One of the best parts about my job is the view. On "A" shift mornings, I leave my home and drive to Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue's Station 7 where the Line Battalion Chief's office is located. Since I live near the beach, I actually head to work opposite the commuter traffic, but at that time, traffic is still pretty light. My route takes me over the Cross Island Bridge traversing Broad Creek, a long, wide tidal creek and pristine salt marsh that comes within a 100 yards of splitting the Island in two.
At a little after 0600 most of the year, the sun is coming up in the East over Broad Creek at the exact same time as I cross the bridge. The result is a collection of some of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen. Almost every morning, the view is a little different in the sky, but with the lighting of the tidal marsh on that angle, as well as a marina and some other landmarks, it is a glorious sight.
One morning as I crossed the bridge, a car was stopped on the bike lane, the driver taking a picture. While this is pretty common, I remember the sunrise wasn't the most spectactular I had seen in a while and I thought, "Wow. He thinks that's a great sunrise and it's probably one of the least amazing of the year."
But in thinking about that idea, it occurred to me that while I got to see this great sunrise almost every morning, I knew that this wasn't a "keeper". For this poor guy it was one of the highlights of his trip, but because he might have been from somewhere that doesn't have these kinds of views, or for any number of reasons, he didn't know what he was missing.
Your own organization can be much the same way. You could be "the best". Your department could be a shining example of excellence in your area. But really, how do you know if you are doing anything significant, or innovative, or even RIGHT if you don't benchmark against other comparable organizations?
But similarly, what if you are choosing the wrong benchmarks? There are more than a few methods to measure your organization that can give you the snapshot you need for continual improvement. And there are those who provide no meaningful yardstick to measure against, especially since some of them have been used to prop up organizations who can meet their "standards" yet fail to achieve even the slightest dent in what is considered a modern emergency service organization.
When someone inquires about accreditation and wonders what an organization can possibly gain from such recognition, in many cases, it is not necessarily the acknowledgement of having met those standards, but the effort the people of the organization make in getting there. Members of an accredited organization that participate in the process find that they understand the strengths as well as the weaknesses of their organization much better than those who do not. The knowledge aquired about the organization isn't the most important benefit, though. More important is the process of examining the facets of running the department and understanding how each part is integral to the workings of the whole.
The challenge of seeking the perfect sunrise requires research to know when and where to find it. A little experimentation is necessary to see that sunrise from different vantage points and to understand the desired qualities. Some luck helps in that sometimes the solutions fall right into our laps and we just happen to be in the right place at the right time. But ultimately, we can't just look at one sunrise and say, "That's the best one", unless of course, it's the only one you ever see.
Stretch a little. Go out and see what you can see. Ask questions and open your mind. Learn and understand the nature of quality and how it presents itself in the efforts you make. And when you have seen more, you can see that your way might not be the only way, and likewise, someone else might see what you see and they might be enlightened as well.