Firefighter Training, Firefighting, Leadership

The Spectrum Model of Organizational Change, Part 1

By Mark Wallace

When you consider organizational change and start looking around for a definitive explanation or model explaining the concept, you will find a mind-boggling number of both models and explanations. Because you are looking, it is likely that your experiences with organizational changes in the past were difficult, stressful, and/or did not always go the way you hoped it would. Many leaders continue to look for the best model ton help them make lasting and positive changes within their organization. Many authors firmly believe that they have found a better explanation or even the key to ultimate understanding. Understanding change, however, is as much about your perspective and context as it is about your latest model or attempt at writing the best explanation.

It’s easy to say that you are “change-friendly” or an “early adopter of change”; but what does this mean, and how do you know? Likewise, there are times when we all like to make changes (especially when it’s our idea). If we made the recommendation and developed the proposal to make changes, we are already invested in the change and could be its “champion.” That will not happen if you are making a recommendation that you are not committed to make.

No one likes changes that are imposed on us, even when we know it’s the right thing to do. When a change is required even by a new or newly discovered regulation or law, we are often not on-board and may reluctantly comply or even oppose being required to make the change. All too often, imposed changes are the result of a new unfunded mandate, law or regulation. And no one likes unfunded mandates.

Unfortunately (or fortunately–depending on your point of view) change happens. In reality, one of the only constants in the life of any organization is that there will be changes. Change happens!

As a fire service leader, one of the most important studies you can undertake is the exploration of organizational change. You will come to understand that it will be a lifelong process, whether or not you strive to be on the leading edge of contemporary organizational theory and practice. So what is it? Why do changes occur? Why is understanding change so important to the fire service leader? This article is intended to look at organizational change from a different perspective.

I was very fortunate while enrolled in the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado at Denver to have a great advisor that became an important mentor and a friend who was committed to support of fire service leaders in Colorado. As it turned out, Dr. Dail A Neugarten was also a friend and mentor to several fellow fire chiefs that were enrolled in the graduate school and in the process of obtaining their MPA degrees. We enjoyed long conversations about organizational theory and organizational change. Dr. Dail “connected the dots” of our common leadership challenges and facilitated a task force to work on proposals to make important changes and set a course for improvements in fire safety throughout Colorado. (Larry Donner, Sue Loo, Ray Barnes, Kevin Kline and I formed the core group). Change happened. Our challenges were transformed into opportunities as she helped us develop a “Ten Point Plan for a Fire Safe Colorado”. In the process, we set a goal to document the fundamentals of organizational change. Dr. Dail proposed the model she used in her personal focus on making changes in health care for seniors. As the author of our small group, Dr. Dail and I set a goal of applying her model to the fire service.

Sadly, she couldn’t survive her lifelong physical battle that ravaged her body. Fortunately, her mind remained sharp and even laser-focused while her physical body deteriorated and finally took her life. While Dr. Dail and I had plans to turn this concept into a series of fire service articles followed by a book on organizational change, we lost Dr. Dail Neugarten before we accomplished this goal. As much of this delay was my fault due to changes in my job life, this article fulfills part of this goal and applies Dr. Neugarten’s model and our discussions on organizational theory and organizational change. From the notes of our discussions, this article completes the goal to frame the SPECTRUM model of organizational change for the fire service, providing another perspective on the fundamentals of change.

Like many models and explanation of organizational concepts, SPECTRUM is an acronym. Each letter provides a component of your organization that must be developed and understood for effective organizational change to occur. These eight factors impact every organization. Each has an impact of the organization’s ability to make effective changes and do so in a manner that limits the setbacks, re-tries, start-overs, and other factors that form the biggest organizational head-aches and hangovers that often occur when changes are imposed. This model provides a different perspective of change.

Remember that for everyone except the person generating the change recommendation (and maybe the person or people with decision authority that mandate the change), all changes are imposed. Also remember that about 10 percent of those in every organization will never support any changes. They may comply in the future, but will not become committed to making the new change and will not consider any change to be a good thing for the department.


Depending on the specifics of a proposed change, the application of the SPECTRUM model may be slightly different. Therefore, each proposed organizational change must consider each component of SPECTRUM carefully as you strive to create an effective change.

“S” is for structure

“P” is for Processes and/or Products

“E” is for Environment

“C” is for Culture

“T” is for Technology

“R” is for Resources

“U” is for Ultimate Vision

“M” is for Marketing

Parts 2 and 3 will provide more information about each component.

Mark WallaceMark Wallace (MPA, EFO,CFO, FIFireE) is the author of Fire Department Strategic Planning: Creating Future Excellence. He is the former State Fire Marshal of Oregon and former Fire Chief in Colorado and Texas. He is currently operating Fireeagle Consulting. ( He wrote the planning chapter in the 7th edition Fire Chief’s Handbook that will be released in the fall, 2014.