The SPECTRUM Model of Organizational Change, Part 3

By Mark Wallace

For Part 1 of this article, click HERE

For Part 2 of this article, click HERE

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) change happens; it is one of the only constants in the life of any organization. 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 life-long 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 final part of this series continues to look at organizational change from a different perspective using the acronym SPECTRUM, which stands for the following:

“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


The “T” is for Technology

“Technology” is defined as the tools necessary for organizational effectiveness. In many cases technology will involve computer hardware and software. But technology is also a factor in the constantly changing specifications of the equipment, tools and apparatus we use; thermal imaging cameras or self-contained breathing apparatus technological changes are examples. The list of key technologies involved in a proposed change can and will include many different things today. In the future, new technologies will come into play that do not exist today. Planned obsolescence by equipment manufacturers, the useful service life of our systems as well as the ever-changing National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards will continue to make technology a critical factor in all successful changes.

The specific technology involved with the proposed change must add value to the organization’s norms and capabilities. And, the technology related to the proposed change must give an extra “kick” to jump-start performance improvement and augment organizational effectiveness. To be successful with a proposed change, the needed technology must be present, operating, and accepted by the members of the organization. If a new technology is proposed, training and implementation of the new technology must be a precursor to the implementation of the proposed change. Members of the department cannot be expected to commit to a change based on a future or promised technological capabilities. Often, technology-based changes cannot be a “one of” item but must be a departmentwide “go live” change that shuts off the old system and turns on the new system. These will be more complex and require a detailed implementation plan. Many departments overlap this transition and require their personnel to continue using the old system as they use a “training-only” version of the new system. This is often the case when a completely new software package is introduced within a department.

Not all technology is value-added, but it should be; it must be user-friendly as well as directly related to the benefits of the change for this component of SPECTRUM to allow a desired change to be successful.


The “R” is for Resources

“Resources” are those human, information, time, money, and reputation assets an organization has at its disposal. Every change requires some type of resource. Within the planning and conceptualizing of a change in an organization, the resources needed to be successful must be identified, acquired, and committed to the change while achieving its desired outcome. This component is interrelated to all of the other components of SPECTRUM and is another “make-or-break” consideration. With everything else in place and ready to go, you must have the needed resources or the change simply won’t happen. All too often, resource commitments are the limiting factor in achieving success when making a significant change in a process, product, or service. Those involved in developing the change must carefully identify the needed or involved resources and ensure that they are both available and committable to the new reality that will result once the change is implemented.

All too often, a department envisions a change but does not have the needed resources to enact the change. Departments have tried to implement an important “improvement” in a department’s processes, products, or services prior to having the required resources. Promised technologies or resource capabilities have been adopted before they have been proven to work or before they are even more than a design engineer or salesperson’s concept. Obviously, a change under these circumstances will fail. It’s always a good idea to say, “Show me that it works the way it claims to work.” Promises and “vaporware” won’t get the job done.


The “U” is for Ultimate Vision

An “ultimate vision” is the dream that pulls organizational members into the future after the change has been successfully implemented and the desired outcomes are achieved. So, there must be a vision of change or, at least, a recognition of the need to change from the beginning. However, the dream only comes alive after consideration of the other components of the SPECTRUM model.

The ultimate vision is the objective of the change. Achieving the desired outcome more efficiently and effectively is the only reason to make any change in the first place. If you don’t have this ultimate vision, there is no reason to try to change the organization. The Ultimate Vision must be a goal that is attainable with the proposed change. It’s more than a strategic direction or an operational philosophy. You must be able to say, “If we make this change, we can obtain this ultimate vision. The flip side is the belief that if you don’t make the change, the desired future is not attainable. This is yet another area where commitment is critical. If you are not committed to achieving this ultimate vision, you simply won’t get there.


The “M” is for Marketing

“Marketing” consists of activities that focus on informing the world at large about the organization’s vision, mission, and promises. Every change requires a marketing plan that is both informational and provides a compelling reason why the change is important to make. Depending on the specifics of the change, the marketing plan must have several levels. At the concept stage, the change “champion” will need to market the change to the department’s leadership.

The marketing plan will need to progress through all of the stages of the change and even have an after-action review component. This is an internal and external process that should begin prior to, during, and after the change has been implemented; it’s the sales component of making an organizational change. It should cover why the change is needed, the specifics of the change, the process and procedures that will occur in preparation for and implementation of the change, and should include a component that markets how the change is going as well as a postchange report of how it went, how it is going, and why the change was made initially.

The marketing plan must be convincing and compelling. The same thing must happen with the informal leadership of the department, but not necessarily at the same time or in the same manner as how you market the change to the formal leaders. There will be marketing components throughout the development, proposal, training, and implementation phases of the change.

Transparency at the right stage of the change is important and should be carefully planned by those responsible for shepherding the change through the entire process. If the marketing component of the SPECTRUM change model demonstrates that the change went well and the desired outcomes were achieved, it will translate into more effective changes in the future. If a change process doesn’t go well, future changes will be difficult.

All components described by SPECTRUM are interrelated, and you should consider them separately and thought of as a system for planning, explaining, and executing organizational change. This model provides a different perspective on organizational change. It should be added to your leadership toolbox, but it cannot be the only tool you use. It will help you use the right tool in the right circumstances.


Mark 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.



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