Many business owners and managers find themselves caught up in a constant round of fire fighting - never managing (or only temporarily managing) to get their head above the ever rising water.
Hilary Briggs is a management consultant with over 20 years of industrial experience having held senior management positions at Rover Group, Whirlpool Corporation and The Laird Group plc.
Early in her career she found herself in the role of Production Superintendent, responsible for over 80 people working on the door build for the Rover 800 at Rover Group's Cowley Assembly plant.
Hilary was running round desperately juggling problems. Her colleagues seemed to be doing much the same, and it would have been easy to assume that "this is how it is". However, at the time they were working closely with Honda, and it struck her that there seemed much more calmness in their approach - she vowed to create some of that in her section before she and her team burnt out.
Within 3 months Hilary had tangible results, and has continued to use these techniques in every subsequent position, and now in her own business and with her clients.
So what is Hilary's advice?
1) First thing is to be aware of where you are on the continuum of "firefight to calm"; think of it as a 0-10 scale, and keep track of changes.
2) If you're in the firefight side, the second action is to build a strong visualisation - including feelings - of what the "calm" version would be like.
3) Then build a detailed plan of what's required to deliver that. Identify where things are off-track at the moment and why.
4) Identify specific actions, and break them down into small pieces. Try to find 5 minutes today to make tomorrow better.
5) Take action to prevent the fires happening in the first place. Involve all the relevant people and ensure a continuous improvement loop is established.
6) Monitor the progress.
7) Look for signs of trouble - e.g. if a customer or supplier becomes difficult to contact/not returning calls - it's a sure sign that there's a problem. (EDITOR: They might, for example, be fighting their own fires?)
8) If you find yourself constantly uttering the "I don't have any time" excuse, then go back to your vision of the calm state, and break the actions down into tiny pieces so at least some progress can be made.
9) Finally, establish a 100 day plan to help focus your activities on moving up the scale towards calmness. Keep monitoring the data and adjust the plan as you go.
Overall the key to help any business owner or manager move from firefight to calm is to take action to improve the situation. Constantly firefighting will leave you for ever in that mode. You need to put out the fire and then, very importantly, stop a new one from igniting.