At what point is an organization so dysfunctional that you are better off disbanding the entire department and starting over? At what point does radical and controversial change need to occur because an organization is "too big to fail"? Or is it that organizations who are experiencing these ethical challenges are simply struggling with modern expectations and are reluctant to give up a way of life that they have enjoyed for most of their lives?
If your department has embarrassing issues on a regular basis, even if they haven't hit the news, perhaps it is time for introspection, in an effort to determine wherein the problem lies. Are the problems we are having a result of external influences, or might they be an issue of our own perception, or shall I say, our own limited perception?
I was speaking to my oldest daughter, Emma, about change and why people are so resistant to it. We were actually speaking about metaphysics and about how our perception is that we are on a planet in a solar system, in a galaxy, in the Universe. I was suggesting, a la Horton Hears A Who, that perhaps other universes exist in our own universe, or even more bizarre, we exist in a micro-universe ourselves. I was relating to her that before the discovery of the New World, Europeans believed the world to be flat; that any discussion otherwise was considered to be crazy. People were limited by their perception. When they realized there was more to our existence, their perception expanded, but by not much more than the eye could see.
We humans permit our perception to be limited to what we can understand. Anything beyond those boundaries we struggle with, simply because we hold on to what we understand to be true and we have accepted those truths our whole lives. But when I was a child, I never considered that I would be sitting in front of a computer at all, much less every day, communicating with readers across the nation, as well as across North America, in Europe, Asia, and Australia. It's hard to envision something as being a reality when it's not even in your vision.
We have an understanding of our organizations to deliver a certain service to a certain population, and that there is a certain way in which we do so. We cling to our past, sometimes so stubbornly, that we refuse to see that there are better answers to our questions. If you would have suggested fifty years ago that American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines could be working together under a unified combat commander on a specific mission, they'd have laughed you out of the room. Today our military uses the strengths each discipline brings to the table to conduct joint operations that have proven to be much more effective than in the previous model. Somebody saw that change had to be made, they had a vision, and they created that change. They did not let their limited perception dictate how they would continue to deliver their service.
I use the term "emergency service" a lot in lieu of "fire service" or "EMS", because frankly, it is a better term for what my own department does as an all-hazards response agency. I hear derisive comments from both sides of the fence on this issue, which is interesting, because if you think it can't be done, I invite you to come to the Island and see that it actually works, and it works very well. But it doesn't stop there- we also provide HAZMAT, heavy rescue, ALS transport, and any other segment you want to chop "emergency services" into. You might say that this creates an awful lot of work to maintain certifications, or by being a "jack of all trades" we are being a "master of none". I'd reply that we remain flexible to do what it is the taxpayers need us to do and if we feel like we need additional expertise, we are not so strangled with ego that we wouldn't call for help.
But our philosophy goes beyond what limits a lot of organizations. We maintain that we are not limited by what we can't do, but what we are not willing to do. We take an approach in which someone has called us because they had a problem they did not have the resources to solve- be it knowledge, tools, whatever- and we take pride in being able to help them in their time of need. We believe that what our job is defined by is by how far we are willing to go to do the right thing for others, and to be willing to stretch our minds in order to help make that happen.
I know a lot of people who are going to read this and say it is unreasonable to expect this. I suggest that if this is unreasonable, why? Because it is too much work? Because we don't have the resources? Because we are already challenged by time? Or is it rather that we are unwilling to accept that there is a new paradigm by which we are going to be called to operate within and our inflexibility will continue to define what we are and what are not going to do when we are called. If our answer is that if your situation doesn't fall inside our box, that it is "someone else's job", you are failing to grasp what is being expected of you. We have to evolve not to the parameters we set, but by that which the customer expects, and when we can do that, we are considered necessary and valuable. Otherwise, we are simply an example of government telling people what they have to pay for and not giving them the opportunity to work together to solve the problem and as anyone can tell you, that's not the way to get support.
I shared this story on the Firehouse Zen Facebook page the other day as a little prompt to this post:
A monk accidentally fell into treacherous river rapids. Miraculously, he came out at the bottom of the fall line, unharmed. People asked him how he managed to survive. “I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived.”
Our job is changing and if you can't see this, you are failing to understand your future. You can cling to the past as hard as you like, but the reality is that we must accept that our world is changing and we must change with it. As I said the other day, "Maintain open-mindedness, be flexible and be willing to change. This is how you survive the world".
Also on Firehouse Zen …
- If You Want To Be Treated With Respect, Look The Part – July 19, 2012
- The Dysfunctional Organization – August 20, 2013
- Maintaining Objectivity in Conflict – September 3, 2013
- Labor Day Conflict – September 2, 2013