How to Stop the Firefighting in Your Business

Shaun H. Ruff


Dr Greg Chapman

A key reason that most business owners don’t ever find the time to
work ON their business is that that spend far too much of their time
fighting fires. They lurch from crisis to crisis. No sooner than a band-aid
fix has been found for one problem, than their biggest customer rings up to
say they haven’t received their urgent order. This means that the time you
had put aside to review your monthly sales performance is lost. The urgent
takes priority over the important.

What if you could get out of the firefighting business? That you didn’t get
continual surprises from your staff or contractors. That things worked the
way you expected 95% of the time. (100% would be nice, but as long as human
beings are involved, that can’t happen!) What I am about to recommend will
appear to some as just extra time that takes them away from the fires they
know should be dousing. There is only one way of getting out of the
firefighting business. Unfortunately most business owners believe the answer
is to get better at firefighting. All this will do is over time wear you
down and exhaust you and your staff. The correct answer is below:

The way to get out of the firefighting business is to stop the fires starting.

The best way to stop the fires starting is to develop a simple planning process. I have seen this simple strategy transform so many businesses. It is so simple that before people start doing it, they don’t see how it could possibly work and just see it as a diversion from running the business.

The strategy is to hold weekly meetings with your staff and contractors so that you plan what will be happening during the week. Below is a generic agenda for such a meeting.

There are 3 key objectives for this meeting:

• Measure the performance of the last week
• Plan the current week
• Identify opportunities for improvement

1. The first step is to review actions from last week’s meeting. When people know you will always ask about outstanding actions, and you won’t forget because the actions have been recorded and copied to everyone, you will be amazed how everyone will get in the habit of completing the work they have committed to before the next meeting. You will also be amazed at the affect that it has on you doing what you say you will do. A form of accountability that most owners lack.

2. The review against your monthly targets each week is just a way of making sure you keep on track and identify issues early that might prevent you from hitting these targets, rather than waiting to the end of the month when it is too late.

3. Get everyone to keep problem logs, so if something comes up during the week, and if it is not urgent, it can wait till the weekly meeting where the problem will be discussed and opportunities to eliminate it are developed. This on its own will stop the same old fires recurring.

4. Have each person give a brief report of what is happening in their area. Put a strict time limit on this and get them in the habit of reporting by exception. That is on things that didn’t go as expected. If there were problems, ask what were the obstacles they faced, and what do they think could have been done to prevent them. Make sure this doesn’t turn into a blame game! Let them know that every problem they raise, you want them to suggest 3 solutions. The idea is to turn your staff into problem solvers.

5. Now plan what will happen during the week. It is an opportunity for people to identify issues before problems arise. For example, an order might be due in two days and one of your staff mentions that you are low on stock or that they wanted time off on that day. Both inconvenient, but if you know ahead of time, you can deal with it while it is not an emergency. Often emergencies arise as one part of your business doesn’t know what another part is doing. It is not enough that you know, everyone should know as there may be impacts you are not aware of.

6. There should be a discussion of any new opportunities or new ideas which should be prioritised and an action assigned to someone with a completion date.

7. Matters Arising is just a point in the agenda when ad hoc matters that fit nowhere else can be raised, also reducing unimportant interruptions to your work during the week.

8. At the end, all actions are recorded for follow-up next week. The list is then sent to all staff.


The weekly meeting gives a focus for driving your business. Staff get used to the meeting routine and bringing issues to it, deferring non-urgent issues so you are interrupted less often. When someone asks: “Have you got a minute?” Answer: “Is it urgent, or can it wait for our weekly meeting?”

The weekly meeting is an opportunity for everyone to learn what is happening so that they don’t have to rely on you all the time. The rule is – no surprises during the week. It is where priorities are set and performance is reviewed. You may still have brief daily meetings to confirm last minute changes to the plan, but the objective will be to stick as closely to it as you can. It is a powerful communication tool to enable everyone in your business to know what is happening so that they can be prepared to do their part in making your business run smoothly.

May Your Business Be –As You Plan it!

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Dr Greg Chapman is the Director of
Empower Business Solutions
and is Australia’s Leading Advisor on Emerging Businesses and provides
Coaching and Consulting advice to Australian Small Business Owners in
Marketing & Business Strategies Planning & Systems. He is also the
author of
The Five Pillars of Guaranteed Business Success
Price: How You Can Charge More Without Losing Sales.

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