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In contrast to a centralized, rules-based leadership system, mission-driven culture relies on disciplined individual initiative and professional judgment in interpreting a set of principles, and one of MDC’s most powerful organizational effects is that while accountability goes up, liability goes down.

Thus, external evaluation is left to determine whether the operator’s judgment was within acceptable or reasonable limits by people with roughly the same level of training, qualifications and experience as the decision maker in question. Moreover, because fear of liability is reduced, leaders can use more peer reviews or Facilitated Learning Analysis Teams for minor failures and near misses, and real discipline is reserved for willfully violating policy or for gross negligence. All other issues can be dealt with through mentoring and training.

To be sure, operator accountability is paramount. They have to trust their leadership and be trusted by leadership. Operators must be trained and extremely proficient in principles based critical thinking. Consider for a moment our story of the Fire Div Chief unwilling to save a drowning child if doing so meant violating department policies and procedures.

It is doubtful that those rules were enacted specifically to hamper lifesaving actions, but rather to limit some other action or behavior that ran contrary to the organization’s mission or produced undesirable outcomes. Thus the intent of the policies and procedures are lost and blind adherence to them results not only in individual failure, but ultimately organizational failure as well.

Organizational leaders who have adopted intent based planning approaches to address this gap in mission achievement, describe the following indicators of success:

  1. Leaders at all levels are feeling like the quality of risk decisions and discussions has improved.
  2. Leaders feel like the trust state has increased up and down the chain as well as with executive staff above the agency or incident management team.
  3. Leaders feel like they are getting fewer “surprises” as managers.
  4. Leaders feel like they are getting better “buy in” from cooperators and stakeholders.
  5. Leaders feel like they are getting higher levels of support internally and externally.

Other critical organizational metrics manifest over time: a decrease in grievances, an increase in retention, and fewer lost days. In totality, the six mission driven culture values, which provide for initiative, trust, truth and improvement, provide for greater individual judgment and accountability. Operators are specifically delegated the opportunity to succeed and, in doing so, the organization is aligned for success as well.

What’s most striking about the $11 billion of federal funding provided post-9/11 to state and local response organizations for equipment and technical training is the fact that only .0058 percent of it has been spent on command or leader development. Another way to view this is we’ve likely spent more money for the helmet and gear that go on a responder’s head, than what goes in it.

Priorities have focused on acquiring “things” as opposed to developing skills such as decision-making, critical thinking and judgment during chaotic, complex events. The investment and commitment to developing the right culture is the necessary next step in the evolution of emergency services.

There is no denying the increased challenges responders face. Expectations are expanding; risk is escalating; societal networks are growing more complex and, consequently, more vulnerable. In this world, the centralized decision-making model is increasingly a recipe for failure.

MDC and its intent based principles and tools encourage and enable critical thinking, a common operating picture, concentric decision-making, and risk management at the operator level. MDC minimizes the friction, uncertainty and risk inherent in the Fog of War by increasing flexibility and adaptability. Using the context of leader’s intent, operational decisions are accelerated to take advantage of opportunities for success in the field.

MDC is not like a fire extinguisher — in case of emergency break glass — you can pull out and use only when a crisis hits. To be there when “it” hits the fan, it must be part of how business is done every day. In other words, train as you fight.

In the military, a force multiplier is a… “capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that force and thus enhances the probability of successful mission accomplishment.” Mission Driven Culture is a force multiplier.

The call to action is for senior leaders of today’s emergency response agencies to make the investment of time, energy and resources to build the culture that is adaptive and resilient to the ever-growing list of challenges. The outcome will be a higher level of customer service and mission accomplishment; increased trust within the community; and, leaders better prepared for future positions of increased responsibility as well as the large complex events they will undoubtedly encounter.