“Putting out fires” has become a rather popular expression. When you hear it, you know that someone has been dealing with a series of little emergencies that distracted him/her from whatever was planned for the day. Those little fires threaten to become roaring infernos unless we take immediate action.
This topic came up in a recent session with Beth, one of my clients, who all too frequently found herself putting out fires. I suggested that her current job title was firefighter and asked her, “What would happen if you instead became a forest ranger?” I had her imagine what it would be like to have a tall tower that overlooked her business, just like one in the forest.
There’s nothing relaxing about fighting a fire…you’re on full alert with adrenaline pumping through your system. For firefighters, that’s part of the job. Although they’ve been trained to minimize the dangers, risk is unavoidable. Forest rangers are also well trained to fight fires, but it’s not their primary focus. Their actions are designed to keep the forest safe from fires through education, watchfulness, and, when necessary, intervention.
As Beth discovered, there are firefighters and forest rangers in the staffing business, too. The difference is that staffing and recruiting professionals don’t typically don’t sign up for those jobs. Beth realized that she was spending far too much time playing firefighter. As a result, she was feeling stressed and overworked.
By changing her title from firefighter to forest ranger, Beth became proactive rather than reactive. She gained a sense of control and mastery and was able to handle the occasional brush fire calmly and quickly. How did she do it? She viewed her job from a higher vantage point, just as the ranger oversees the forest from a tall tower. She also adopted the forest ranger’s job description:
Maintain excellent physical and mental condition
If you’re not taking care of yourself, you won’t be effective in anything you do. Being rested, alert, and ready for action are essential if you’re going to prevent business blazes.
Educate others about fire prevention
You can’t prevent all fires on your own. By letting others know of the dangers and giving them ways to help, you’ll multiply your effectiveness. Set up a simple system of guidelines for others to follow.
A typical staffing fire is client dissatisfaction within days or weeks of a contract or full-time employee starting a job. By creating and teaching a client follow-up system, such as placing quality assurance calls at the end of the first day, first week, and then each week thereafter, you and your colleagues will be better positioned to spot problems before they turn into major hot spots. Your attentiveness can lead to more business opportunities, as well.
Ensure compliance with safety regulations
No matter how much information you provide, there will be people who inadvertently start fires because they don’t follow the guidelines. When that happens, you’ll have to remind them what’s at stake.
In temporary and contract staffing, a common fire is ignited when associates do not turn in timesheets when they’re due. By implementing a step-by-step policy for associates and contacting them immediately when they don’t follow through, you can keep a minor annoyance from becoming a big problem.
Patrol the area
Awareness is the most important aspect of your job as forest ranger. Keep your eyes and ears open so that you can act before a problem gets out of hand.
Beth used this idea to ensure that clients were being contacted on a regular basis to avoid missing opportunities to be of service. By using her company’s contact management system to run a report twice each month, she could easily “patrol” which clients were being overlooked and then take immediate action to correct this oversight.
Monitor dangerous conditions
When conditions are favorable for spontaneous fires, it’s time to be especially watchful. Keep an eye on any volatile situations and be prepared to act, if necessary.
Believe it or not, one of the most dangerous times in our business occurs when times are good. When orders are plentiful, it is common for people in sales roles to neglect regular, consistent business development activities. The fire breaks out when the current orders have been filled and there is little or nothing to follow in the pipeline. By ensuring that marketing activities are being done on a daily basis, this common fire can become a thing of the past.
Extinguish smaller fires
If you’ve been monitoring your area, you’re likely to spot small fires quickly so you can put them out before they create much damage.
Examples of smaller fires in staffing and recruiting can include a client being a few days late with a payment, a candidate not providing references when promised, or an internal staff member not documenting information at the end of a conversation. By dealing with these issues the moment they come up, you lessen the likelihood that they will grow into an inferno that is difficult, if not impossible, to control.
Serve as crew chief for larger fires
Have a plan in place for the unlikely event of a fire that, despite your steps to prevent it, grows out of control. Yours may be the only voice of reason in a forest fire.
One of my favorite examples of such a plan comes from a staffing firm in Texas. The owner of company has created an emergency response committee composed of one representative from each department. The committee convenes the moment a major issue comes up, such as when a client decided to go with a “cheaper” service. By convening quickly and responding immediately to the challenge, the committee came up with a presentation to show the client why it made sense to pay them more. Not only did they save the relationship, but the client has since doubled the amount of business they give to this firm because of the value they so clearly provide.
While rangers are the ultimate authority in the forest, they’re the first to point out that everyone has the ability to prevent fires. So whether your area of responsibility is an entire company or a single territory, you can do your part to keep things running smoothly. Instead of putting out one fire after another, find a place high enough to see the big picture and put a stop to little problems before they become major emergencies.
- Scott Wintrip
Scott Wintrip, PCC, is founder and president of StaffingU, a global leader in providing management consulting, training and coaching services to staffing and recruiting professionals. Scott has over 20 years of industry experience and has delivered coaching and training to staffing and recruiting firms since 1993. His tenure includes small, medium, and large staffing firms on both the temporary/contract and executive search sides of the business.