ments neglecting to provide timely and accurate information
… the final cause of failure Smeltzer noted was managements
reliance on a ‘lean’ channel of communication, such as a memo
instead of a face-to-face meeting.” (Clement, 1994, p. 36) The
communication effort must be a collaborative enterprise in
nature for effectiveness. Simply telling firefighters this is how
the new culture looks will be met with apathy. Leaders will need
to model desired traits throughout this process. Their actions
communicate more than words. Every fire department deals with
politics on some level. Understanding your department’s politics
will pay dividends. Identifying power sources and their networks
will allow you to use them to your advantage. You will need to
infiltrate this arena and manipulate the tide of political influence to your cause; not doing so provides for a constant source of
friction. Change presents a potential swing in power to political
savvy players, and you must address their viewpoints. Politics are
power in action and influence those invested stakeholders greatly.
Intervening through constant communication and monitoring
your political climate pays dividends.
Implementing cultural change is a difficult mountain to
climb. Failing to consider resources, stakeholders, paradigms,
and dynamic situations is devastating in change management.
Leaders have often looked to implement change in classic
management style, setting objectives for process and looking to
ensure compliance at benchmarks. However, cultural change
is not so easily pursued. Leaders must be charismatic enough
to address the issues on an overview level, cite the benefits of
a renewed future, and communicate the plan to bring it to
fruition. Multiple researchers in organizational behavior have
indicated that cultural change is complex. Casual pursuit is sure
to end in wasted effort. Research has also indicated that cultural
change takes time. Leaders need to find stability and be resilient
for change sustainment. Constant mentoring, monitoring, and
reinforcement will be the successor’s battle cry. The final complex barrier to this process is the leadership’s ability to develop a
comprehensive organizational change management plan and the
commitment to see it through.
The fire service has some particularly special issues in the deep
structures (traditions) ingrained in its society and exclusivity
inherent to its culture. Group dynamics are a must in our service;
we live together, rely on each other, and experience dramatic life
situations together. We need to develop strong group dynamics to
survive. The leading reasons to change for most organizations do
not readily avail themselves to our industry. Research has shown
that high performance can be driven by positive culture. (Shahzad,
2014, p.225) The striving organization can still find contributing
factors that employ safety and effectiveness. Leaders can articulate
and compare these factors to their practices, aiming for industry
excellence. Leaders can create a vision for a higher standard of care
and navigate a plan to implement those actions until the organization adopts new behaviors. Leaders create standards in their
absence. Leaders can support employees through the transition and
model expected behaviors. Leaders can take their organizations to
the next level through a culture of vigilance.
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Jeff Rothmeier is an 11-year veteran of the Saint Paul (MN) Fire Department
(SPFD) and is a captain on Engine 17. He is a former Rescue Squad 3 member.
Rothmeier is a member of the Minnesota Aviation Rescue Team, lead instructor at
Minnesota’s first State Fire Academy, and assistant instructor with SPFD Training
Division and Century College. He has an AAS in fire science technology and a
bachelor’s degree in fire and emergency response management. Rothmeier is a
contributing author of Fire Engineering and a proud decorated combat veteran.