What happens when an incident exceeds your worst-case scenario—a situation so complex that chaos reigns supreme and the command and control structure fails?
San Diego Fire-Rescue found themselves facing just such a situation during the 2003 Cedar fire. In response to that event, SDFD evolved and began aligning themselves with the concept of a mission-driven culture.
The International Association of Fire Chiefs showcased their efforts in this recently released video.
What is a Mission-Driven Culture?
In the military, a force multiplier is a…“capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that force and thus enhances the probability of successful mission accomplishment.” Mission-Driven Culture is a force multiplier.
MDC is an outcome of a deliberate alignment of an organization’s operational culture with its mission.
MDC consists of a set of foundational values and principles that integrate the existing sets of values and practices throughout the organization and align them with the mission—to the core purpose of the organization’s existence.
Mission Driven Culture (MDC) Values
- Service for the Common Good
- High Trust State
- Pursuit of Truth
- Form & Function Defined by the End State
- Individual Initiative
- Continuous Improvement
Senior leaders communicate the task, purpose and end state of an assignment and provide the needed resources. The how of getting it done—the planning—and the execution are delegated to sub leaders.
Mission command is not freelancing. It’s extraordinarily disciplined. In MDC, each operator is highly accountable for their actions and the passing of information down, sideways and up. Senior leaders still communicate constraints – things that must be done or things that cannot be done.
MDC focuses on training people how to think, not what to think. But there are still plenty of rules. Rules make sense for things that either cannot be delegated or have no value being delegated.
Service for the common good is at the heart of the Mission Driven Culture; it is the core value that motivates people to dedicate their time, talent, and energy to become members of incident organizations.
Although staff members consistently voice a strong motivation to serve the public, individuals express this commitment differently, and the resulting differences in behavior and attitude can generate friction and thwart concentric action.
At the core of this value is a commitment to ensuring that all actions and decisions promote the desired team result, which is the staff’s collective interpretation of how to serve the common good.
High Trust State
An integral component of the staff environment, trust plays a central role in shaping perceptions, promoting effective communication practices, and increasing cohesion.
Developing trust both in systems and people lays the foundation for the speed, certainty, anticipation, and proactive posture necessary for effective decision making.
When people commit to a high trust state and its associated expectations, it enables core behaviors that improve resilience, including error detection and correction, robust discussion, and the ability to challenge team dysfunction and hold each other accountable without fear.
Pursuit of Truth
This value is based in the omnipresent need for the best possible situation awareness in the dynamic and chaotic incident environment to ensure that actions and plans are based on reality.
Pursuit of truth includes an expectation demanding communication behaviors that validate and confirm understanding, including detailed questioning, active listening, and confirmation.
Form and Function Defined by the End State
No matter how many established systems or processes are in place, the need for adaptability, versatility, and innovation is essential for remaining effective when operating in dynamic and chaotic situations.
This adaptability requires a willingness to change and refine thinking and processes to address emerging operational needs. Maintaining this kind of flexibility keeps actions linked to current problems and promotes nimble responsiveness as circumstances change.
Although the form and function of a staff is outlined in incident command doctrine, it may also be modified as necessary to better address the current situation, allowing staff members to exercise their judgment to ensure that the structure is congruent with the mission.
Unexpected problems inevitably emerge at all levels of the incident organization. A culture promoting individual initiative allows for freedom of action to exploit opportunities and solve problems while providing meaningful boundaries through well-articulated intent.
To be a strategic problem-solving entity, staffs maintain a proactive and forward-leaning operational posture— looking forward, identifying the next problem, taking stock of progress.
A culture that consistently promotes learning and improvement profoundly affects all levels of the organization.
On an individual level, a culture of learning and continuous improvement opens the doors to meaningful performance feedback and self-awareness.
On an organizational level, it allows for the frank and open discussion of past operational performance and focuses future adaptations.
Because the business of incident management is inherently human, it carries with it human genius and error, intuition and misperception, and insights and misinterpretations. Experience, then, serves to guide improvements in systems, procedures, and behavior.