By Janelle Foskett
Published Wednesday, August 24, 2011
We all want to know what our boss is talking about behind the scenes—that seemingly secret information to which they are privy, but that impacts everything about your job. Well, maybe that information isn’t so secret after all; maybe it just takes knowing the right questions to ask—or possibly even just attending an FRI session.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Dr. Bruce Moeller, a former fire chief and current city manager for the City of Sunrise, Fla., about his FRI session “10 Things Your Boss is Talking About—And You Don’t Know" (Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m.). The session covers those emerging topics city and county managers and elected officials care about most—topics that every fire chief should be aware of in order to better position their agencies for future challenges.
Xenophobia & Finding Solutions Outside the Fire Service
One reason Moeller wanted to do this session was the address the xenophobic quality of the fire service that causes too many chiefs to only look for solutions to challenges within their own agency. “This program takes it a step further to say, look, there are other things going on even outside the fire service, and you gotta quit being afraid of change because it’s going to come at you, not necessarily from within the fire service, but externally,” he says.
Specifically, Moeller says many of the topics that will have an impact on the fire service over the next decade have their roots in public management and policy, and public and business administration—areas that many fire chiefs fail to take into account when making important decisions about the future of their organization. So Moeller came up with the following 10 emerging topics that your boss is talking about—and that you need to know.
10 Topics Your Boss Is Talking About
10. Non-Traditional Organizational Structure: Moeller notes that the fire service has a very hierarchical and classic paramilitary organizational structure, which serves it well during emergency operations. However, he notes that there are many very progressive Fortune 500 companies that are using different types of organizational structures—work teams, flattened organizations, cross-disciplinary/cross-departmental working groups—that could be extremely beneficial for the fire service to consider in non-emergency environments. “I think the fire service is going to be pushed a lot more into making use of these organizational structures,” he says.
9: eGovernment: Moeller explains that city managers are motivated by two things—money and politics—and as such, one way fire chiefs can contain their costs is through a greater application of eGovernment or, in other words, “taking advantage of technology to deliver services that right now I rely on people to do,” Moeller says. As for potential push-back in the form of some people arguing that people should continue to do certain jobs, Moeller says the response lies in topic #8: “Prove it.”
8: Performance Measures & Metrics: Moeller says that although the fire service is well acquainted with the concept of performance measures and metrics, especially when it comes to response times, it needs to work on establishing how exactly to define and measure various metrics. “I think [fire chiefs] are going to find that increasingly, especially with the economic situation, they are going to be more greatly pushed to have a good set of metrics,” he says.
7: Stealth Democracy: What Stealth Democracy says, in essence, is that people want to be left alone. When it comes to politics or what goes on in their communities, Moeller explains that people think, “I don’t want to see it or participate in it. But when it matters to me, I want it to be there and I want to be able to use it. The rest of the time, just leave me alone.” Topic #6 is a competing theory.
6: Civic Engagement or Discourse Theory: For years, there has been much discussion in public policy and public administration about how to better engage the public about fire loss, how to reduce deaths among the young and elderly.
5: Social Media/Technology: Moeller wants to know how fire chiefs are taking advantage of the technology that’s already out there. He urges people to resist the urge to think that they need a unique, customized technology for their agency. “We’ve got to stop that,” he says. “You’ve got to look at our administrative (non-emergency—not firefighting) things and we’ve got to conform our operations to existing technology, to existing shrink-wrapped software, and quit demanding that you’re so special.” Another way technology can impact the fire service: “We’re using Facebook and Twitter to notify the public when storms are coming here in South Florida,” he says. “What possibilities exist with regard to alerting firefighters for a structure fire?”
4: Environmental Sustainability: This is a huge topic for politicians and city managers who are being pushed to consider environmental issues, Moeller says. As such, fire chiefs should think about how they can help in this effort. “If you’re going to build a fire station, include a couple green components; it’s got sex appeal,” he says. “It’ll help you sell it.”
3: Changing Demographics of the Country: How does your workforce reflect your community and the country as a whole? Moeller says chiefs should ask themselves how the changing demographics of the country—the aging population and the diversity within our communities—is going to drive the future of their departments.
2: Intergovernmental Relations: Moeller explains that there is an “us vs. them” mentality that permeates intergovernmental relations, but that fire chiefs, police chiefs, elected officials, etc., are going to have to rely on each other and form working partnerships. “There are valuable things that we can do with each other that will allow us to deliver services more effectively, more efficiently and do a better job for our residents. That’s really what they expect,” he says. “You’re going to be forced into it, so develop a personality, get out there and interact with your peers.”
1: Economy: Moeller says that although history shows us that the economy is cyclical in nature, fire chiefs must continue to brainstorm strategies that they can employ to get through the tough economic times. There are approaches across the nation that may work well in your community, once they are found and transplanted, he says. So Moeller tries to help identify where you can find these alternate approaches to funding you organization back home.
What to Do Now
When it comes to what chiefs can do to take advantage of knowing these 10 topics, Moeller discusses some key components related to working effectively with others. One concept is based on a book that uses the metaphor of a compass with four points: those who you work for, those who work for you, your colleagues outside the organization and your peers within an organization. He also addresses the concepts of agenda-setting, consensus, windows of opportunity, relationship-building and more.
When it comes to relationship-building specifically, Moeller explains that being the head of an organization can be a lonely spot. “If you allow yourself to become isolated, a couple things will happen: First, you won’t be sensitive to what’s going on around you,” he explains. “And that isolation causes you to start that inward-turning—that xenophobia doesn’t permit you to make good decisions; you make sloppy decisions.” He adds that it’s important to be able to communicate and share ideas with those who are going through similar experiences, people whom you can bounces ideas off of and even someone who can just lend a kind ear and say, “Yeah, I’ve been through that too, and here’s what advice I have for you.”
Although Moeller can’t predict the future, he believes that these mega-trends will have a significant influence on the future of the fire service and, as such, chiefs need to consider what they can do to address these issues, cut costs and build stronger relationships with the people around them.
So now that you know what your boss is talking about, what are you going to do about?
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