THE PATH TO FIRE SERVICE EXCELLENCE
In Thriving on Chaos—Handbook for a Management Revolution, Thomas J. Peters says there are only three sustaining strategic distinctions: superior service, superior quality of product, and constant innovation. However, there is a fourth point, and that is the first three are built on a base of participation by all hands.
Peters says, “We [as managers and leaders of the fire/EMS services] must be guided by the axiom: There are no limits to the ability to contribute on the part of the properly selected, welltrained, appropriately supported, and, above all, committed person.” Your personnel always have risen to the expectations. You do not need evidence that they can move mountains. You already have seen them do it. They are intelligent, and in many cases they helped you become chief and/or support your programs. Why don’t you just ask them to help move the mountain? You need to construct a supportive environment and then get out of their way!
You must aim for an increase of 100 percent in productivity via participation-led programs over the next 36 months. Yes, you can be productive in the fire sense of the word. You can start or increase fire prevention inspections by your companies, prefire planning (use the NFA system), a private-dwelling voluntary inspection program, and increased accountability for maintenance.
MANAGING THE WORKPLACE TO MAXIMIZE INVOLVEMENT
Do the people in your stations have power? The power to be involved from the bottom up? In Thriving On Chaos the Delco-Remy plant in Fitzgerald, Georgia provides a good list that shows how far involvement can go. The average workers there:
- handle all quality control.
- do all maintenance and make minor repairs on machines.
- keep track of their own time.
- handle the housekeeping.
- participate in a pay-for-knowledge program (for learning almost every job in the plant).
- are organized into teams that engage in regular problem-solving activities.
- are responsible for safety.
- have full-time access to the lock-free tool room.
- do budget preparation and review.
- help determine staffing levels.
- advise management on equipment layout and generate requirements for new equipment.
- are in charge of all recruiting and run the assessment center for new recruits.
- decide on layoff patterns or shorter work hours when needed.
- rotate as leaders of work teams.
WHAT TO DO FIRST
You need to change your attitude concerning employee participation. Get out of your office and into the stations and see what your personnel are doing. Observe the jobs done by your supervisors. Find out what interferes with their ability to initiate improved service or procedures. Then establish a team made up of a crosssection of chiefs, captains, lieutenants, and firefighters. Review your procedures, policies, and rules to see what bureaucratic hodgepodge is interfering with effective initiative taking to solve problems and improve customer service.
The worker must become wholly involved. There is no other way to achieve quality, superior customer service, and innovation. As we learn from Thriving on Chaos, “The selfmanaging team should become the basic organizational building block. We need to train our people, recruit on the basis of team work potential, pay for performance, and (most important) clean up bureaucracy around them. This will change dramatically the roles of your middle managers and staff experts.”
There are many examples to learn from and analyze. The General Motors Cadillac engine plant in Livonia, Michigan reorganized in the early 1980s. A planning team consisting of two management and two union leaders, as well as several hourly workers, worked full-time for almost a year (yes, it takes commitment) on plant reorganization. Visits were made to other sites. The secret accounting books were opened, an operating philosophy was hammered out, and a team structure was arrived at. Every person in the organization became part of a group of 8 to 15 people (sure sounds like a firehouse to me). Each group is an autonomous team responsible for scheduling, training, problem solving, and many other activities. They developed their own quantitative performance standards. Individual performance standards emphasize support for the team. Job specialization virtually has been eliminated; there is only one job category at Livonia—“quality operator.”
Given the changes that we have described here, Peters takes a look at the possible pitfalls to self-managing teams:
- Misunderstanding of the concept by upper and middle management, creating false expectations.
- Resistance to the concept and process by middle managers and first-line supervisors, often with outright sabotage.
- Empire building by the team development office.
- Poor and “one-shot” training for
- members, supervisor-leaders, and managers.
- Failure to provide incentives for participation in the team concept.
- Failure to implement team suggestions and proposals.
- Failure of the organization to measure the impact on productivity, attrition, accident rates, grievances, and absenteeism.
- Moving too fast—creating more self-managing teams than the team development office can effectively train.
There will be a great impact on the first-level supervisor. The person used to schedule work, enforce rules, plan, transmit management needs down, and provide new ideas for the workers. In the new role, the first-level supervisor will be a coach and sounding board for self-managing teams; a leader/coordinator, working on training to emphasize skill development; and a facilitator, getting experts to help the team as needed. The position will require lots of wandering and someone focused “horizontally,” working with other functions to speed action taking. The new firstlevel supervisor will sell teams’ ideas/ needs “up” and help workers/teams develop their own ideas, providing ideas for cross-functional systems improvement.
Using one station, develop a team structure in the next six months. Use the Livonia methodology on a small scale. Immediately begin to concentrate on the crucial role of the firstline supervisors (captains and lieutenants). Can they be retrained or shifted to support roles when you adopt the self-managing team concept? At the least, the supervisor will have significant role change (initially it will be traumatic for the individual). Do not let this keep you from proceeding or help you to evade the issue. The failure to change the role of the firstlevel supervisors has sunk many selfmanaging team experiments.
We learn from Thriving on Chaos that we must listen constantly, congregate to share ideas/information, and recognize achievement. We must celebrate, informally and formally, the “small wins” that are indicative of the solid day-to-day performance turned in by the workforce.
Create an environment where listening is cherished—where opportunities for structured and unstructured listening are prevalent. Listening means managers listening to their people. It means team members listening to one another. Listening means battering down the traditional bureaucratic boundaries at every’ opportunity.
To accompany the listening forum, you need to have recognition forums. Recognition settings provide the best means to parade and reinforce the specific kinds of new behavior you hope others will emulate. Peters believes that you need to say thanks publicly, periodically invite people over from other bureaus who have helped you achieve some gains in quality in your operation, and establish a ritual of sending out thank-you notes to your staff once a month.