Put down the fire hose

In the eyes of many organizations, and often within HR itself, there is an image of the Human Resources function as fire fighters… rushing in to put out the flames…  otherwise known as the last-minute requests and the ‘’drop everything to help me deal with this now’’ reactive measures that leadership may expect.

Granted, no day is typically like the next and HR is well suited to those who like change and challenge. However, it’s exhausting when you spend all of your time dealing with situations that could have been mitigated or even avoided. Whether it’s an interpersonal conflict, a compliance breach, or a hasty request to hire because someone has resigned unexpectedly, it seems that we are more often than not dealing with situations in the moment as they come up instead of averting them in the first place. 

What if you were able to prevent the fire from starting or at least act like a smoke detector and stop the flames before they start?

Here are 4 things you can do be more proactive:

  1. Make data your friend: Look at data for its ability to predict the future. Come up with a hypothesis and find the data that can support or refute it. For example, get ahead of a turnover issue through  employee survey data, performance reviews, overtime reports, and length of service to determine if you have an organizational issue or a leadership competence issue in a particular area.
  2. Have candidates in your pipeline: There is no reason to be caught by a resignation if you are always on the look out for talent and have candidates ready to join. Think like a salesperson who is always building a funnel. Find those people who will be a great addition whether you have a current opening or not and encourage all of the employee to be ‘’recruiters’’. Training your internal talent to be ready for other roles and promotions is also critical to managing vacancies. 
  3. Develop managers to be coaches: To limit the number of ‘’people” issues getting to HR, make sure you have strong leaders and give them the time and encouragement to lead their people. These leaders will grow and develop their people and build trust with them, so that concerns are addressed quickly and don’t always need to be escalated to HR. 
  4. Think like the CEO: When the business sees you or the HR function as order takers and doers, it doesn’t inspire confidence. When you are asked to work on something, pause and ask questions to get at the source of the problem and what sparked it. Really understand how it is driving the business and be prepared to respectfully say “No” if it’s not a value-add task that will impact results. 


Fires happen and it is HR’s role to help put them out. The key however is to make sure that whatever started the fire is fully extinguished and there are no lingering hot spots that can reignite. Being in tune to what’s going on with employees and in the market is a great place to start. (The Great Resignation)

If you would like to develop the skills that will position you and/or your team as the subject matter experts on “people problem prevention”, we would be happy to discuss how our workshop and our HR for HR coaching will help.