I understand the appeal. After all, didn’t we start our companies because we wanted to make money doing something we love? In my experience the things most entrepreneurs love revolve around sales or making product.
Then as the organization grows, there’s all this stuff we HAVE to do whether we like it or not. Maybe for you it’s doing the books or personnel issues. Maybe it’s marketing or dealing with computers. Whatever, it has to be done.
So then someone comes in with a problem that we can solve, and it’s in our sweet spot. Man, we jump right on it. And it feels great. Great to solve a problem, and great to be asked. And that encourages people to bring more problems to us. And pretty soon we spend all day, every day putting out fires. Which can be fun and exciting. But then we wonder why the company isn’t growing like we hoped it would; and why we can’t find people who can prevent some of these fires, or at least fight them on their own. Isn’t that what we pay them for?
You see the problem.
Why would you want to change what you do?
As Einstein is reported to have said, Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So first decide if you’re sufficiently unhappy with the results you’re getting to change what you do. Maybe you’re not. And that’s fine. You can stop reading now.
But if you want your company to be different, if you want to work on other things than firefighting, here’s a suggestion:
1. When people come to you with a problem, instead of jumping in to fix it, ask this one simple question: “What solutions have you considered already?” If the answer is none, ask that they come back when they’ve considered some and you’ll help them decide which one is the best. Then bite your tongue. Don’t say any more.
It’s simple, but it’s not always easy. What you’re doing is coaching them to fix the problem. It’s a big change for most entrepreneurs. But it’s how you build a company – by building people.
2. Decide which fires you really like to fight and which you want others to deal with. Make a list.
3. Tell people you’re going to change the way you work, and expect them to step up. You’ll have to do this in a way that is inspiring. That’s what leadership is for.
4. Prevention. After you (or someone else) has put out a fire. Don’t move on. Keep working to fix the root cause and prevent that type of fire from erupting again. Now you’re acting like the fire marshal – not the fire fighter.