Ready, Fire, Aim… The Problem-Solving Firing Line


Illustration by Anderson Cardelli for Pipeline

Step up to the firing line! Ready, fire, aim… whoops! Isn’t it “ready, aim, fire”? Well, traditionally speaking, yes. The objective at the firing line is to prepare the firearm, take aim, and THEN fire, check the target for accuracy, evaluate the performance of tool and skills, and readjust to improve target contact. This is seemingly a logical approach. The ready-fire-aim idiom suggests that there are times when we step up to the problem-solving firing line, simply fire, and hope for the best.

The current state of the business world is that there is a near constant river of “issues” needing resolution and very little time and consideration given to ready-aim. It seems like we are all addicted to FIRE. We fire off solutions, recommendations, etc., without spending the time to define a problem in a way that, let’s say, maximizes your ammunition.

Take a minute to reflect on the approach you take to problem solving. Do you first step back and THINK about what the problem really is? For example, do you really have a quality problem? What is it actually? Or is your management team “firing first” at the problem-solving firing line? Are you conditioned to draw conclusions and act without examining all of the facts?

This condition is easy to recognize, if you have the courage to really LOOK at the thought process. How often is a quality problem really a training issue? A hiring issue? A lack of relevant actionable information issue? Yet so often the “shot” taken to FIX this quality problem is to do something to the program­—conduct more observations, add something else to the form, weight the scores more heavily in the overall performance evaluation to force the front line into a higher level of performance. (Sadly, supervisors or quality folks can be complicit in this by engaging in “grade inflation” to indicate that the solution was, in fact, accurate and that the problem was solved.) Voila, better scores. Phew! We dodged that bullet!

Ready-fire-aim is epidemic. Problems are like embers in a fire. It may look like the fire is out, but the embers reignite without warning. If we do not conduct sufficient investigation of origin and cause, the problem will reappear. The upside of ready-fire-aim is that it’s easy to categorize the old problem as something new, so we can just keep on shooting! Hence, the moving target.

Next time you step up to the problem-solving firing line—check your readiness, take aim at the problem’s SOURCE, fire off your solution! Don’t neglect the evaluation—did we engage the right skills? Did the tools work as expected? Was the target accurate? Did we hit it as expected? Did we fire prematurely? Don’t expect to hit a bulls-eye every time you’re up at the firing line—it’s often the calculated error that leads to refinement and improves AIM! Now… ready, aim, fire away at those challenges!!

Take Aim Before Firing

Ready-fire-aim can be exacerbated by your organizational model. Silos encourage problem-solving to be undertaken in isolation. This results in an abundance of problem-solving firing lines manifesting throughout the enterprise with wanton disregard to whether one business unit’s solution creates another’s problem.

However, pointing this out requires more than simply knowing that it is true. Nobody likes a smart-talker (that person who always points out the deficiencies of others and blames them for their inadequacies). Even if their position is accurate, it is unlikely to be connected to a plan of resolution.

It takes readiness and clearly identified targets to genuinely solve problems over the long term, i.e., AIM. This means readiness to build a case and invest time in identifying the condition (problem statement), collecting supporting material, defining areas of impact, and assessing current relationships with crossfunctional units. You must AIM to resolve the problem together, whether this means crossfunctional alignment, executive escalation or providing additional tools and support to the front line.

When you approach the problem-solving firing line with the ready-aim-fire model, your value to the enterprise will grow. However, you will first need to continue to “bob and weave” to avoid the incoming bullets from the ready-fire-aim folks.

Kathleen Peterson
Kathleen M. Peterson is the Founder and Chief Vision Officer of PowerHouse Consulting. Kathleen is an acclaimed Contact Center consultant and recognized industry visionary. She offers a refreshing and sometimes challenging philosophy to positioning the Contact Center as the true lifeline of the enterprise—believing that vision, brand, leadership and execution combine to deliver a powerful customer experience. Kathleen has emerged as one of the most sought-after experts and consulting partner in the field of customer experience working with the world’s top customer-focused companies, and is published widely in the most prestigious industry journals in the U.S. and abroad. As a featured speaker at conferences and Fortune 500 companies, she has shared her humor, knowledge, and experience across four continents, including Contact Center conference keynotes in the United States, London, Paris, Turkey, Dubai, and Hong Kong. Kathleen also served as Conference Chair for the North American Conference on Customer Service Management.