Several of my friends from high school are now firefighters in my town. They rightfully pride themselves by their ability and desire to help the community. They are some of the true heroes in this world. Firefighters put their lives in danger to save our lives.
One of the men I respect most is a Captain in our local fire district. He has earned my respect in several ways. Yes, he risks his life through his day (and night) job but it’s how he lives his life that has garnered the most respect from me and my family.
Did you grow up wanting to be a firefighter?
I never desired to be a firefighter. Then, why have I become one? No, I’m not THAT kind of firefighter. I’m the OTHER kind; the kind no one wants to be.
The fires I put out are figurative. They are mini emergencies at work. Either a client or a co-worker needs help. They need help right away or…..wait, nothing will happen.
Real firefighters get excited when they get an opportunity to fight a real fire. They are not happy about the damage it can cause to someone’s life or property, but the fire is the reason they chose that profession.
We, on the other hand, dread being corporate firefighters. We get so worked up in our day jobs about providing great client service (internally or externally) that we make questions into emergencies. I’m as guilty as anyone else.
If I receive an email or voicemail from a client, I feel it necessary to take care of it right away. The client needs an answer as soon as possible. It’s a fire. I’ve got to put it out.
Well, no, it’s not really a fire. It’s not even smoldering. It’s a question.
In this digital age where everything is at our fingertips, we’ve grown accustomed to getting immediate answers, responses or access to whatever we want. We’ve allowed, even demanded of ourselves, to become corporate firefighters.
Do you want to a be a firefighter?
Unless you’re a real firefighter, you don’t want to be the office firefighter. Here are six steps you can take to stop being a corporate firefighter.
1. No one is going to die
Yes, you read that correctly. If you do not respond to the inquiry within five minutes of receipt, no one is going to die. No one will even be hurt. You have to realize what is truly important in the grand scheme of life.
If your clients or co-workers usually expect immediate responses from you, it is up to you to retrain them. You are responsible for them having those expectations because you have enabled that treatment in the past. It’s time to change.
3. Set auto-responders
An easy way to start retraining your clients and co-workers is to set the auto-responders on your email. In your auto-response, indicate whether you’re in or out of the office or simply indicate a time at which you will reply. If your policy is to reply by the following day, put that in the auto-response.
4. Set timelines
Almost nothing that is a complete surprise has to be done right away. If you knew it was coming, that may be different. However, setting deadlines with the other party will help you to stop being a corporate firefighter.
5. Say no
It takes courage and a little gumption to say no. However, if you are being asked to do something you cannot or should not be doing, say no. If you don’t have capacity, say so.
Instead of just saying no and upsetting people, can you delegate that task? If you can delegate, be sure not to start a fire with the person to whom you are delegating it.
Every item on your to-do list is smoldering. With a little more oxygen, those burning embers can catch and turn into unmanageable blazing fires. Don’t let that happen. You can’t do anything about the smoldering coals but you can stop them from getting extra oxygen.
It’s up to you to stop being the corporate firefighter. Part of being a firefighter is teaching fire safety. Have you learned corporate fire safety? Once you do, teach it to others.