BY ALAN BRUNACINI
For the past couple of col-umns, we have been looking at a simple, basic performance management model. The application of the model can create an ongoing system that produces operational consistency and continuous organizational improvement. The model involves five standard steps: SOPs/Training/Application/Critique/Revision. Although each part of the model is a self-standing activity, the parts are integrated and depend on each other to form a complete system. The steps each have their own place in the order of the model. This order causes first things to be done firstand so on through the model. This mutual dependence of the components becomes quickly (and painfully) evident if one part is not done or if the part is not done in its designated order.
Last month we discussed how critical SOPs are to creating an effective “playbook” front end for the rest of the systemsimply, the rest of the system cannot play until the SOPs “hike the ball.” Watch the mess that happens when we skip the play. Once the procedures are in place, the next step in the model involves training the players to execute the SOPs. There are literally major sections of libraries devoted to describing all of the pieces, parts, and dynamics of training, education, and human development. We do not have the space (nor do I have the ability) to even begin to discuss the theory and practice contained in all that material in spite of how much I admire the content of that doctrine.
Training and education are used in many ways and can be applied to developing a skill, an understanding, an appreciation, or an ability. Those areas can all be very far ranging (actually limitless) and can relate to just about any aspect of human/organizational activity. For us, they could range from learning to operate the mechanics of an aerial ladder to increasing our understanding of managing and motivating personnel to developing an ability to effectively relate to the emotional needs of a customer going through a personal crisis.
Given the almost unlimited amount and types of development available, connecting the right lesson to a particular operational need can be a major challenge. My interest in training for the purpose of this column is how it relates/fits into the five-step performance model. A major capability of the model is that it effectively connects the separate activities required for managing the business end of the whole process (effective performance) in a simple, doable way. The connections within the model require that the five activities all somehow match and support each other.
The basic outline of the model creates a preparation front end (SOPs and training) and a follow-up back end (critique and revision) with the application part in the middle. These parts create simple direction for program managers in what to do before and what to do after we go out in the brave new world and actually deliver service, which is the applied, not academic, point of the system. This standard order creates an understandable context (what, where, when, why, how) for effectively managing and doing the work that serves the customer and protects the firefighters.
The person who has educated our service on “training in context” is my longtime pal Fire Chief Brian Crandall. He is an interesting guy (very smart/very practical) who has been trained in the street and educated in the university (PhD). He continually defaults to and explains in understandable terms what it takes to train on the task, tactical, and strategic levels to effectively and safely manage and do “THE WORK” required to perform the standard tactical priorities: rescue/fire control/property conservation/customer stabilization/safety.
The five-step model fits perfectly into his context-centered approach. In the very beginning of the process, the department must decide how a particular operation will be performed. Those decisions must be expressed in definitive, understandable, teachable SOP terms. For SOPs, we should put the emphasis on “standard,” which means standard language, standard form, and standard reference number (so the procedure fits into a set of procedures and can be easily retrieved). All this “standard” stuff creates a directive that is packaged for training.
Being able to translate an SOP into a usable lesson plan is reality therapy for any procedure and is a major and very practical way to eliminate ambiguous, confusing gobbledygook. If the SOP can’t be taught, we must go back to the drawing board until it can be. Hooking up lesson plans to SOPs becomes the most powerful way an organization can set up an effective context in the beginning, and this becomes the foundation for how we actually deliver service to Mrs. Smith. After the incident we ask ourselves, How well did the troops and the procedures work? This standard post-performance critique reinforces the context even further.
We must do a variety of drilling, training, and educational activities to create the skill, understanding, and appreciation for what it takes for us to effectively deliver service. Many of those development programs are done as a team. Some involve personal preparation that helps us play our individual role. All of those efforts must somehow contribute to our directly connecting SOPs and training within the context that all organizational roads must lead back to how we operate when we show up at Mrs. Smith’s on game day.
I can remember sitting in a classroom as a young firefighter, asking myself what planet the instructor resided on because nothing he was saying related to anything we all needed at that time to be effective and safe in doing our jobs. I would then attend the next out-of-balance firefight and anguish over the fact that we could do radiological monitoring in anticipation of the Martians landingand then we would routinely flood every third hosebed on the fireground.
Dr. Crandall was not yet on the scene, so we didn’t use the term “context” then to describe the problem. My editor will not allow me to use 1961 Fire Station One language to describe our response to being out of context.
Retired Chief ALAN BRUNACINI is a fire service author and speaker. He and his sons own the fire service Web site bshifter.com.