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Cultural Change or Behavioral Change?


In a previous post, I wrote about company culture and opened with two questions that prompted self-reflection and great discussion. In case you missed that post, here are the questions; What is the difference between a positive company culture and a company ego? Is there a difference?


These two questions led to numerous questions, taking on various ideas. After consideration, a more defined question surfaced. Does the culture need to be changed, or does behavior need to be changed?


Previously, culture was defined as a combination of behavior and attitude of a given group. For its application here, attitude is one’s mental state. One can never know another’s mental state at any given moment. The customers we serve expect us to perform at the highest level possible when called upon, regardless of our mental state. Internal and external factors, such as home life, finances, and assignments, may lead to a negative attitude among our members. Other factors affecting attitude may be centralized on current events within an organization. Attitude influences an individual's behavior.


Over the years, it has become evident that behavior becomes the product of tolerance. The tolerated behaviors are a direct reflection of leaders within an organization. This includes both official and unofficial leaders. Recognizing and considering that not all leaders hold rank or title within an organization is essential. Ensuring behavior inconsistent with the organization's mission and values are not tolerated is paramount.


As a company officer, you must set the tone and be an example for your crew. It is common for you to face at least two different sets of expectations. The first set of expectations are those your Chief Officer establishes. The second set of expectations is established unofficially by the crew within your charge. Considering these expectations and attempting to balance them can be challenging for any company officer.


The most effective way to balance these expectations is through open, candid communication throughout the chain of command. Sometimes this entails asking the hard question of your Chief Officer to define the "why" behind their decision. Their answer may provide clarity in their decision.. Additionally, it will prepare you for the questions from your crew.


Which is easier to change – culture or attitude? In most cases, management will lean towards disciplinary action to effect a change in unwanted behaviors. While that can be effective, it is not always the best approach. For example, we have been conducting routine PPE wash and inspection over the past two years on scheduled breaks. After members conduct live burns, have an exposure, or respond to a working structure fire between the planned intervals, they now request their PPE be washed. It took time and consistency to see the behavior change.


As for attitude, this is a significant challenge to adjust. It is the more difficult of the two to change. Every individual within the organization has different beliefs and challenges they have encountered throughout their life that shape their general attitude. As such, some will refuse to accept that any viewpoint apart from theirs is a fact.


We all face challenges on the job; what is yours?


Written by Charles J. Dickinson,

President - IAFF Local F169

Captain - Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department

Artwork: Paul Combs

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