Over 50 years ago Peter Drucker pointed out the important difference between doing things right and doing the right things. He added, "when you only focus on doing things right you eventually only learn to do relatively less important things faster."
Now, 50 years later when working with clients on goal setting, metrics, defining responsibilities and boundaries of authority or process improvement I will often hear, "That is a great idea but we are so busy fighting fires we just don't have time." At some point individuals and organizations have to decide to begin to break that cycle.
When working with teams to make that change I often share with them some basic ideas which are always readily accepted:
1. do you agree that on any given day you work with at least 10% inefficiency for any number of reasons?
2. would reducing the number of fires each day make it easier to do your job, create more teamwork and reduce stress?
3. do you believe that prevention is always less costly and smarter than constant fire fighting?
I then give them a simple example of the benefits of spending time to address the inefficiencies and fire fighting: if you have a team of 10 people and can eliminate that 10% inefficiency (studies show it is actually above 30% on average) in each person you have just added one full person without adding a penny of cost to your operation and reduced stress and conflict.
Here are a few tips on how to start to break the cycle:
1. after you have fought a fire take time to understand what caused it, what causes can be changed or managed more closely and assess whether it was really a fire or someone just making it look like a fire
2. take time to understand the root cause of recurring problems; separate symptoms from causes (I sometimes have clients ask me to do coaching or workshops on stress management; when I do I ask them if we can talk about the causes of the stress and focus on reducing or eliminating them)
3. once you have identified root cause be prepared to make a commitment to make changes that will reduce the reoccurrence or even eliminate the problem
4. be sure everyone is clear on their role, responsibility and parameters of authority in doing their job; without the authority levels being clear inefficiency occurs when a person isn't clear on the decisions and actions they have been authorized to make
5. take time to analyze organizational patterns of both duplication of effort and things falling through the cracks repeatedly; assess why and make necessary changes
6. evaluate your processes to ask why things are done and if you are satisfied they are the right things to do, ask if they are being done the right way; also assess whether every activity in that process adds value or is simply a transaction. Many inefficiencies in processes have built up over time, were in place before a technology of information system was in place, were driven by someone's need for control or because people were "too lazy" to use the technology (I had client a few years ago who spent over $600,000 a year creating RFPs manually for the most part. They had invested several million dollars in a system intended to largely automate the RFP process but no one wanted to take the time to learn that part of the system. When they did, the cost of RFPs went down by over 60%, fewer people had to take time away from their core job to help build the RFP and the company could generate more RFPs
So, the next time you catch yourself or others saying, "That's a great idea but we are too busy fighting fires", ask yourself if life would be easier if you started reducing the number of fires.