Are You a Virtual Corporate Arsonist?
Today’s paper had a story about a volunteer firefighter who set an abandoned house ablaze so he could be the first to respond and be a hero. Fortunately, no one was hurt. It’s a bit surprising to me that stories like this make news, because they happen so frequently. After putting the paper down, I poured some more coffee (third cup) and videoed into my first coaching call of the day.
My client (I’ll call him Steve), a sales leader for a large manufacturing firm, was feeling out of control. He is constantly putting out fires (his words), or watching while his reps put out their own fires. One of his reps even felt a sense of pride about taking care of a client emergency. The client had run out of a product and the rep had to make a trip to resupply them. (Why didn’t the rep know the client’s inventory would be low? In this case it was completely predictable.)
As Steve and his team travel from fire to fire, he feels increasingly overwhelmed because his job is not putting out fires—it’s making sales. After listening to his frustration for a while, I asked him, “Are you and your team just putting the fires out—or are you also starting them?” I was still thinking about the local arson story.
He agreed that he and his team were virtual corporate arsonists, creating chaos that they could then fix.
I asked Steve what his real agenda is, because I felt the fire drills might be taking the place of focused work. Steve paused and said he didn’t know what his agenda was. Of course, in a larger sense, he knows it’s making sales and gaining market share. But what is the small handful of major things he wants to focus on in the next 90 days to get more of what he wants? He’s not sure, at least at the moment. But he promised me he will be sure by tomorrow.
Steve also mentioned that when a fire breaks out, it preoccupies his thoughts, sometimes for a whole weekend, because his imagination makes it spin out of control from a small brush fire to a forest fire. He concluded it was his lack of a having a clear agenda for himself that makes the fires seem bigger than they are.