No matter how good you are, even the best leaders can find themselves off course because of two kinds of distractions. We call them fires and fireflies.
If you are like many leaders I know, you might set goals and institute initiatives at the beginning of the year, only to find yourself wondering what happened when you do a year-end look back. Staffing is, by nature, a reactionary business, and sometimes the pull to react—and desire to improve—can become more of a hinderance than a boon.
Fires are the daily emergencies that require immediate attention, from No Call No Shows to customer demands and everything in between. Fireflies are the shiny objects that catch our attention; the latest article, webinar, or best practice that we immediately want to implement. The need to fix and the drive to improve are both inherent to management. You can’t escape them (nor should you!), but you also have to know how to handle them so that they don’t derail your strategy.
Good strategic management requires a clear destination and plan for how to get to where you want to be. We think of it like setting course across a vast, grassy field. The plan you write becomes the north star to get to the correct point on the far side of the field. A good plan includes your projects, metrics, and tasks, and helps you prioritize work to stay on track.
As you set out, you may find yourself chasing one fire after another. Good managers respond quickly and effectively to the fires that pop up in front of them. That’s good! No good leader would leave a fire to fester and grow. And (let’s be real about this) it’s fun! There’s immediate gratification in solving problems on the spot. It’s rewarding to come up with creative new solutions.
The challenge is that sometimes those fires do not actually stand between you and the side of the field you are working toward. You risk distraction from the true goal. You need a plan to help prioritize which brush fires get resources and which sparks need containment before they cause more distraction. In other words, what do you fix ad hoc, and what becomes an initiative to prevent future problems? A plan helps determine what gets resources and what gets delegated or deferred.
The other inevitable of good management is fireflies. As a leader, you want to keep an ear to the ground for best practices. You read articles to stay on top of trends and look for ways to get or stay ahead. Chasing the new shiny opportunity can either be a sign of agility (great!) or a distraction (boo!).
Having a clear plan with well-defined strategies keeps teams in alignment and on track. As new opportunities—or fireflies—arise, simply check them against the plan. Either it is a distraction that will take you off course, or it’s a better path forward, in which case just change the plan! Consider waiting until your monthly or quarterly plan check-in to evaluate the fireflies that have popped up along the way. If it’s a good idea now, it will still be a good idea in three months.
In sum, here’s what to do:
· Determine which recurring issues should be addressed ad hoc versus which deserve resources to prevent in the future; adjust your plan.
· Identify opportunities and capture them in a single place.
· Revisit opportunities on a quarterly basis to determine what belongs in the plan to make thoughtful decisions rather than flavor-of-the-week distractions.
· Write a plan. Work your plan. Adjust your plan along the way.
· When in doubt, get help. We’re happy to help.
Plans aren’t static, they should adjust and move with you. The benefit of having a good working plan is that it makes strategies clear, aids prioritization, enables agility, and helps communicate across the team. The result is an aligned team whose efforts and investments are focused on a shared north star.
Look for fireflies. Fight the fires. But be sure to check in on—or create—an actionable plan. It will help you manage fires and prioritize the fireflies, so you don’t find yourself far afield.
Want some easy to implement best practices that will help you keep and grow your customers? Feel free to reach out. If you’d like to connect you can find me in all the usual places like my LinkedIn profile, Facebook, Twitter, and my website: WinSource Group.