a crisis.
Time to roll up your sleeves, join your workforce in the trenches, resolve the issue and lead the day. Right?
Well, yes and no.
When tactical business firefighting becomes the normal operating protocol for your business, you and your workforce have a problem.
It is time for an intervention.
Small businesses can have the same number of employees as some teams in larger companies. Either way, the dynamics are the same. In pursuit of what looks like acts of continuous heroism, your business gets sidetracked on the wrong type of activities.
Tactical business firefighting syndrome can become addicting.
Before long, tactical business firefighting syndrome becomes an ingrained standard operating procedure. It is your business normal.
Think about it. What happens when there is an urgent situation requiring all-hands-on-deck to resolve?
You and yours experience that adrenaline rush: a combination of fear, fight or flight. Not only that.
What happens when the problem is solved? You and your team experience post-event euphoria caused by a rush of natural endorphins into the brain.
After a while, your brain and body crave these highs and lows, these rushes of energy, engagement and neurochemistry. You inadvertently develop the same set of stimuli responses that drug addicts do. Wow.
You become addicted to tactical business firefighting because it makes you and your brain-body feel powerful and effective. Think about Jeremy Renner’s character in “Hurt Locker” or the “runner’s high” athletes experience post race.
Tactical business firefighting syndrome is reactive, not strategic.
When tactical business firefighting syndrome becomes the norm, you and your employees go to work each day wondering what is going to happen. What’s more, you feel short-changed if “nothing happens” that day.
And here’s what starts to happen.
- You create crises to feed your addiction to tactical business firefighting syndrome. Unconsciously at first. Perhaps consciously after a while.
- You hire employees who tend to be more emotional than logical and rational. These folks are not going to be able to make smart decisions, especially if led by a leader who thrives on solving created crises.
- Your entire business model focuses on winning business, creating tactical crises and solving them so you can be not only heroes to each other, but to your customers as well.
That’s when tactical business firefighting syndrome exerts its predictably negative impact on the growth of your business. Here’s why.
Tactical business firefighting negatively impacts business growth.
The types of clients I want you to work with, A-List Clients, seek predictability and stability from their suppliers and partners. They don’t consider their orders or projects to represent anything dramatic. Their own internal teams have put considerable time and effort into designing and planning the project and hiring your company to execute.
When every order your company processes is tainted by delays or mistakes or each project includes extensive rework, they lose confidence in you and your team.
You gradually lose these ideal customers and find yourself surrounded by a customer base full of B- or C- Listers. These other companies will gladly serve your self-fulfilling prophecy! Their orders and projects are error-ridden. They, too, are in a state of constant crisis.
Your “new” set of non-ideal customers becomes as unprofitable to your organization as did your own company to your former, A-List customers.
All because you “thought” you were leading. And you were, and still are. It’s just that you are leading crises, many of which are of your own making.
You are unable to lead effectively and profitably if you prefer to roll up your sleeves and jump into crisis trenches.
I recently worked with two CEOs of small manufacturing businesses located in two different states. They wanted their businesses to grow but had been unsuccessful in the past two years. They searched for answers but were too close to their business case to find a way out.
Ironically, as we started to look at existing processes and corporate culture, they both sat back in their chairs at different times, different days and different states. They had the same reaction. Deja vu.
“How could I have not seen that I was creating my own problems?”
Both these leaders were exhausted at day’s end. They took unfinished work home with them, often working until late evening. Their spouses were understanding but still…..
The majority of the work they finished up at home was created by employees trying to emulate the boss’s tactical firefighting. Why?
Staffers took matters into their own hands to resolve the key issues which were, truly, best solved by the CEO. Except the CEO was too busy working on the lines with the employees!
Tactical business firefighting blurs roles, responsibilities, processes, productivity and profitability!
In order to grow their businesses, both CEOs withdrew themselves from being an actively engaged participant in tactical business firefighting. Not easy to do when you thrive on the adrenaline-endorphin rush.
This withdrawal did not happen overnight either. A lot of coaching was involved.
At the same time, these leaders had to learn to lead. Not command-control. But empowering employees to learn the difference between engineering a fake crisis and becoming more proactive in identifying the potential for a real one.
Now, some months later, everyone has become more happy campers. Yes, there was employee attrition and replacement with personnel with more experience and training in problem solving and decision making.
Have you ever worked for a business actively engaged in daily, tactical business firefighting syndrome? Are you leading this type of company? Did you stay with the company or leave it? What factors impacted your decision, either way?
Babette Ten Haken is a writes, speaks and coaches about customer success for customer retention. She traverses the interface between human capital strategy for hiring and developing collaborative technical and non-technical teams. She serves manufacturing, IT and engineering intensive companies. Babette’s playbook of technical / non-technical collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon. Visit the Free Resources section of her website for more tools.