Strategic vision in your organization

CarolinaFireJournal - Christopher M. Haley
Christopher M. Haley
04/29/2011 -

With only a week until the due date for this article, I knew I would have to pick a topic that I was truly passionate about if I was going to be able to produce something in time to make print.

I immediately was drawn to what I feel to be one of the most powerful topics in the fire service, one that holds the ability to salvage a sunken ship organization from the depths, and help them once again thrive and succeed for generations to come; that topic is strategic vision.


Picture a professional football game; two teams competing on a field surrounded by crowds in the thousands. Amid this chaos, a coach does his best to make decisions from the sideline, assisting him above the field, are his assistants in the coach’s box. This “support group,” if you will, has placed themselves above the crowds to gain a better view of the field, and formulate the team’s next moves. However, at the same time, back at the practice field, offensive coordinators are already viewing tapes and tendencies of next week’s opponent. This is strategic vision. The coordinators realize they have done all they can to prepare the team this week, and have left the execution of plays and tactics in the hands of their coaches, while they once again turn their efforts toward the future.

Big thinking precedes great achievement

An organization without vision of where it wants to be, will have no idea of where it is. It will be forever destined to play this week’s opponent, having never prepared for the game. The team will be forced to fall back on what it has “always done” and attempt to adjust the gameplan in response to the opponents playcalling.

This same principal carries directly over to the fire service. If your organization lacks any focus of what it wants to achieve, it will lack any common objectives and purpose. This will in time, serve to destroy your organization. When people feel they serve no greater purpose in an organization, than “just getting through today” they will never find inspiration, and worse, never find aspiration. People generally want direction, they want to be inspired, in other words they want to feel they are part of a team that is doing greater things than they could have done alone.

Members that otherwise may have gone onto become great agents of change and progress, will simply fade off into the sea of “just get through today” believers. Along with their fading aspirations, their morale too will fade. This will continue to perpetuate into a problem crossing generations of members in your organization. When general disproval and low morale, span your department from the most senior to the most junior members, a lack of vision may certainly be a contributing factor.

Defining our values and goals, will define how we reach them

When visionary leaders see what’s coming they can best navigate towards goals and around obstacles. Think of a cross country trip; indeed you may reach the other coast if you simply get in a car and drive. However, you will most certainly have a more fulfilling and efficient trip, if you spend time to map out the journey weeks in advance. This preparation allows you to chart out things you want to see along the way and things you’d rather choose to pass by.

Relating this to the fire service; setting the goal of an organization lies at the epicenter of all being discussed here. This goal will be the port by which all the vessels of our department are guided, and no matter the tide, or storm they encounter, that port will always remain the steadfast course. Members will know that the tasks they perform, and projects they complete are supporting roles in the mission of the department, and that they are doing something more than just “getting through today.”

The goals of the department should encompass all involved parties; the members, the administration, and the public they serve, as each have their own vested interests in the continued long term success of the department. It is up to the department to find what the driving values of the organization will be, and from this can be drawn the routes it will travel to reach its’ goals.

Communicating, and Embracing Vision

Using these newly established goals of the organization as a guide, one can begin to formulate the best ways to implement them. At this point leaders should look once again to the most important resource they have, their people, as without them, nothing will ever get accomplished. Find what drives them, what they are enthusiastic about, what is their true passion, and how can it be best utilized to help drive the organization forward.

After assessing who and what your organization is currently composed of, you can work on inspiring them to help the department as a whole achieve. Identify every possible asset your firefighters can offer toward the common good, and trigger it into action. Value their opinions and input and allow them to create true, and tangible results, all the while guiding their work towards the long term vision of the department.

As this environment continues to thrive, administrators will hopefully begin seeing standout individuals form their own personal visions; both for their own career’s and for the department. These people can serve as the greatest catalysts in springboarding your departments progression, as they bridge the gap between administration and the rank and file. Embrace their ideas and let them help push the organization forward.

Adjusting Vision

As an organization grows it will soon begin to outgrow its defined vision and goals. At this time leaders will again start the process from the beginning. This time however they are drawing from the already established direction of the department and are simply looking to augment and improve it, not invent and create it as before. This allows for a flexible but steady set of core values and goals that can be shifted and formed to meet the current needs, or abilities of the department. Think of a rest stop on that long road; yes you may need to deviate temporarily from your charted course, but will quickly pick up where you left off, refueled, re-energized, and ready to continue the pursuit of your long term plan.

In Conclusion

Strategic Vision is far too diverse and expansive a topic to be covered in one magazine article, or even an entire volume worth of articles. It is different to each organization, but its results are the same. Those being; a more efficient, effective, and organized group of individuals holding a belief that what they are part of is an organization with a purpose, that will remain long after they’ve retired. It is strategic vision that prevents people from falling victim to the mentality of “just get through today” or worse yet, “just get through until retirement.” Like Benjamin Franklin once said, “It is easy to is hard to foresee.”

Chris Haley is an eight year veteran of the fire service in the volunteer and career sectors. He has served as a Lt. is a state of CT Fire Instructor, and a graduate of the National Fire Academy, as well as a member of ISFSI. Chris can be reached at [email protected]
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