Portrait of a group of firefighters by a fire engineThanksgiving week is upon us here in the US. This holiday is a time of gratitude, reflecting on the blessings we each have in our lives. It’s also a holiday of family, food, and football – usually too much food and football in our house!

I’m thankful for many things, not the least of which is for our first responders. Police and fire personnel put their lives on the line every day. Their jobs are immensely demanding and stressful. 99 percent of those first responders serve with speed, grace, and skill.

And, skill alone doesn’t make an effective firefighter or police officer. The culture of their department has a huge influence on whether they are able to bring their best each day – as individuals and as team members.

If their department’s culture tolerates disrespectful or dangerous behaviors, it is likely that the players in that culture will embrace those behaviors. They won’t share information. They won’t support each other. They criticize others’ decisions publicly. They discount others’ efforts and accomplishments. They may hesitate to act upon the commands from a distrusted colleague – with potentially disastrous results.

These behaviors don’t bond people together, they create distrust – whether in a police station, fire department, retail store, restaurant, or office.

A high performing, values-aligned culture doesn’t happen by default – it happens only by design.

A high-performing team culture that treats all members with trust, respect, and dignity in every interaction doesn’t happen by default. It happens only by design – with clear intention and daily attention. By creating clear performance expectations along with clear citizenship expectations – and with consistent accountability for both – organizations reap the benefits.

What are those benefits? Employee engagement goes up 40 percent. Customer service increases by 40 percent. Results and profits grow by 35 percent – all within 18 months of implementing an organizational constitution (purpose, values and behaviors, strategies, and goals).

It is unusual for law enforcement or fire protection organizations to engage in this process. It takes a lot of time and energy to do it right. The reality is that defining your organizational constitution is the easy part of the journey; it’s about 10 percent of the work.

90 percent of the work is about alignment to the new expectations outlined in the constitution. Modeling the behaviors, coaching the behaviors, and holding everyone accountable for the behaviors is where the real traction takes place or fails.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with firefighters since the 1980’s when two served on the board of my YMCA. Getting to know these firefighters helped me learn just how demanding their jobs are – and how dedicated they are to serving others.

Recently, a member of the Bend, Oregon, USA, Fire & Rescue squad shared how his team is creating a high performing, values-aligned work environment with specific values and behaviors. Their values include:

  • Respect
  • Optimism
  • Compassion
  • Humility
  • Resiliency
  • Integrity

By formalizing their values and behaviors, Bend Firefighters know that they are responsible for more than simply applying their skills to their jobs. They are responsible to treat others with respect and compassion, every day. They are to behave humbly and with integrity in every interaction. They are to demonstrate optimism and resiliency, even in the toughest moments.

A valued team member in the Bend Fire Department acts in accordance with their values and behaviors. They praise aligned behavior and redirect mis-aligned behaviors. And, they’re making progress, every day.

The video below allows Bend Firefighters to share their unique perspective of their culture, values, and passion for serving their community while keeping their team members safe.

How clearly does your organization define citizenship? Do team leaders and team members treat each other with trust, dignity, and respect, every day? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Monkey Business – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2015 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.

S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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