Firefighting in the workplace

With 22 years in operations, Brian Zotti, Chief Operating Officer of Options For All (OFA), shed some insight into what it means to firefight in the workplace. 

Firefighters are generally perceived to be heroic and necessary for safety in our communities. Although this is true for fires threatening our homes, this should not necessarily be the case in the workplace. Not all fires can be avoided, but you can take steps to anticipate them. 

Fires in the workplace are unplanned distractions that derail team’s focus from their goals. Ultimately firefighting can be an addiction. This addiction happens because the fire in the workplace allows employees to assert themselves to put them out. Much like our community heroes saving lives, putting out a fire in the workplace makes an employee feel like a hero. Which on its own becomes a problem that is often fanned by the praise of teammates recognizing the support and help provided in putting out nothing more than a distraction. 

“What we’re doing is rewarding the act of firefighting instead of anticipating the risks that are likely to impact us,” says Brian. 

This continued praise motivates employees to lean in and take action. We seek that recognition from our peers and feel heroic for resolving a distraction. We all know that we view our community firefighters as real heroes because they protect citizens from dangerous fires, not for rescuing stray cats in trees. We should be valuing the prevention of conflicts in the workplace, not putting them out. 

Encouraging behaviors that help prevent crises in the workplace enable companies to be better at achieving their goals. Effective organizations align the priorities and tasks of their employees with their strategic goals. Instead of trying to be heroic and dispute the problem in the office, we need to embolden the idea of how we use our time and resist the urge to engage in distractions, and instead reward and praise employees for accomplishing objectives that address organizational goals. 

To achieve their goals, organizations must avoid creating a culture of putting out fires. There’s a natural tendency to reward those that “save the day. “And while there is a need to manage risks and issues that arise unexpectedly, these situations must be the exception, not the norm. Ways in which organizations can avoid becoming engulfed in a pattern of putting out fires include empowering employees at all levels to identify and mitigate risks before they become issues. Second, organizations can and should examine problems to determine whether they could’ve been anticipated and how to put proper risk management practices into place in the future. Third, performance and recognition systems should be anchored towards adequate planning, risk management, and execution. 

“If someone more senior than you asks you to do something that is not aligned with the organization’s goals, do you have the right to push back?… and my answer is you have every right,” says Brian. 

How can you check to see if you’re spending your time advancing the right goals? Take a glimpse at your calendar from last week. What meetings did you have scheduled? Were those meetings aligned with your organization’s goals? Did you spend your time on those goal-advancing meetings? Were there unplanned meetings that you found yourself engaged in? Were those meetings aligned with advancing your organization’s goals? These questions are what you want to ask yourself to create a clear vision and strategy to stay on track. If you stay focused on your goals, fires are less likely to happen in the workplace. 

Like Smokey the Bear says – “Only you can prevent wildfires.”

Brian Zotti, our Chief Operating Officer, has contributed to our mission by developing and implementing strategies that enable Options For All (OFA) to grow at scale and deliver exceptional experiences to our consumers. We are proud to share that Brian has been elected to serve on the board of Directors for San Diego Pride, an organization dedicated to fostering pride, equality, and respect for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities locally, nationally, and globally.

As an influential leader at OFA, Brian impacts the lives of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) every day! Driven by altruism, he shares his passion for supporting underserved populations, aligning perfectly with San Diego Pride’s vision of a world free of prejudice and bias.

Brian has championed inclusion and diversity by connecting OFA and San Diego Pride to provide employment opportunities for adults with I/DD and live stream solutions for the Pride Parade during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

In addition, Brian has successfully organized and raised over $8,000 for the organization with a personal fundraiser. His dedication to inclusion makes him an excellent asset to San Diego Pride’s Board.

Brian continues his involvement in the community as a member of the San Diego Equality Business Association and Special Needs Trust Foundation. His membership on the Pride board is continuing his commitment to this community after having served on the boards of Richmond Organization of sexual Minority Youth and the diversionary Theatre. He truly exemplifies our core value “Every Person Matters” by being a genuine resource to persons and communities that often feel excluded and marginalized. We are excited to see his impact on the San Diego Pride Board and what he will bring to our community this year!