In many organizations, and certainly within organizations of size, a role tends to arise out of necessity: the fix-it guy. (Author’s note: For our purposes, “fix-it guy” is a gender-neutral term that can refer to an individual of any gender who is routinely called upon to save the day.)
This person has a particular talent for getting things done without planning. So when a problem suddenly arises or things get stuck, they’re the one that everyone rushes to.
Some people make entire careers off of fulfilling this role—but, in reflecting on my own role in several organizations, I’m asking myself if the fix-it guy is actually good for the overall health of an organization.
Here’s the source of my doubt: When things suddenly fall into the lap of the fix-it guy, most people just thank their lucky stars that someone was there to catch the pieces. But what they tend to overlook is examining how things got to the point where they needed a fix-it guy in the first place.
In my career as an executive, I’ve found myself in the role of the fixer more often than I’d like to admit. It usually happens like this: There’s a product launch or a new opportunity that I know is coming down the pipe. But instead of mobilizing the organization to get resources ready, I get wrapped up in other projects. Then, when that opportunity or problem finally comes to a crisis point, I find that I’m the only one with the ability to handle it on short notice.
This happens a lot in a venture where I’m providing some operational support. The executive runs the organization and does a great job and has assembled a team of talented, driven professionals. But every now and then they'll come across an issue, and it’s easy to say, “Doug, can you take this?”
And let me be clear; they are not the guilty party in this. At least as often, I’ll find myself going to them and saying, “I know this thing is coming up and we should have talked about this, but now it’s too late and I have to pull a rabbit out of a hat.”
Why do I let it get that far? Well, to be honest, I have a lot of hats as a result of a long career, and finding rabbits in them can be easier than mobilizing the entire organization. But lately, I’ve started to doubt this way of operating. Because yes, I’m solving problems for the organization, but I’m not helping to develop any skills or resiliencies for the organization as a whole.
Healthy organizations can respond to situations through established processes and planning—not through crisis management every few weeks. And as I write this, I’m currently on deadline for two things that I should’ve worked on last week, but I kicked the can down the road because I knew I’d be able to pull it off.
This is the crux of what I’m talking about. Does what I’m doing work? Sure, the job will get done. But it’s not contributing to the health of the ventures that I’m trying to grow. And the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to suspect that I’m actually doing a disservice to these groups by fixing disasters maximizing potential opportunities instead of helping them build processes to address these in the proper course.
So what should you do instead? I challenge you to try to identify when you or your organization’s fix-it guy is being called into action. When you see that happen, don’t let one person fix it all. Instead, try something like, “I know we’re running late, but how can we peel this apart and deal with it in a way that’s not so reactive?”
If you can, try to enlist help from other people so it doesn’t all end up on one person’s soldiers. But you should expect to have to coach people on how they can help, especially at first. These don’t have to be in-depth, but give people a lead-in on how they can contribute. Try things like, “Hey Kim, there are three parts to this thing coming up, could you help me with this part?”
For myself, I need to remember that if I want to help this enterprise, then I should help the organization grow its own strengths instead of letting it rely on my shelf full of magic answer books.
That said, I really am under tight deadlines for two different projects. So I’ve committed myself to dissecting one of the issues in a team meeting and getting other people to help, even if that means that the final product is a little late.
The other one? I’m going to have a late night and pull a rabbit out of a hat. Recovery isn’t always linear, so do as I say and not as I do!