In his brief but powerful book, Leadership is an Art, author Max DePree warns of the dangers of entropy. The term, born from the study of thermodynamics, reflects a natural tendency for all things to deteriorate. Mr. DePree employed the term to illustrate that organizations too will naturally deteriorate over time. While he was writing about corporations, his advice is just as instructive for all public agencies, including fire departments.
The risk for any organization is that the decline can be subtle, occur over the long term and happen in imperceptible ways. With the knowledge that such a decline is likely inevitable, a primary duty of leadership is to “intercept entropy” as the author would put it.
The fire service is not immune to organizational decline; it is after all an enterprise primarily made up of people. Intercepting entropy should be a key responsibility for every fire chief. But subtle change by its very nature is hard to detect, particularly from within the organization. As a result, many fire service organizations deteriorate to a point of crisis before an “alarm” is sounded – sometimes too late.
Fortunately, the Center for Public Safety Excellence, Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) offers an excellent prescription to assure the organization maintains an upward trajectory. After completion of a comprehensive self-assessment, the organizational improvement process is validated through third-party verification. Using peer reviewers is an essential component of the accreditation process assures that the department has been assessed by an unbiased, outside party.
- The benefits from achieving fire-service accreditation include:
- Raising the profile of your agency with your community.
- Emphasizing your agency’s dedication to excellence to your stakeholders.
- Establishing an agency-wide culture of continuous improvement.
- Assisting with communicating your leadership’s philosophies.
- Building positive relationships with your labor groups.
- Offers independent verification and validation of your agency’s operations.
- Provides tangible data and information for your elected officials.
The accreditation process provides a road map for continuous organizational improvement moving the organization to still higher levels of achievement.
In the same book, Mas DePree also stated: “Leaders should leave behind them assets and a legacy.” Indeed they should, and among the most effective ways a fire service leader can do that is to commit to fire service accreditation.