Maximizing Your Organization: It Starts At The Top

There exists a plethora of programs designed to bring out the best in one’s organization. Outside consultants armed with a PowerPoint presentations and rented hotel banquet rooms are popping up everywhere. Each of them espouses to know the secrets to giving your organization the edge over your competition. Most of these programs have spun off from a core group of industry leaders.

I attribute this phenomenon to the obvious void that exists in all organizations, both public and private. The principles they preach are fundamentally sound; however, just like the glut of diets, self-help books and fitness videos on the market, the principle will be commensurately effective as the application of the program.

Team Building

Team building is a concept that is gaining greater recognition in maximizing an organization, and rightfully so. D. Wayne Calloway, then-CEO of PepsiCo, was quoted in a January 1989 Fortune magazine as saying, “We have a great team spirit. Our people want to be the Marines. They want to be the finest. We hire eagles and teach them to fly in formation.”

When employees feel as though they are working for a five-star organization, they will begin to act like it. The team-building concept has at its foundation the belief that if employees are made to feel a part of a bigger whole, and that their contributions are needed and appreciated, then the entire organization will rise to a higher level. From a personal perspective, what I like about the team-building concept is there are no prima donnas or superstars. The fireground is an excellent example of this concept – it’s a place where every member makes a vital contribution to the success of the operation.

Brian O’Reilly reports of a program in an October 1994 Fortune called “360 Feedback.” The idea is to have all of one’s peers and subordinates evaluate people in upper management without fear of reprisal, but for the exclusive purpose of improving. This process removes egos and barriers, and causes great reflection on the part of the manager who thought he or she was doing so well. Research showed that two-thirds of the managers produced self-assessments that were much higher than the co-workers and subordinates concluded. The smart managers admit to the findings and often apologize.

Such ego stripping increases the motivation of the employees and the respect for the newly contrite manager. A good dose of humility is imperative if a team is going to be effective. That’s the beauty of a team. No single person can do it all. Each individual member has an integral part, and the team is more effective when they are working together.

Managing Change

Another function needed to maximize an organization is the management of change. Many change-management programs are available. While the terminology used differs slightly, the key ingredients and sequences of steps are essentially the same.

Without exception, change-management models include an “analysis” or “needs assessment” that must be addressed. This first step will determine the impact the change will have on the organization and seek to identify obstacles that could hinder the change. This first step will often include base-line statistical data that will be used as a benchmark to be measured against, in the final phase of the program.

The second step will logically include a version of the planning process. This step will include a close examination of the forces that are working both “for” and “against” the change. These may be internal or external forces, and may include individuals or groups such as labor unions or political powers. Other forces might be budget constraints or windfalls.

This second step will also include the establishment of the vision. What will the organization be like after the change is complete? This is a very important element because everyone needs to “buy into” the vision. Department heads and politicians can change rapidly. If the vision belongs exclusively to one of these two powers, then the vision is vulnerable as well. All groups affected by the change need to be onboard.

The third step is implementing the change. This is a very awkward phase because creatures of habit are being asked to deviate from a routine. If personnel are not given the tools and training to complete the tasks required in this new environment, then there is the perception that management is dumping something on them without supporting them. Management needs to be very supportive in this critical stage of the change process.

The last step in the change management cycle is the “evaluation phase” or “performance indication phase.” This critical final step determines how well the change took, and if it provided the desired outcome. This step may require comparing statistical analysis with that found in the needs-assessment phase.

An often-overlooked portion of this final step is ensuring that the change becomes a permanent way of conducting business within the organization. This process is sometimes referred to as “institutionalizing” the change. The change becomes a way of life, whereby the organization cannot rely or go back to the old manner of doing things.

Be A Mission-Driven Organization

A mission-driven organization is a real paradigm shift from a rule driven organization, particularly in the public sector. Private-sector organizations saw this need much earlier than their public-sector counterparts.

The workforce of today is much more educated than that of 50 years ago. Organizations have seen the need to empower employees with the ability to make decisions, be flexible and adapt to the need of the customer. Private-sector companies were forced to do this in order to stay in business because their competitors were better meeting the needs of the customer.

Government, as a rule, has not fully embraced this concept, although progress is being made. Public-sector organizations battle a well-deserved stereotype of being rule-driven, inflexible and “box-thinking” workforces. We have all experienced to some degree the government employee who answers the telephone, but is unable able to answer your question and unwilling to find the appropriate person for you to speak with. The routine continues when you are transferred to another department, speaking to another employee who can’t answer your question and is unwilling to find the appropriate person for you to speak with, and so on, and so on.

Many government agencies and departments at all levels are adopting mission statements, along with systems of core values or beliefs. Hopefully, when these organizations decide to change to this philosophy, they will implement the change using a change-management model. This will ensure that all its members accept the concept and are given the training, resources, freedom and autonomy needed to actually perform the functions of the mission-driven organization.

Last, but certainly not least, the organization needs to provide a mean of “institutionalizing” the change so that the organization cannot go back to the old way of doing things. The true mission-driven organization has been proven to have higher overall morale. This higher morale equates to becoming more effective, more flexible, more creative/innovative as an organization.

It is imperative that the mission statement and its corresponding values are etched in the minds of the employees, not merely hanging on a wall at headquarters. Then and only then can the management of the organization at every level sincerely embrace the philosophy of the mission statement. When this happens, the organization as a whole will not be dependent on a handful of executives, bureaucrats or elected officials to carry out the mission of the organization. The organization itself will have a keen sense of what needs to be done, no matter who is occupying the front office.


Managing a modern fire service organization has become increasingly dynamic as well as demanding. Rest assured there are numerous practices being battered about on how to lead, how to motivate, how to effect change, etc. One need only look at the conference titles being served up, and dished out, at the latest, newest, cutting-edge workshop or seminar.

I am not discounting the hundreds of very valuable programs that are available designed to bring organizations to a higher level of productivity. However, many employees, particularly at the mid-management level, have grown increasingly weary with revved-up workshops designed to charge one’s batteries and prepare one to set the world on fire, only to find upper management is talking the lingo without providing the catalyst to bring about the desired outcome.

I mention this to underline the need for management at every level to ensure that all members of the management team are pulling together, and in the same direction, to lead the organization. No amount of training, professional growth and development, no workshop or seminar can substitute for the necessity of having all members onboard striving for a common goal.

Chief Concerns is a forum addressing issues of interest to chief fire officers. Opinions expressed are those of the writer. We invite all volunteer and career chief fire officers to share their concerns, experiences and views in this column. Please submit articles to Chief Concerns, Firehouse Magazine, 445 Broad Hollow Road, Melville, NY 11747.

Greg Neely is a district chief with the Tulsa, OK, Fire Department. He is a field instructor and program coordinator for Oklahoma State University/Fire Service Training and an adjunct instructor for the National Fire Academy. Neely has a master’s degree in fire and emergency management from OSU and is a National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer program alumnus. He also provides assessment center training, promotional assessments and examinations, along with officer development. Neely can be reached via his website