Culture is defined as the beliefs, customs, practices and social behaviors of a group of people. We would all agree that the number of folks who have sacrificed their lives for the cause of democracy, civil rights and religious freedoms is overwhelming, yet any attempts at changing that...
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Culture is defined as the beliefs, customs, practices and social behaviors of a group of people. We would all agree that the number of folks who have sacrificed their lives for the cause of democracy, civil rights and religious freedoms is overwhelming, yet any attempts at changing that culture would be met with swift and overwhelming rejection.
So, here is a thought-provoking question: How are you doing as it relates to true culture change within the fire service? Are your efforts producing the desired results of reducing firefighter injuries and fatalities?
Change Is Difficult
In general, efforts to reduce injuries and fatalities to our firefighters have focused on changing culture with a correlating assumption that those who do not achieve cultural change are somehow weak or ineffective as leaders or weak on firefighter safety. This is simply not true and can serve to turn many away from this most worthy cause. Culture change in any organization is a monumental challenge. This change can take years to imbed and the reality is that these attempts fail more often than not.
Is there a better way to achieve the results we want? Are you focusing all of your attention, efforts and resources on what you do not want (fatalities and injuries) as opposed to what you do want (safe and successful incident mitigation)?
The American fire service was built on strong foundational beliefs, customs, practices and social behaviors. It is a culture of courage, commitment, dedication, public service, pride, honor and integrity. So why focus on changing it? If we are being honest with ourselves, we must admit that our greatest strength can become our greatest weakness. Our weaknesses/risks do not exist simply because of our culture; they exist for many reasons, such as fire departments that continue to operate without standard operating guidelines (SOGs), have unacceptable levels of staffing, have taken their eyes off insisting that firefighters have mastery of the most basic skills, fail to commit the proper number of resources to safely mitigate an incident, fail to insist on flawless execution from all members, strong command and control, and fail to take the time and have the courage to address fireground errors every time they occur.
For the record, what we as a fire-rescue service do want are employees who show up for work every day with a strong intrinsic desire to serve the public and who have achieved mastery of their basic firefighter skills, as well as flawless incident management and for all employees to follow the rules. What we do not want is to see our members needlessly endangered, injured or killed while performing their jobs. I offer you a challenge to focus your attention, efforts and resources on what you want more of, not what you want less of.
This type of thinking is referred to as "appreciative enquiry," a specific way of seeking answers and achieving results by building on the basic goodness in a person, situation or an organization. It focuses change and collaboration efforts on the strengths (what you want more of) and not the weaknesses (what you don't want more of) of the fire service. The basic idea is to build your organization around what works, rather than trying to fix what doesn't work. It's counterintuitive to normal problem-solving and focuses on creating outstanding performance aligning core strengths?