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Culture Shock: 5 Tips to Build a Winning Culture in Your Organization

Culture, does it mean something to your organization or is it just a soft buzzword that gets thrown around at staff meetings and in emails? My point behind the post was simply this, many organizations seeking change for the better should stop and examine the culture within.

It should be no big secret to anyone reading this that culture, good or bad, can make or break an organization. So, I pose some questions. What does culture mean to your organization? What kind of culture do you have within your organization? Is it good, bad, or indifferent? While you ponder these questions and read on, here are 5 tips to build a winning culture into your organization.

DON’T MICROMANAGE: While this may seem like a relatively simple concept many people in positions of leadership within different agencies still don’t understand that they can’t control everything. First responder services, not unlike military special operations are highly dynamic and are made up of Type A hard driving professionals. Micro managing these people will almost certainly lead to conflict and have a negative impact on operational effectiveness. Conditions changes rapidly at times, usually with a degree unpredictability and it is impossible for any one person to control all of the variables that feed into a situation.

TIP: Give your people the ten thousand foot view of what needs to be accomplished, and then give them the latitude to act based on your desired outcomes. When problems arise, because they will, you can and should provide guidance, just don’t take over. When you trust your people to make the right decisions you will start to see a shift away from bad culture to good culture within the agency.

COMMUNICATE YOUR VISION WITH PEOPLE REGULARLY:  How often do you communicate with your people? No matter what level of leadership you might hold, you should be communicating with your people on a regular basis. A big mistake that a lot of leaders make is they rely on electronic or digital means to spread their word.

As useful as high tech can be, remember you are leading human beings, and most human beings respond well to high touch. Get out from behind the desk and go out into the engine room or the field. Meet with people in their environment to help encourage open dialogue. Good communications is a two way street, from the top down and just as important from the bottom up. Use the tools at your disposal that will best support the open exchange of information.

Now there is a caveat here that I would like to highlight.

TIP: Yes, you should communicate early and often with your people, but don’t over communicate. Saying too much can be just as hazardous to the culture of the organization as not saying enough can be. Why you ask? When you flood the line personnel with so much information they can’t sort through they will lose sight of what is important and stop paying attention all together. If what you are sharing does not have a direct impact on mission success, think hard about sharing.

ENCOURAGE ACCOUNTABILITY AT ALL LEVELS From the senior firefighter or paramedic to the chief wearing the white shirt, one of the most important tools in your leadership tool box should be accountability. However, before people can be held accountable, they must understand the why behind what they’re being held accountable too. Every procedure, policy, and guideline within the organization should have a clear statement of cause attached, and it’s your job as the leader to make sure that it’s understood. If your people don’t have a clear understanding behind certain operations it may be time to stop, examine those operations or policies, and if necessary do away with them.

TIP: Yes, you could go around policing your personnel and ensuring that the rules are followed all the time but that will seriously degrade morale and give your people the impression you don’t trust them. What you as the leader should be doing is pushing your people to police themselves and others accountable to accomplish the overall mission of the organization. Accountability at all levels is a very powerful tool when used properly, it can help change the behaviors and beliefs of your people and help create a high-performance organization.

TRUST YOUR PEOPLE Most that work in emergency services are highly motivated, educated individuals. On occasion though you will run across some that have done the bare minimum to get hired and will continue to do the bare minimum maintain employment. These individuals will be difficult to spot sometimes because they are relatively happy in their job and wont make waves.

TIP: The key to picking them out, is they will never do anything more than is asked of them. Don’t let this select group of individuals detract you as the leader from empowering your high performing individuals with your trust. As the leader you have to own everything, but you also need to give others the opportunity to shine. If you don’t, you risk loosing talented and motivated people to organizations where they can show there worth.

KNOW WHEN TO LEAD AND WHEN TO FOLLOW Jocko Willink and Leif Babin discussed this concept in their book, The Dichotomy of Leadership. As a leader at any level within an organization you have to know when to step up and lead. Just as important as stepping up though is knowing when to step back and let others on your team take charge and make decisions.

TIP: If you have team members that have specific knowledge or skill sets that you don’t; turn to them and use their knowledge, skills, and abilities accomplish the mission. The last thing you want to do is have the “I know it all attitude” and be left standing alone.

I hope that the tips I have presented here will help you move your organization towards one of positive culture and high performance, it will take time and hard work, but the effort will be completely worth it in the end. Lastly I would like offer thanks. Thank you to my friend Chief Dennis Reilly for helping me edit this article. Thank you to every first responder I have met through social media and made friends with, you have all helped shape me into the leader I am today, and finally thank you Jocko Willink, Leif Babin, and Brent Gleeson for providing the inspiration to write this article.

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