By Mark Wallace
Last month’s article introduced the SPECTRUM model for organizational change. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), change happens. 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 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 and Part 3 of this series will look at each component of organizational change from a different perspective using the acronym SPECTRUM.
“S” is for STRUCTURE
The structure is the spine of an organization. It defines the following:
- The duties and functions of positions.
- How positions relate to one another.
- Who has the authority over and who is accountable to whom.
It’s more than just the organizational chart; an organizational chart graphically displays how the organization’s structure is intended to be, but the reality is often somewhat different. The organizational chart portrays the formal organization, but it’s often the informal organization that provides the spine or backbone in nearly every case. For a change to be accepted and adopted, the informal organizational leaders must be or become committed to the new realities that will be created by a change in the organization. The informal leaders or influencers of the department must become as committed as the formal leaders are concerning the proposed change. That won’t happen if they can’t understand how and why the change will benefit them and the people they lead and influence. There may be a variety of “structures” to consider in every organization.
“P” is for PROCESSES and PRODUCT
Processes are those sets of activities that, taken together, produce a result/outcome. A product (often a service) is something that is of tangible value to a “customer.” This component opens up a huge can of worms in many organizations. Again, there are formal and informal processes and products. Some processes simply provide a “recipe” of how to complete something such as an incident report. The procedure is there because that is just how the task is done.
It would be nice if everyone interpreted the recipe in the same way, and we could expect a uniform outcome. In reality, this doesn’t happen. Often, processes are designed around an organization’s decision on how it would like its members to produce the desired results but are beyond the simple recipe level. The recipe explains, for example, what code to put in each data-field of the report form. The process component is, for example, a “how to write the narrative” formula desired by the organization. Most processes in the fire service do not, however, provide a recipe to reach a successful outcome. We must rely on guidelines and rules of thumb to get the job done. Experience plays a big part as well as training, teamwork, specialized skills, having the right resources, technology, and so on. Remember, all of the components of SPECTRUM are interrelated.
Fires will always (and eventually) go out, but how we shorten that process and how we operate safely is a far more complex process. So it goes with many aspects within the fire service.
Products and services of a fire department are many and varied. These must be considered in the terms of the desired outcomes of our customers. Some of these are mandated, but this is not true for all of the products and services provided by a fire department; some of these will be traditional or long-standing practices. Some products and services will become part of the department’s menu by choice, while others will have become part by accident or evolution. Once the product or service is integrated into operations, it doesn’t matter if it is funded or unfunded; it will become a mandate and very difficult—even traumatic—to stop in the future.
For every proposed organizational change, you must carefully consider the impact of the change on the “P’s” of the SPECTRUM. This component will likely take the most time and the most organizational conversations about the impact on the organization and its desired outcomes. Change will result in “winners” and “losers” in the eyes of those impacted by a change, and it is important to identify who will be in each group in advance of that change so the organization as a whole can understand the positions of each group.
Interestingly, once a change is enacted, it will take effective training, practice time to hone new skills, and going live with full implementation (as well as some time to work out the inevitable bugs in the change) to create buy-in for most people within the department. This happens when the change is transformed from something new to standard operations: the new reality for the department. So, stick with the change when you make one. There are always things you must work out with every change soon after the change is made. If you expect this to happen (and it will), it will lessen the level of organizational angst.
Another aspect of organizational change is the “valley of despair.” When you make a change, performance and productivity will get worse or go down for a period of time until you can work out the implementation bugs. If you expect this, it’s less of a big deal, but it will always provide a degree of frustration to anyone expecting every change to be great from the start.
It won’t be until you can get past the “position” phase of change discussions to the “interests” phase of organizational change before you should enact a new organizational change; the bigger the change, the higher the importance of this SPECTRUM model component. If you can take the position that everyone’s point of view about the proposed change is correct (from their point of view) and you work to gain an understanding of the issues as they see them, you will have a better chance to limit setbacks and reduce implementation problems when the change is actually implemented.
Always take the viewpoint that ALL proposed changes are concepts and proposals up to the point that you make a final decision. If you decide too early, it will be the “P’s” that will cause you the most organizational angst. Once you finalize the change, do the work necessary to optimize the desired outcome. Keep at it until the change is being as effective as you can get it to be. However, just about the time when you think the change is going great and you start to think that you’ll never need to make changes again, a leader must start asking “what’s next?” You will need a new change if you hope to have continuous improvements in products and services.
Although nearly impossible, we all have a goal of making changes without organizational angst. However, I have found that mitigation or limitation of angst is the best that can be expected. It is important to realize that performance is never constant; it is either improving or declining.
The “E” is for ENVIRONMENT
The environment consists of trends, events, issues and stakeholders that influence an organization’s ability to perform. There is an internal and external environment; those things we can control from within the organization are components of our internal environment. Everything we don’t control are components of our external environment. It is hard enough to lead an organizational change that impacts only the internal environment, but when it impacts the external environment, the land mines, ambushes, and even frontal attacks can confront us at any time from an unexpected source. The best we can expect is to recognize the challenge, then manage and mitigate its impacts or issues. This is an area where transparency is a key ingredient to organizational change. Unless there is mandated implementation date, being patient is a key to success in this area. Simply hoping for a formula or recipe to help deal with change from an external perspective won’t work because we are not in control of that environment. There may be no simple answers. Remember, imposed changes will always be challenging, and every change is an imposed change on some of those affected by it.
The “C” is for CULTURE
An organization’s culture is composed of those values, traditions, and norms that define appropriate behavior within your department. Hopefully, you have spent the time and effort to develop and understand your shared values, and the members of your organization are committed to adhering to those values. The fire service has a long history of tradition and culture, and these must be understood in terms of your specific fire department. They are also impacted by the legends and lore of the fire service as a whole. All organizational changes must adhere to your shared values and are a big part of the justification and explanation that provides the foundation for the proposed change. If it doesn’t, the change will fail to achieve the desired outcome.
Next month’s article will complete the components of the SPECTRUM model.
Photo found on Wikimedia Commons courtesy of John McColgan.
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. (www.fireeagleconsulting.com) He wrote the planning chapter in the 7th edition Fire Chiefâs Handbook that will be released in the fall, 2014.
MORE FROM MARK WALLACE
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- FIRE DEPARTMENT RESPONSE TO THE COLUMBINE TRAGEDY
- Creating a Value-Driven Organization