If you are talking to a “Fire-fighter,” speak like a “Fire-fighter.” How to influence the Fire-fighters in your organization.

Posted by on Dec 6, 2013 in Leadership | Comments Off on If you are talking to a “Fire-fighter,” speak like a “Fire-fighter.” How to influence the Fire-fighters in your organization.

Recognizing the “Fire-fighters” at Work   
rbso_13rbso_13Have you ever noticed that many professionals inside organizations often like to seek problems to solve and are motivated by fixing things?  You might even notice this with some technically-oriented professionals. I call these individuals “Fire-fighters” and they are great at identifying risks and solving problems.  Fire-fighters are motivated by moving away from problems and consequences.  They often talk about the problem that needs to be fixed, what they don’t want to have happen, what will be prevented or what they will get rid of.  It is also often true that these folks can struggle with focusing on a goal. They can get easily distracted from the task-at-hand. The reason is that these individuals get excited by fixing the next problem du jour. This becomes a cycle of just serially wanting to put out fires and can create a lack of focus, delays or incomplete projects.

Conversely, there are some of us that are motivated by achieving goals and moving towards a benefit.  I am a goal-oriented person at work and I have spent many years managing Fire-fighters in technical companies.  Moving towards a goal and moving away from a consequence are two different motivation patterns. These patterns are expressed differently in our communication. What we say has a direct impact on someone’s behavior. This is why you might find some people easier to motivate than others.  If you are goal-oriented at work and are having difficulty motivating a Fire-fighter, you just might not be speaking his language.

What is your Communication Bias?
The VP of Sales for a technology company told me that her company had a new CEO, and even after several months she was still having a hard time convincing him to go out and meet some of their important customers.  He was new to the company and his previous role was CFO, with backgrounds in finance and accounting, so he was good at preventing problems and managing risk. In meetings he spoke predominately about fixing organizational problems to avoid potential consequences. This tipped me off that he may be a Fire-fighter. Now typically good sales people are very goal-focused; they want the sale and the money. The VP of Sales was trying to influence the new CEO from her own communication bias which was not working because they have different motivation patterns. We worked on crafting her message using his preferred style.

The Language of the “Fire-fighter”
Her bias was to focus on the goals and benefits such as “By visiting our customers you will build the relationships necessary to grow sales and understand how to improve our product offerings to meet customer needs.”  What worked for the new CEO was “By visiting our customers you can fix the operational problems resulting in our sales deficit. Meeting you will help avoid any negative perceptions or concerns about the change in leadership.” Shifting your language to match a person’s motivation style will reduce apathy and ignite action. If you are unsure if someone is a Fire-fighter or goal-oriented, simply communicate using both language patterns. This is a good rule of thumb if you are trying to influence a group. Influencing is an important part of effective leadership.  Give it a try; don’t just take my word for it. Test it and notice the response you get.rbso_13