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Does Your Department Have a Motto?

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By John Morse

There are a lot of catchy slogans and mottos out there.  Every good product or service has a motto that we walk around humming, sometimes without even knowing it.  Radio and television are full of them and your department has probably had a few attempts at some kind of slogan, vision, or motto.

One of the first attempts was a project to develop a vision statement.  The whole project came down from the village administration, and each department head was supposed to develop a vision statement for their department.  I was fairly new on the department so I was selected to represent that portion of the department.

We had 6 representatives to make up our committee each representing a different group.  New guys, old guys, and shift officers, every group was represented.  We met about 6 times working on different keywords we wanted in the vision statement. It seemed like every person had one or two points they insisted stay in the final product.

We completed the vision statement more out of boredom than anything else, and it really looked bad.  They were framed and hung all over the fire station.  No one liked it and it was only noticed when someone played a joke and hung it upside down. Even though everyone was represented in making the vision statement, no one really ever liked the idea.

You have all probably heard about strategic planning. We tried that a few years later.  This time it was a project started by an Assistant Chief that wanted to get a jump on the Fire Chief job that was opening in a couple years. We followed the same process and made a committee that represented all aspects of the department.  This time we were really going to make a difference.  They even bought us lunch for the first few meetings.

We met every other week for 4 months and then took off for the summer.  In the fall, the project never really started up again, we figured it was probably dead.  To the surprise of everyone but the Assistant Chief and one other person on the committee, the Strategic Plan was presented to the City Council about 8 months after the last meeting.  Someone took it upon themselves to finish the Strategic Plan and get a few brownie points.  The plan was never shown to the fire department members.

The latest attempt was the 6 Pillars of Character:  trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.  These words are on pretty banners all over but no one really knows what they say.  I got in trouble once for putting it away, I didn’t know it was a big deal.

The problem with all these projects was that no one ever bought into them.  The hardest part of any of these kinds of projects, whether you are a fire department, business or sports team, is to get everyone to buy into the plan.  The thing that makes leaders, or coaches great is the ability to get everyone to believe in the same vision.  You really don’t need a department vision, you just need your own.  You need to ask yourself “What do you really want?”  Whether it is your career or personal life, you need to make your own vision, plan or whatever you want to call it.  It has to be what you want for you to buy into it. Don’t rely on anyone else to make your plan, it’s up to you.

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