Recognize System-Builders, Not Solvers of Needless Crises!

If we only value firefighters, we will always have fires!

Here, the word fire is used to denote a crisis.

So if we only value crisis-solvers, we will always have crises!

In my first job after hanging my Indian Army uniform, I was astounded by the daily chaos and ‘fires’ in my company. Ever so often something or the other would go wrong and there would be a crisis.

Not surprisingly, the company highly valued the fire-fighters who jumped in to control the situation. Most surprisingly however, the company never seemed to notice that these crisis-fighters were the same people whose omissions or lack of processes had caused the fires to occur in the first place!

An experienced colleague whom I asked, gave me a sardonic look, and an invaluable lesson. He said, “People avoid processes. They like to make themselves indispensable. There is no heroism in processes!”

That was so true. Fighting a fire is so heroic. So is solving a crisis in a company. Deals are going sour one after another; the head of the department rushes in personally each time and retrieves the situation. He is hailed as a hero.

Similarly, the inefficient accountant of the company works late each day to clear all jumbled up bills and then make entries. “What a hard-working guy!” says the management. “He should be rewarded.”

Just a second though. Why does the Head of a Department have to personally oversee each deal? Why does the Accountant allow the bills to jumble up? Could they not have put in place systems to ensure that these things got done as a routine, instead of being allowed to build up into crises?

Heroism is one reason. Killing ‘fires’ makes people appear heroic.

Being irreplaceable is another. Irreplaceable people are considered to be assets. And assets are prized!

Companies further fuel these tendencies by invariably rewarding just the crises managers. And everyone applauds. And learns the wrong lessons.

Naturally everyone wants to be a crisis manager!

An efficient organization should ask why routine fires are allowed to occur in the first place.

An efficient organization should also ask why any employees have made themselves irreplaceable – why they have made no effort to institutionalize their capabilities.

The poor diligent guy who works hard at building systems and processes is often ignored. For him, there was no glory. Few, therefore, want to be like him; ergo, many organizations with few systems and processes.

There are lessons here for both employers and employees:

If you are a business owner or a business head, remember that organizations will get what they recognize people for. So please do not recognize merely fire-fighters. Certainly do not recognize fire fighters who excel at putting out self-created fires! Reserve top rewards and growth for the crisis-preventers – the people who put in place systems and processes that eliminate crises, wheel-reinventors and irreplaceable assets!

Recognize people like, “Ms X, who ensured that we had no fires this past year,” and “Mr Y, whose efforts ensured that work happens even without him intervening personally.”

Train your employees to understand that true growth lies in making yourself redundant! Then you move up in the organization, letting others take your place.

As employees, introduce systems and processes that will make you redundant. Understand that when you make yourself redundant, you actually rarely become redundant yourself! Instead, you get moved up to the next higher job.

And if that does not happen, please leave that organization fast. That company does not deserve your skills. Nor should you stay in an organization that loves overworked fire-fighters. You will find many great organizations that will appreciate your skills.

find great organizations that will appreciate your skills.

It also really helps to also learn another key skill:

In addition to codifying systems, processes and processes, also create processes for quantifying the results of creating them.

Not only will it help you to measure the impact of those systems, it will also help you showcase your efforts. Those efforts may not always be obvious. Turn them into explicit numbers and they are sure to be recognized.

By doing this, you will bring recognition to yourself plus to other process-based workers in the organization.                       

In summary, value Systems, Procedures and Processes because:

  • They pre-empt crises.
  • They help in doing repetitive tasks efficiently.
  • They give you time to think. Just as fires force you to stop thinking and start acting, absence of fires helps you think how to prevent more fires.
  • They make you flexible. Systems and processes evolve. With time to think, you can make yourself nimble and ever evolving. You can alter existing processes to suit your growth.
  • They help you to grow.

You can be a great crisis manager, the hero on the bridge of a sinking ship;

Or you can choose to be the architect of a great ocean-liner that is remembered for years!

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