Why Fire Fighting Slows Business Growth
High-growth companies are particularly prone to fire fighting. People rush from crisis to crisis; not ending one before another pops up. Real problem solving is replaced with Band Aids. Productivity slides. Managing becomes a constant juggling act of deciding where to assign overworked people and which developing crisis can be ignored until tomorrow.
The Underlying Causes of Fire Fighting
Companies that are constantly battling fires see a dramatic increase in the number of serious mistakes and problems, especially in the operational areas of the company. As the number of problems rise – from customer complaints, delays, quality issues, supplier difficulties, and other sources – management, people, and systems are overwhelmed..
When the exact thing the company was striving for – fast growth – unleashes its fury, problems seem to increase with every new sale. Operational systems become overburdened and resources are strained under the weight of the company’s growth. Management slowly loses focus as it tries to figure out how to control the monster it has created.
To keep from being buried, an organization must put in place the appropriate resources, people, systems, structures, processes, and culture necessary to manage a larger and more complex business. This infrastructure is the backbone of your business. The inefficiencies and ineffectiveness caused by an inadequate infrastructure is a greater drag on growth than most leaders recognize.
As the organization is forced to shift its focus away from sales related activities to dealing with an increasing number of internal issues, growth slows or stalls. Ultimately the company’s financial performance is at risk, as the business becomes increasingly inefficient and unproductive.
Fighting Fires is Reactive
Under the pressure of fire-fighting conditions, companies become very short-term focused and react to situations instead of anticipating them. More time is spent applying quick fixes to problems than preventing them, with everyone dropping whatever they were doing to respond to the latest crisis or priority.
Organizations that are constantly battling fire after fire pay a premium to fix them, because things are always falling apart at the last minute. People that can deal with the endless emergencies become invaluable to the business and earn heroic status for constantly saving the day. But as the number of crises increase, stress rises and overall performance begins to suffer.
The Cost of Fire Fighting
A fast-growing company operates in a frenzied, often chaotic environment, where there are major issues that need to be addressed almost every day. It’s easy for the CEO and management team to get sucked into the role of ‘firefighters,’ spending their time lurching from crisis to crisis.
But growth requires the company’s management to put in place new and better processes, upgrade systems, hire and develop people, and set priorities.
These important things suffer when your time is consumed with employee issues, calming upset customers, inventory problems, meeting deadlines, and so on.
A Simple Test
Fire fighting is one of the most serious problems facing many managers of high-growth companies. You’re a casualty of fire fighting if more half of the following symptoms are present in your business.
- There isn’t enough time and there aren’t enough resources to effectively solve all the problems in the business.
- Many problems become emergencies. Issues go unresolved until they burst into flames, usually at the last minute. And then a heroic effort is required to solve them.
- Many problems are covered with a Band-Aid and never really solved. In other words, the symptoms are addressed, but the underlying causes are not resolved.
- Problems resurface and spread. Poor solutions cause old problems to recur or even cause new problems to appear, many times in other parts of the business.
- Growth stalls. So many problems are poorly solved and so many opportunities missed that growth has slowed or stagnated.
- Urgent replaces important. Long-term management activities, such as developing new systems and processes, are continually delayed because there are so many crises.
Growth Isn’t Only About Sales
Without proper planning you may find your growth creating an avalanche that buries you in unforeseen problems. But by anticipating and planning for the things that can go wrong before they go wrong, companies can limit the frequency and severity of those crises.
As your business grows it will have very different needs. You must bring your people, systems, and management capabilities in line with these new demands. Most companies struggle with growth because they never develop the new skills, capabilities, and ways of operating necessary to manage a larger and more complex business.
The flood of problems and mistakes that are crippling its growth and draining profits are not going to disappear until your organization’s internal development keeps pace with its sales growth. To dramatically reduce the inventory problems, shipping problems, and customer complaints – or whatever operational difficulties are plaguing your company – you must give as much attention to the rest of the organization as you’ve been dedicating to your sales and marketing efforts.
Are you spending too much time and energy fighting fires?