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Does Every Fire Need a Fire Brigade?

ACE+ Company works with diverse clients across the financial industry, giving us insight into processes and practices including where things go wrong. Often, regulatory compliance teams are busy, sometimes running from emergency to emergency, effectively in emergency mode 24/7. As soon as you finish putting out one fire, another crops up, and you quickly have to move on to deal with that issue, and so on.

Unfortunately, quite often, being stuck in this kind of approach is self-defeating. Not only does it mean your leaders are constantly busy handling emergencies, it means your teams aren’t learning how to deal with problems themselves, and that your strategic thinkers aren’t putting work into preventing those problems.

Understanding why those problems occur can help you to better prioritize how leaders invest their time and what you spend time and effort to fix.

  • Lack of anticipation – Problems crop up last minute and were not anticipated. E.g., metrics suddenly miss marks a week before a report is due, data suddenly can’t be collected and corrected in time, etc. These often require last-minute fixes but can be anticipated by taking time to stay familiar with and aware of upcoming regulations.
  • Lack of listening – Here, people may have tried to raise issues or potential problems and been dismissed by leaders who think they know what’s going on or who are too busy with another emergency to think about the issue.
  • Overwork – Teams and their leaders are failing to prioritize work and have too many goals to keep track of everything, so things slip through the cracks and emergencies happen.
  • Lack of Prioritization – We often respond to emergencies by putting everything else on hold but that often creates more emergencies. Taking time to prioritize and to create a measured response to an emergency ensures your emergency response to one problem doesn’t create more problems. Taking even a few minutes to assess the situation, “where is the fire”, “is it safe to enter the building”, “what’s the best angle to extinguish the fire from”, “where can we access water”, “is water the best choice or should we look for something else”, “do we need more firetrucks”, etc.

Eventually, if you’re putting out fires all day, you’re not taking time to anticipate and prevent future fires.

Handling Emergency Situations

  1. Stay Calm – The fire will keep burning whether you stay calm or not. Staying calm will give you more room to think clearly and to make the right decisions as you work to extinguish it.
  2. Have Strategy in Place and Respond Promptly – When something goes wrong, everyone notices. Making lists of stakeholders and relevant people upfront allows you to quickly respond to issues by taking charge and assigning responsibility to someone. A simple update that “This is going on, we are working on a fix” will do. The faster you respond, the less likely it is that others respond with panic, and the less likely it is that other people will try to fix the issue themselves.
  3. Assign Responsibility – Build a small team that can handle the issue, assign work, and then inform stakeholders of who is fixing the issue. Sharing their contact details and allowing others to get in touch with them is important. This team should consist of people who can directly contribute to creating a solution and that team should have clear ownership of the problem.
  4. Communicate Regularly – Share regular updates as the emergency progresses. Depending on the scope of the problem, those updates may be hourly, daily, or even weekly. It is crucial that stakeholders feel informed.
  5. Balance the Short and Long-Term – Resolving regulatory problems is very often a case of getting a report in by a deadline or another “quick fix”. At the same time, it’s often more important that you can fix the long-term problem, so the issue doesn’t happen again. In every case, your regulator will much prefer to have an issue communicated and a report that is slightly late than to have a last-minute report that’s badly put together or which meets requirements but doesn’t really show the regulator what they want to know. So, it’s always a good idea to implement a short-term approach alongside a long-term approach, where you assess and choose the best options for the short-term, while implementing feedback and process for the future. And, once issues are under control, you can always stop, assess how things were handled, and start taking steps to avoid the problem or to get a better fix next time.
  6. Take Time to Prioritize – It’s almost never going to be the case that you’ll have time to deal with emergencies and day-to-day issues. Unless you expand the team or have an emergency taskforce on hand to help, dealing with emergencies will always pull attention from other tasks. For that reason, it’s crucial to make ongoing prioritization and reprioritization part of the work. Some “fires” are going to be okay to drop, some are going to be okay to use as learning experiences, with guidance, for your team – so they can pick more things up in the future. In other cases, other work will be more important, and you’ll just have to let fires run their course and start things up again. Being able to make those prioritizations may mean understanding due dates and outcomes, it may mean understanding total costs, and it may mean sitting down with your team or with higher ups to make a prioritization matrix. Making those kinds of decisions requires time and conscious decision-making from everyone involved.

When Regulatory Compliance Teams Are Constantly Putting Out Fires

Pulling a team out of “fire brigade” mode will always require effort, not only because you’ll have to change habits, but because it often means making time. That can mean dropping the ball on some projects, it can mean letting some fires run their course, and it can mean asking for help or bringing in new people.

Shifting Focus to the Long-Term

Changing how your team and your leaders approach problems is most often a matter of prioritization. For example, leaders have to prioritize which fires are important enough to put out, which they have time for, and which they will delegate to someone else. They have to assess and manage resources and look at the bigger picture to decide when it’s better to stop dumping resources into a problem.

Another crucial part of being prepared for problems is simply being aware of your regulatory timelines and upcoming deadlines. Most often, you’ll have years of lead time on new regulation. Assigning people to keep track of those timelines and deadlines ensures you have the time to plan in compliance, reporting, etc.

Of course, step one is getting out of “fire brigade mode”, and that will mean making hard choices. Often, the answer is that leaders should take some time, every day, to assess upcoming regulation, to review prioritization for the day, and to decide where it’s best to actually focus time and attention. Taking that time and being able to strategize how you spend your time, what you can do, what’s best left to another day, and what’s best left to someone else will help a lot.

Making Organizational Changes

In many cases, making organizational changes may be the best long-term solution.

  • Create a regulatory office in charge of keeping track of regulation, associated dates, and deadlines associated with obligations
  • Build a business continuity or emergency response team to step in in case of major emergency. If you have extra people to help with emergencies, you’ll be able to continue business as usual without putting off other projects.
  • Put someone in charge of emergency communication, with a protocol list and a list of stakeholders per project. Then, when something does go wrong, it’s extremely easy to keep everyone informed.

Eventually, taking steps to stop responding and to start anticipating problems and will help you to deliver better results, to better meet compliance, and to meet those compliance needs before they become problematic.

If you need help, ACE can help you put out fires, with high pressure implementation to remediate issues. At the same time, we can collect the data to help you build a strategy for longer-term management and control. Our approach normally involves implementing workshops based on data, helping individual people to gain the skills and structure you need to organize high pressure environments and prevent fires.

If you’d like to learn more, contact us, we’re happy to help.