Recently, I was at an industry event listening to a panel discussion about best practices when handling “heated” customer situations. One of the panelists shared a philosophy that struck a chord. He said, “Hopefully I have done a good job training my managers on how to handle these matters, so I don’t have to be the one to always put out the fire.”

Oddly enough, this got me thinking about construction, which was a field I worked in many years ago. In my career, I’ve noticed a parallel between construction and management. I’m talking about framing, and in framing there are fire blocks, which are designed to prevent the spread of fire within a structure by compartmentalizing spaces. This stops or slows down the movement of flames, smoke and hot gases.

Much like physical fire blocks, managers or trusted personnel act as fire blocks by monitoring and managing issues within teams or departments. They can quickly identify problems and prevent them from escalating or spreading to other parts of the organization.

The most important aspect of using fire blocks is in the placement, which must be strategic, based on the most likely paths for fire to spread, such as wall cavities and spaces between floors.

Similarly, trusted managers are strategically placed in areas of the business where they can effectively oversee operations and intervene when issues arise. This could mean placing skilled leaders in high-risk departments or pivotal roles where they can exert the most influence.

Next, let’s talk about the materials used for fire blocking. They must meet specific fire-resistance ratings to be effective. Managers serving as fire blockers should possess specific skills, such as crisis management, strong communication, and problem-solving abilities, making them suited to handle and mitigate potential crises. One of the mistakes that we at Ignite see clients make is that they put people without good listening, empathy or communication skills in these positions.  That often results in predictably bad outcomes.

For instance, we’ve worked with a manager responsible for handling complaints that seemingly never conceded that the company made a mistake or could have done something better. Their first response was to attack the customer, which usually escalated the situation and built animosity. In my view, this behavior contributed to better business bureau and regulator complaints as well as attorney demand letters. When we pointed this out to ownership and a personnel change was made, the frequency of complaint escalation was quickly reduced.

Implementing robust management structures and having competent leaders can be part of regulatory or best practice requirements, ensuring that the business operates safely and within legal frameworks. Similarly, the effectiveness of managers as fire blocks should be regularly assessed through performance reviews and feedback mechanisms. This helps ensure they remain capable of handling emerging issues and maintaining control within their teams.

In both scenarios, the core idea is about having a system of checks and balances in place. Just as fire blocks in construction provide a passive but crucial line of defense against the spread of fire, managers in business settings actively monitor, manage, and mitigate issues to keep organizational operations running smoothly and prevent problems from escalating.

I encourage this audience to give some thought to those individuals you trust to serve as “fire blockers” and to make sure they have the right skills, frame of mind, and receive proper training.  They play a vital role in conflict resolution and can save your organization lots of time and even money.  Feel free to reach out to me at if you’d like to share your thoughts on this article.

Joe Allen serves as a compliance analyst with Ignite Consulting Partners, which provides guidance to car dealers, finance companies and other industry participants on compliance issues, best practices, and provides tools to protect clients’ business.  He can be reached at