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Tactics of Cultural Change

Wed, 18 Feb 2009|

Cheryl Horvath speaks about developing a learning environment in our firehouses that will help create the change needed in our organizations.



Hello and welcome to FDIC online. I'm Bobby -- editor in chief of -- -- magazine. And today it's my great pleasure to introduce you our keynote speaker for FDIC -- online. Today we bring you division chief Cheryl Horvath. Cheryl is currently with the northwest fire protection district in Arizona. Prior to that -- for about served with -- about a fire department in Illinois and also served as an instructor at the Illinois fire services institute. She for about there's also the host of the weekly radio program on -- -- radio the connection. Ladies and gentlemen we bring you division chief Cheryl Horvath. Thank you Bobby for that introduction. Hi everybody today I want to talk to you about the tactics of cultural change. One of the hot button topics for the last few years in the fire service has been the need for cultural change. Usually in light of some type of line of duty significant safety event or diversity issues. Many of us use the term cultural change frequently. As -- Sunday we will wake up and it will have happened. It's interesting how as humans we know or think that situations organizations need to change. We are but we are really hoping someone else does it. Well today I want to talk with you about all of us making that cultural change happen. I realize this is a huge thought creating cultural change but for many departments across the country this process needs to start now. Part of the problem in trying to come up with how to create cultural change. Is we are still trying to solve problems the same way we always half. And as Einstein so eloquently stated problems cannot be solved with the same kind of intelligence which created them. So where do we start. I say we agree on some common issues we all face. For example many departments are facing significant budget cuts which often put us in public safety in a defensive reactionary posture. We all agree that we are not fighting as much fires we did twenty to 25 years ago. Some departments are losing experience there retirements. And some departments like my own. Are dealing with -- young -- experienced workforce due to population growth. Many departments are dealing with multiple generations in the firehouse. Which seems to still create personal management issues for some officers. And unfortunately we still have many departments that are being pressured to -- in a more diverse workforce because they do not adequately reflect the community that they serve. In short we are faced with many new challenges as fire service officers and -- many opportunities. I want to challenge you to think differently about your organization. Whether you'll -- -- a fire company -- battalion the division or fire department. Cultural changes about changing the way we think -- -- by definition. Transformation of culture or cultural change. Reflects the dynamic processes whereby. We are changing and adapting to external and internal forces. Remember those issues we agreed on a few minutes ago. Those -- the internal and external forces upon us now and we will face more in the future. It's fair to say that today's fire service is different. And that our ability to adapt to change is and will continue to be -- critical element of our jobs. I think we can start to create cultural change -- -- the idea of learning organizations into our fire house's. There are many organizations today who have adopted a learning culture most notable to is the military. In the book learning in action a learning organization is defined as an organization skilled at creating. Acquiring interpreting. Transferring and retaining knowledge. And it purposefully modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights. That sounds a lot like the fire service to me. But ask yourself these questions about your own fire department and more importantly your company -- the time. One does the organization have a defined learning agenda. Have you created a safe learning environment for your probationary firefighters that helps with their development. Or -- you mired in mentality that we need to weed out the bad ones. Are you creating opportunities for others to act in your seat in do you mentor support others professional development. -- is the open is the organization open to discordant or shoot the messenger information. Our firefighters allowed to ask questions to further their understanding or are we still blaming the younger generation for asking too many questions. Three does the organization avoid repeated mystics. Have you sat in -- -- your shift -- and wondered why the same problems keep coming up. Are you conducting after action reviews that honestly critique performance. Or you glossing over the problems -- to avoid conflict. Ford is the organization lose critical knowledge when -- people leave. Are you treating your replacement -- keeping information to yourself as a power monger. Is your department -- planning or in a panic mode when someone leaves the organization. And lastly does the organization. Act on what it knows. Do you embrace the idea of change in order to make things better. Or -- using the same excuse that's the way it's always there. Two people -- risk and make decisions that are in the best interest of your constituents. Or are your officers afraid to step outside the lines. If you're like me -- you may be feeling a little uncomfortable at this point. Maybe your organization or your company did not fare too well in answering those questions. Stated another way you may be exactly where you should be based on the organization you work. If you had been working in a performance based model where people work hard in order to look good. Then you have shied away from difficult challenges. Avoided conflict. Conflict -- stayed away from situations that require a high level of risk. You've been to get along to get along type who feeds into the very culture we need to change. We have all been there. So let's turn this around to more learning based orientation. If you want firefighters who persists in the face of obstacles. Assumed challenges that broaden their skill -- -- in decision making ability. And ensure they will work smart in order to perform better than we are on the same page. What are the small changes you can make -- a fire officer to create that cultural shift here are here are a variety of ways that you can do. First recognize and accept differences in people -- processes. -- -- from Illinois three years ago to accept a job but the northwest fire district into yours down. This was obviously a huge move and change for me and my family personally and professionally. One of the greatest lessons I've learned from this experience has been that we all do things differently not necessarily better or worse just different. I have been subjected to much discussion on both sides of the Mississippi who fights fire batters the east and the west. And I can honestly say both to a pretty -- What's significant though is if we can drop the walls down we'll find out that we can learn a lot from each other. -- chief told me when it came to northwest that he wanted me to be open asking questions. And pointing out things that did not make a lot of sense. Believe it or not that's harder than you think. I think because I came on the department is a shift commander. And asked a lot of questions of everyone it's at a time -- shift personnel and I was there really wanted their input which -- This experience has made me a better leader because -- see the value of input and dialogue not only for myself but for others as well. To this day effort that we receive phone calls from firefighters wanting to discussion discuss an issue or ask a question. I embrace that transparency. And do not hesitate to exchange dialogue with them. I learned from now as much if not more than Hitler for -- When it comes to accepting differences -- people realize that the most important and challenging aspect of diversity. Is not how people book but what they've -- they think. You are the leader of a team of exceptional people all with different strains that contribute to the overall effectiveness of the team. Interestingly enough when it comes to diversity. Experiences -- that people are more like me -- there are different. The second thing you can do -- creating a learning environment is to provide timely feedback. As I stated earlier many departments are still talking about the younger generation is a problem and I want to challenge that opinion. My department is very young and I love it. We have an energetic work force there yearning for training and information and they want good honest dialogue on their performance. To -- the younger generation is exactly what we need to create a learning environment in the -- house. They're schooling experience has provided them with much feedback. And they have the same expectation in the fire service. And I think they're requiring all of us to become better fire officers which is a good thing. Third create an environment that stimulates new ideas. My fire service experience has included working for the Illinois fire services to this field staff. This has allowed me to meet many people from other departments and learn learn learn. The staff in the training division at northwest fired never having been training officers before. Are learning the great value in working with outside departments and sharing ideas. Again training has made me a better officer because I am much more open to new ideas. I try to create that same environment for the firefighters -- -- last. If you are open to new ideas than you -- inviting your people to challenge the process. Someone told me wants to try to get your people to think bigger than they ever thought they could. This opens us up to possibilities. And makes us much better prepared for change. Fourth it's important in the fire service that we learn to tolerate errors and mistakes. I'm not talking about complacency. Or blatant disregard for doing the right thing. Talking about when people make mistakes for the right reasons because they tried to solve a problem or do what was right at the time. We are all human we all make mystics. We need to learn to capture the learning moments give timely feedback. And allow the individual who made the mistake. To remain in the group and be a viable team member. One of my unfortunate observations about the fire service is that some fire officers are intolerable affairs to the point of alienating people. And hurting the team. We do not do a very good job of allowing people a point of reentry back on the team after they have experienced difficulty on the job. You all -- -- -- talking about. Those individuals who made a mistake and recruit school or gained a reputation for their actions and have never been allowed by the group to change. All of us can learn to be more tolerant and more human I don't care how many people -- you have. -- recently wrote an essay written by military officer and his six guidelines for leadership. He writes that we need to learn from mistakes you worse than others. Never let mistakes go to waste that cost too much. Always keep in mind that the individual can fail but the team cannot. As an officer it's important that you don't sell out. What I mean by that is if you believe something is not as it appears saying something if you made a mistake or owe someone an apology admit to it. If you know that decision is flawed say something if you believe you should talk to someone about concerns you have with them do it. If you know that someone's behavior in the firehouse is not appropriate say something. Be willing to ask the tough question or raise the difficult issue for too long in the fire service we have been silent on issues that need to be dealt -- I remember a time as a company officer where I implored members of my crew to talk to each other times were tough. Personalities and egos had created a divide on the team also because people were not willing to exchange meaningful dialogue with each other. I ordered three members of my company to sit down and talk without me to work out their issues. None of the issues were significant enough to require my attention. And I made it clear to my crew. That if they made me solve the problem none of them would like the outcome. They agreed to meet and came to the situation with a much better understanding of what was happening at the time. Now along with honesty comes safety and judgment. Pick your battles wisely. And make sure that you speak honestly in -- safe manner so as not to threaten other self confidence. Remember we are in a learning mode and we need to keep in mind our desired outcome. Lastly start -- -- yourself as a teacher and develop a teachable point of view. I have heard from people across the across the country and in my own fire department. About how we do not share stories of the kitchen table like we used to back in the good old days. Yet in the same breath fire officers are complaining that the younger generation does not understand the values needed to be in the fires in the fire service. So I say teach them. Part of our jobs as fire officers is to share stories of our life experiences both good and bad. It shows your crew that you are willing to share your mistakes. While also teaching them what it's important to you. If you want people to learn the values they need in the fire service and share stories with them on how you live those -- yourself. Now I imagine at this point some of -- -- thinking I'm not that person I can't create a learning environment -- fire station. Well you may be right in the sense that you may need to learn yourself. That's okay your -- remember. So let's talk about how you can be a better Lerner. Be curious about everything. Enroll in a class read meet people who work another fire departments or other professions. I recently completed a leadership program in Tucson it was one of the best experiences I have ever been -- part of the program exposed me to so many new parts of the community and community leadership as a whole. Many say that the future of the fire service is dependent on collaboration with other agencies. So take this -- the step towards that by becoming more involved in your community. Hang out with other learners. As I stated earlier my experience as a training officers helped me stay in -- training mindset constantly. I am always thinking of ways to provide solutions to problems or creating new techniques for training -- person now. Our jobs as emergency service providers we'll continue to become more complex -- technologies evolve around us. Connect with other officers in your department or outside to keep learning property in your department. Get uncomfortable. Some -- you need to be friendly with ambiguity. In other words in order to learn you need to be open to possibilities. My life changing decision to come northwest fire was the pinnacle of ambiguity. I did not know if I would be working as a shift battalion chief were assigned to a forty our staff physician in training when I arrived. It was a decision -- with risk as well. What I learned is sometimes when you step off the ledge without seeing the net. And that we'll catch you. When you're in a position that is uncomfortable to you you will learn new ways of thinking and behaving to adapt -- your environment. Sounds a bit like cultural change doesn't. No I'm not suggesting that you leave your job to become comfortable. Merely asking that you consider making uncomfortable. -- -- being comfortable in a learning moment. Learning means leaving the known for the unknown. This will make you -- better teachers well. Recently our team in the trading division at northwest has implemented after action reviews or AAR's. As a way of developing our learning organization. This is a very simple four step process that we use after all training -- relations. The four questions are. What was the plan. What actually happened. Why did it happen what would you do differently next time. Each person on a company answers before questions individually in front of the group. Any specific performance problems are discussed in private with the individual. It's generally makes them feel more comfortable bringing it up in front of the group. What we are finding with the AAR format is that all the firefighters are much more willing to talk about mistakes. When they hear their fire officer talk openly about things they could've done better. We know that some officers are adopting that same format when returning from emergency calls. It's a simple concept that requires some discipline to implement. But the payback is tremendous with firefighters more open to learning and maintaining focus on their tasks. There are numerous other methods that you can use to create a learning environments and ultimately affect cultural change. We have changed some -- -- testing processes and northwest of the candidates are exposed to very realistic conditions in their testing. We also provide thorough feedback on their performance. So that we are constantly -- -- learning mode. Now we are medium sized department nine stations with 480 -- personnel. So our size allows us the opportunity to provide those types of learning opportunities. My advice to you for now is to take small steps in trying to change the culture of your organization. Take it one person at a time starting with yourself. And climbing there's a term called the Hillary -- which is defined as the hardest moment in the Klein. I think it's an appropriate term to use to describe the period of time we find ourselves in now in the fire service. Make a commitment to yourself. And your organization. To take the Hillary step and start creating a culture change. Thank you.

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