One of the questions that I am often asked is, “I’m am a newly promoted officer and I want to make some changes but I am encountering a lot of resistance, what should I do?”
Resistance can come in many forms – a micromanaging boss, a lazy or complacent culture, a core group of over inflated egos with “inner circle” mentality, and the all too common “because that’s the way we have always done it” mentality. Each form can be a tough hurdle to overcome. Group two or three of them together, and it can be daunting for even the most accomplished achievers.
Changing the culture of an organization can be challenging for many reasons, but it’s not impossible. Let me assume that you are reading this because you are (or were) that person who woke up one day and decided that you were going to take command of the situation and fix everything around you that is broken. Perhaps you are that newly promoted officer who wanted to make changes, but quickly discovered that your team members were trapped the dreaded coma of complacency. After one day, you realized your newly discovered enthusiasm was not enough to overcome a culture that formed after ten years of contentment that may have plagued your organization. You tried, but there was too much resistance, so now you ask, “What should I do?”
My first suggestion would be for you to stop trying to change your organization overnight and start focusing on changing yourself. It all begins with the person in the mirror. Many people in leadership positions are like travel agents, trying to get people to a destination they have never even been to themselves. Instead of begin a travel agent, be a tour guide. Be the example you want others to duplicate. Are your actions and attitude consistent with the actions and attitudes you expect to see from others? If so, you are ready for the next step, which is to focus on changing your company.
Talk to your team. Are they frustrated? Do they feel beaten down because they made suggestions in the past that feel upon deaf ears? Remind them that you don’t need permission to be the best Engine, Ladder, or Rescue company in your department. You don’t even need permission to be the best company in your county or state. You do, however, need desire, work ethic and persistence. Sit down with your team and have an honest conversation about what you want to be known as. Do they want to be average, or do they want to set a new standard for the rest of the companies within your organization to measure up against? One of the questions that I believe can help you make an impactful impression on your team members is to ask the question, “If your home was on fire, and everyone you loved was trapped inside, would you want your company being the first due company?” It’s easy to answer yes, but now let’s imagine you can have any company from any department in the country be the first arriving company on scene. Would you still choose yours?
You are going to be first due for someone’s tragedy, and you owe it to them to be the absolute best you can be because I’m certain that is what you would expect from the company that would be first due in your loved one’s time of need. Sit down and have an honest conversation about what you do well, what you feel you can do better, and what you can do to get better. Then, take action. Many people in leadership positions fail because they always think about what they want to do, but never do it. They intend to do the things they know they need to do in order to become great, but they never seem to find the time to actually do it. Let’s be honest here. People will judge you by your actions, not your intentions, so if you “intend” to change your organization, you are only fooling yourself. Let your actions as an individual speak to your team and let your actions as a team speak to the others within your organization.
You may have been led to believe that once you make a decision to change things, it’s done. That’s not true. I do believe that most people spend too much time contemplating change than they need to, and once you make the decision, you are half way there, but there is more to it than one big decision. You will have to make hundreds of little decisions every day. For example, What time do you show up to work? – 30 minutes or 30 seconds before your shift begins? When you show up, do you take a quick look over your apparatus to make sure everything is where it should be? Do you check your gear? Do you keep the station clean and treat the tools on your apparatus as if they are your own? Do you smile when you see your co-workers and show enthusiasm when it’s time to train? Do you look for solutions to problems, or do you find problems with every solution? How you act, and what you do from the beginning of your shift to the end of your shift matters. Be a tour guide. And stop waiting for someone else to solve your problems. The fire department exists to solve problems. You exist to solve problems. What does it say about you and your team if you can’t even solve minor problems around the fire station?
Perhaps you have tried before but “they” stopped you from making progress. “They” won’t let us change. “They” expect us to be good little soldiers without opinions. “They” knock us down every time we try and step up. I know “them” as well as you do, but change doesn’t have to come from the top. You can start implementing small steps that help improve your culture, which can lead to more significant changes down the road. You don’t need permission from “them” to train like champions. You just need grit and determination. Don’t get frustrated if things don’t happen overnight. You will need to be consistent and relentless in your pursuit, which is easy if you stay focused on your goal instead of the many distractions that will inevitably appear. If you become frustrated along the way, good. Frustration and desperation are two of the best motivators for change. Use that frustration to propel your team to greater heights.