Over 150 years ago, Darwin's theories of evolution suggested creatures evolve to adjust to changing conditions, which allows them to survive in the new environment. Without evolving, extinction was surely the alternative.
History has shown that organizations are susceptible to extinction as well when they failed to adjust to the changing conditions. Recently, Netflix was lauded in the media for evolving to the conveniences of broadband delivery, now accounting just over a 30% of all internet use. Why is that relevant? Consider the last time you saw a Blockbuster or any other movie-rental store.
Warren Bennis suggests leaders are the visionaries of their organization; they're always looking toward the future and suggesting new ideas to adjust. Bennis writes, "Adaptive capacity is what allows leaders to respond quickly and intelligently to relentless change" (On Becoming a Leader, 2009).
Leaders look past their comfort zone and have the courage to move their followers to a new vision. They have this ability because they're willing to begin the change within themselves. The fire service has these same opportunities, as our environment and even our personnel are in constant flux.
Americans are living longer, and there's a larger projected population of elderly looming. The October 2013 issue of International Journal of Epidemiology forecasts a 135% increase in the population of Americans age 85 and over between 2000 and 2050. The increased need on health and long-term care facilities is expected to grow by more than 350% of our current needs.
Several years ago, former U.S. Fire Administrator Kelvin Cochran warned at a function in Philadelphia of the looming impact this aging population will have on the fire service and the nation. While we're debating this issue, we're fighting fewer fires and running more emergency-medical incidents.
A September article within the Boston Globe questioned the need for a large firefighting force in America when we seldom fight fire. The debate is a lively one and obviously emotional for some, as evident in the blogs. Is it time to discuss the need to evolve as some have suggested? Does anyone want to guess what the impact of a larger elderly population in your community will have on your EMS units?
The young men and women entering the workforce today don't have the same needs and expectations you had when you began recruit training. According to a Forbes Magazine study, Millennials have a different outlook on their lives and career than other generations in the workplace.
Where hierarchical forms of organizational structure have served previous generations well, Millennials are less inclined to commit to a single strong manager. They seek less structure in their work, according to the research, and are happier with many mentors than with a single boss. They're looking for organizations that are innovative, changing and dynamic.
Forbes believes it's time for some private companies to seek change and suggests the newest generation is just the element needed to force improvements.
Millennials seek recognition more than pay and want less movement. The performance appraisals of today will be less than effective in the near future. Rising leaders of the future are seeking more engagement from all aspects of the organization and want a linear model to progress through career ladders. They seek succession-planning models that include a fast track. Forbes writes, "If you rethink your organization along the lines of transparency, the lattice and continuous career development, you'll be headed in the right direction."
With the addition of Millennials to the workforce and the exiting of Baby Boomers, the fire service will be faced with many organizational changes. The transition to these changes will require new strategies from our leaders include all the participants; they'll require flexibility not only in assignments, but in scheduling work as well.
The loyalty once provided to an organization by its workforce will now be focused to individuals. It's certain the organizational structure won't be the same in the next 10 years as the Millennial generation moves into management roles. Now's the time for the leaders of the fire service to prepare for the coming challenges.