No-Brainer Management


As I have trudged through all the stages and ages of being a firefighter, I have developed the habit of writing an abundance of notes. I described in a recent column my longtime habit of writing notes in my shirt pocket weekly notepad, where I record the educational, interesting, and fun events I encounter. Through the years, these notes have accumulated to the point where the written material became a textbook. This has been a very positive thing because it caused me to somehow translate, summarize, and organize a stack of written notes that would fill a washing machine packing box into the form of a book. It is difficult to make sense out of a dump truck full of shirt pocket notes along with scribbles written on napkins and paper placemats: Writing them is easy; summarizing them can be a challenge.

In my earlier days of writing notes, I was trying to make sense out of mostly operational/tactical stuff in which I was involved. These technical topics have system elements that are fairly straightforward to pin down and organize. Much of that early focus on doing and managing tactics and strategy led me to become a young student of incident command. The basic command system was simplified and developed around eight standard command functions.

That functionally based incident command system structure has now been around for more than 40 years and, in that time, has been applied to a gazillion local command incidents in the North American fire service. Using those eight basic functions to describe an overall management system has worked as a teaching, understanding, and doing package and approach.

It is always interesting to see how history repeats itself. My two firefighter sons have developed the Blue Card Training System to teach and certify local incident commanders (ICs). In that online and in-person program, the eight functions have received a major booster shot because the program is built around those same functions. They have taken that whole thing to a much higher level (proud Dad), but the basic structure has stayed very much in the original form, and the functions still continue to provide an effective and simple foundation for how to manage local tactical operations. They have taken the system to a modern level of electronic delivery and application.

In about the middle of my career while I was still involved in my fire department doing tactical operations, I became more involved and interested in the management requirements that support how we deliver service to our customers. Paying more attention to external service delivery effectiveness also required that we pay the same attention to the management issues that provided internal support to our department members. We quickly learned that the internal relationship between the boss and the workers sets the tone for the external relationship between the workers and the customers: What we do on the inside gets delivered on the outside, and a major part of that process is how effectively the boss behaves.

My journey through the customer care adventure caused me to more closely focus on how we manage internal and external human relations issues and topics. This process necessarily involves attempting to understand the role a boss plays in organizational behavior. I struggled with developing the basic ability to be a boss, to try to explain that ability in writing, and then to teach effective boss behaviors. Many of my scribbles have been directed at that challenge of doing, understanding, and teaching how to manage and lead workers who serve customers.

I continue to be mostly a student of the art and science of caring for Firefighter Smith and Mrs. Smith; and as I have attempted to capture an understanding of that relationship, I have once again produced an avalanche of notes. I have now arranged (actually stacked) the “paper mountain” into six management/leadership categories.

I grouped those categories and called them “No-Brainer Management” simply because the content is developed and directed to match the “No Brainer” term, an often-used reference applied to something that is so simple, basic, and practical that it doesn’t require much thought to understand-something so easy or so simple that requires no thought. I would also use the term “common sense” to describe the material, but the challenge of trying to understand and deal with the reality of the world around us is that (at least to me) there does not seem to be much “sense” that is common anymore.

The challenge of sorting out the material (notes) that had accumulated was to try to organize it in a manageable and an understandable way. Based on my experience with standard command functions, it occurred to me that it would be useful if the basic job of being a boss could be broken down into fundamental, but very important, functions. As I sorted through my paper maze, a fairly simple set of those basic functions seemed to emerge, and they all fit into the No-Brainer concept.

As I translated, sorted, and arranged the notes in the big stack into smaller stacks, I experimented with how many stacks-categories/subjects-it would take to describe the basic job of being a boss. My stack adventure ranged from as many as dozens to as few as four. I continued to shuffle them until it finally seemed all the notes fit into six basic piles. I have attempted to edit each of the six stacks into a brief set of notes that describe that topic. When the six categories were assembled, they formed a manual that has undergone nine revisions and numbers almost 100 pages. The bundle of material will eventually evolve into a book. I had better hurry with the book project because I continue to keep writing notes and they are now starting to stack up again.

The fundamental idea of the No-Brainer approach is to identify and describe the basic activities a boss performs every day that form the operational and tactical foundation of being a boss. I guess you could call it a boss job description. Having been a boss for almost 50 years, I have found that persons who can capture the understanding and ability to do these routine things can essentially become effective managers/leaders. Performing successfully as the boss from day to day builds the foundation for successfully addressing the novel, unusual, and nonroutine activities that inevitably occur. The No-Brainer approach makes it easy for a boss to apply six basic functions to management situations just as an IC applies eight command functions to the fireground.

As I developed the material in the manual and had it reviewed by my hapless, woebegone colleagues (all students of boss behaviors), they asked if I could do some No-Brainer teaching for them. I began to do that; the instruction has evolved into a two-day No-Brainer seminar. It has been a fun opportunity to get to hang out with a group in the classroom and to discuss what it takes to be an effective boss. I added some revisions after every session, and that input is now going into revision number 10 of the manual. I am looking forward to doing a No-Brainer workshop at FDIC 2014.

If you look up the meaning of leadership, you will come up with around 10,000 definitions, and if you go to your local bookstore, you will find about 150 linear feet of shelves full of leadership books. It is a bit intimidating for me to try to create a modest six-item performance summary for an everyday boss in the shadow of the avalanche of leadership/management material out in the world. I sincerely salute those who have produced encyclopedic sources on how leaders and managers deal with organizational behavior. For me, it felt a little as if I were trying to put an oyster in a slot machine when I attempted to create a short, simple, understandable, doable routine for how a boss can more effectively behave in the majority of situations.

The basic No-Brainer categories I came up with are the following:

  • personal effectiveness,
  • inside/outside customer connection,
  • performance management,
  • behavior management,
  • organizational alignment, and
  • creation of a positive organizational environment.

Next month, I will discuss the categories in more detail.

Retired Chief ALAN BRUNACINI is a fire service author and speaker. He and his sons own the fire service Web site

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