Well believe it or not, just as expected the winter months have begun, daylight savings time has wound down, busy schedules have not slowed and we are headed in to the traditional “holiday” season. I hope each of you are well and will have the opportunity over the coming months to enjoy much needed rest and interaction with family and friends.
I believe we should talk about motivation this time. For a large share of people this is a word or concept that just happens with little to no effort. For others, motivation can be a challenge. For some people they have been highly motivated, but now find themselves… Let’s just say, less than motivated. I would imagine if you think back to your early days in the fire service you were highly motivated. It was exciting, it was new, it was a challenge, and you wanted to learn. For some, that remains the spirit right up to an into their retirement years. The rest fall someplace between the highly motivated and the person who leaves the fire service entirely.
Perhaps we should examine why over time some of our members are no longer very motivated to put out their best effort, show up for incidents or trainings or even stay a member. I firmly believe that motivation is one of the key drivers in keeping a person actively involved in the fire service. It is incumbent on each of us and particularly on the formal leaders in the fire service to make the fire service worthwhile and to spark the motivation every member had at one time.
No doubt when the new person joined up they were motivated to do so for some reason. Could it have been to have a place to hang out, give back to the community, enter in to a career field, or just meet some unknown internal need to be a part of something bigger than them? Whatever the reason, we need to figure out a way to reignite that spark of motivation. There are no doubt members of the fire service that will not be able to continue; family or other life obligations, stress related to the experiences witnessed while working and other similar items crop up and many times and are not totally within our control. This “loss” can somewhat be anticipated and absorbed, but why should we ever loose members because they lost their motivation?
Hopefully we are continuing to feed that passion that brought our personnel into the fire service to start with. If we feed that passion then we are supporting that individual motivation that is the ultimate driver in whether we retain our personnel or wish them well in their future endeavors. So, what did you as an individual do last week to help feed someone’s passion and reinforce their motivation? What did you do as a department this year to feed that passion and build on the motivation they brought along when they joined?
If you have to think very long on either of those questions, then we may have a problem. There is no limit to the ways you or your department can affect the passion and motivation of our members. Something as simple as interacting with individual members providing them the opportunity to see that someone cares they are around can be a huge motivating factor. After all, who knowingly wants to let their friends and family down or leave an organization they once were motivated to join? We always talk about the fire service as being like family and I know I hear people talk about their “fire family” all the time. If this really is our mind-set then shouldn’t each of us take an extra step and do what we can to make sure our family members are staying motivated, engaged and committed to the fire service?
One of my favorite Winnie the Pooh characters is Eeyore. You know, the gloomy donkey that has a problem with losing his tail and really is not a fan of much. I like his low key, easy going persona in a world too wrapped up in instant everything. However, who really likes working with the Eeyore of your agency? You know that person, the one that can never find anything positive, even when they get new PPE or perhaps a new apparatus, no matter what is going on around them. We have all likely worked with one of those people. Think how quickly that person sucked the joy out of what you were doing and how quickly some other members lost their motivation to stay at the top of their game from just being around that person. Although Eeyore is cute and adds a lot to the story, does he have any place in the fire service? Are you the department Eeyore? What can you do to change before you start destroying the motivation off those around you?
From the agency perspective, many things can be done to help motivate the personnel. One of the worst methods of attempting to motivate that I can recall is the “mandatory” compliance routine that results in removal if you don’t comply. There are better ways to achieve the same goal as the mandatory compliance that leaves your personnel refreshed, motivated and ready to trudge forward for the betterment of your agency and your community. It has been shown that mandatory often leads to “productivity,” but does little to advance motivation and often has little long term positive effects on the goals of the agency. It does not matter what generationally categorized group you may belong to, no one works well for long term under threat or forced compliance.
Now don’t jump off the cliff and think we can’t make things mandatory, we just need to figure out a way to excite our personnel about meeting those standards or goals. If you can do that, you have likely refreshed some motivation and over time that motivated employee will in turn motivate others around them.
We need to follow the standards, rules and guidelines as they are generally there to help us stay alive, but we have to find innovative ways to make them exciting and something our personnel will embrace and stay motivated to meet. Most people like some subtle recognition for the things they do, maybe that would be a simple way of starting. Most people don’t like to be faced with a confrontational situation every time they go to the station. So maybe administration should not look at the personnel as the enemy, and the personnel should not look at the administration as the terrible dictator. Perhaps the administration should take a genuine interest in what is going on in their personnel’s lives. No, I am not saying you have to go to everyone’s child’s birthdays or school events. Showing a little genuine interest in your personnel can help them feel motivated to do a good job for an agency that really does value them being around. It doesn’t matter if you are a volunteer or a paid employee, it is hard to stay motivated when no one appears to care.
If we strive to make the fire service a viable, fun, structured, worthwhile, beneficial, rewarding and positive piece of our personnel’s lives their motivation likely will remain high and you will not be talking about how many calls or trainings they are not attending or how much they used to be involved. All it takes is a few small steps to re-ignite that motivation that we all had when we agreed to join the fire service originally. Do your part and re-motivate yourself and then work on helping those around you.
Get motivated and stay motivated!
As always, if I can be of any assistance to you or your agency please contact me.