Killing Alligators. Putting out fires. These are common phrases used in business to describe a person’s workday. They sound macho, very accomplishing, and self-important. They denote a day spent fixing problems and resolving issues, but they are also a sure sign of an individual that works in an organization that rewards heroism.
In these organizations there are the heroes, and as expected, the villains. The villain’s sole purpose is to sustain the hero. They are either a person who caused the situation or situations the chaotic world we live in get us into, although people make a much better villain as they can be attached and shamed.
The problem with organizations that reward heroes is that they are not very productive. In these organizations, people are contently on the lookout for villains who can catapult them into the role of a hero. This uses up a good portion of an organization’s capacity, leaving less energy to produce. The bottom line is the organization’s focus becomes being a hero versus fulfilling what the organization’s main role is.
On the flip side, great organizations reward prevention. Prevention is all about destroying the matches that start the fires and removing the eggs that breed the alligators. These organizations operate under a philosophy that can be illustrated using the following analogy:
In the beginning of the year leaders of all organizations are given 50 gold pieces. They have two options available to them for operating. They can invest by spending 40 of the pieces in the beginning of the year to have a 95% chance that no problems will arise during the year. The second option is to pay one gold coin for each problem that occurs during the year with a 95% chance of them occurring.
Great organizations would select the first option. Over time, they will have vastly less problems or issues to be resolved leaving lots of resources left to produce what the organization was intended to generate. Plus there is a year over year benefit too.
Creating this type of organization requires a behavioral change in its leader. They first have to learn to welcome problems and issues by not looking for the villain behind them. Instead of asking who caused this they need to ask how did this come to be? This encourages people to bring all the data to the forefront so it can be analyzed to find the root cause. When problems or issues come up leaders need to tell people the organization is already getting better because it has the opportunity to change and not allow the same thing to happen again. By not highlighting the villains, the heroes will not get the great reward and accordingly not look for other villains.
Secondly, leaders also must be patient in making the changes to resolve problems by not looking for the quick and easy solution. To destroy matches that start the fires and remove the eggs that breed the alligators leaders have to promote systems thinking. The systems thinking view of the world models the true nature of our organizations with many interconnected variables. It denounces the simple linear cause and effect model that generates simple solutions today that become tomorrow’s problems. Systems thinking can be learned but it takes time to incorporate into our problem solving process. The best resource for bringing systems thinking to your business is Pegasus Communications. They can help organizations learn to think holistically.
These two actions can dramatically change your organizations level of performance. Imagine not having to worry about the plans you have for next week being derailed because of recurring problems or issues. Image what you could accomplish in a year where your strategy and plans take top priority and are not usurped by day-to-day operational demands. Life can be different when yon reward prevention and not heroism.