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Is WHAT You’re Doing Becoming More Important Than WHY You Do It?

     I have to admit that this comes as a result of not a small amount of built up frustration over many years. I’m sure many, if not all of us have sat around the fire station table and asked, or tried to answer, the question “Why does this (insert activity) even matter?”. I continue to ask myself if we have forgotten WHY we do what we do, and as a result if what we are busy doing everyday has become more important than why we set out to do it in the first place. Has the importance of filling a number or the achievement of meeting the requirements of the monthly, quarterly or annual activity report (the metrics) overshadowed the purpose of our actions?

     Metrics are a type of measurement used to gauge some quantifiable component of an organization’s performance. It’s the numbers, or the “beans” that get counted. Meeting a designated performance goal set by our organization is important, however, as Simon Sinek (look him up on YouTube) states in his book “Start With Why”, “Problems arise when the metric becomes the only measure of success, when WHAT you achieve is no longer tied to WHY you set out to achieve it in the first place”.

     Take for example, the person who makes the new year’s resolution to improve their health by joining a gym. They faithfully track the number of visits per week to the gym, the number of exercises per visit, and the number of reps or minutes spent working out. However, they get so wrapped up in the “metrics” they lose sight of whether or not their actions are actually helping them to get closer to their purpose of improved strength, endurance, performance, and overall health. The metrics become more important than why they started out doing what they are doing in the first place.

     First of all, why do we do what we do? The WHY of any fire department should be to serve. That’s why we call it the fire service. Everything the organization does should be centered around serving the people of the community, as well as its own members in order to help them serve the people who call us for help. It’s never about things. It’s always about people.

     Fire departments are always busy with many different activities everyday, including responding to calls, fire prevention, training, documentation, budgeting, recruiting, etc. But where are we going with all of this, and is it all helping to achieve our mission, our purpose, our why? And speaking of budgeting, money or funding is nothing more than another type of metric. Being fiscally responsible is part of our job and our WHY, but if your fire department measures success simply by how much money it can cut from the budget each year, you’re doing it wrong, period. Go back to where I talked about what our WHY is and start over.

     Let’s take for example a pre-fire planning program. Those in authority in an organization may mandate that a certain number of pre-plan visits to local businesses shall be conducted on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis, and officers and members are held accountable for meeting this number. All well and good, as pre-planning is a vital part of our preparation to respond to an emergency. However, if the pre-plan program has nothing in place that will allow the information gathered and documented by the crew during the pre-plan visit to be shared with other crews, shifts, or chief officers who may respond to that particular business or even to allow that information to be accessed a year later by the crew who conducted the pre-plan and is now responding to an emergency there, then what is the purpose? Like the gym member, is the organization so wrapped up in the “metrics”, which in this case is simply the number of pre-plan visits conducted, that we have lost sight of why we are conducting them in the first place? Go back to the WHY of the fire service and see what you think.

     Again, let’s take training for example. Those in authority of our hypothetical organization may emphasize the importance of mandatory training on a regular basis, and the documentation and accumulation of training hours completed each year. The importance of training cannot be over emphasized, but what if the organization never honestly evaluates if the training being mandated is actually helping to improve the preparedness, performance, efficiency, effectiveness, safety and hands on service delivery of their personnel? What’s the point, and again, what’s our WHY?

     While the actions we take, such as pre-planning and training, may be good and while tracking data is important, because as the saying goes “what gets tracked gets done”, we must take a big picture step back in all things we do, and HOW we do them, in order to see if they are mission-focused and really helping us to achieve our WHY.

     Monitoring systems, tracking numbers and metrics in order to ensure that actions are being taken and work quotas are being achieved is called management. It’s important, but it is not very inspiring.

     Making sure that the organization and all those actions it takes everyday remain mission-focused, and inspiring people to become the best at WHAT we do by never forgetting WHY we do it is called LEADERSHIP.

      Action must be tied to purpose, in every way, or it’s a waste of time and effort. Our mission, our purpose, our WHY helps our personnel become and remain inspired to create and be a part of something bigger than themselves. As leaders, our personnel deserve it and the people of our community deserve it.

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