Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Volunteer Fire Departments 2.0 (8 of 9) Recognition

This is part 8 of a 9 part series. You should have read the preceding parts: Part One, Part Two, Part ThreePart Four, Part Five , Part Six and Part Seven before moving onto this one. Today's subject is Recognition in the Volunteer Service. As I mentioned in an earlier post, these posts will get shorter and shorter as we near the end of the series because each uses the points that were presented earlier and builds on them. With only 2 posts left, this will be the shortest yet.
 You may well wonder why I am including Recognition in a series that addresses the Major Challenges in the Volunteer Service. If you are asking that question, then I obviously need to explain some things I have learned.
 Many people are naturally generous. either with their time, their money, or both. However, those same folks will be very wary of donating anything if they believe that their donation is not needed, or not appreciated.
 Every Volunteer is a DONOR to your Department. The Department's job is to recognize this on a regular basis, whether formally, informally, or in a public way. Most (or at least many) do not want or need recognition to continue to do their jobs. In fact, many get embarrassed when they are singled out. However, put people in a position where they believe they are taken for granted and their attitudes take a downturn. So we need to walk the line here and make sure folks know that we value them.
 Many Departments have some sort of annual event where they recognize many of their members for length of service, special activities, service of note, or any other list of things. This is good and it builds morale. The only downside I see to this is that some get left out if they are just a middle of the road member. The guy or gal that is there a LOT of the time, but never holds an Office or does anything 'special'. These are our Grunts. The workforce we come to depend on day in and day out. Where would we be without those folks and how do we recognize their value?
 First and foremost, create a culture where members feel free to recognize each other in an informal way. Walk up to a member after a tough call and let them know that you appreciate the simple fact that they were there and doing their job well. "Hey man, I was really glad to see you at the pump panel when I went in. I like knowing that you have my back." You'll always get a smile and know you made somebody feel good. Peer recognition is a very strong thing. I can say for myself, that when I have the respect and appreciation of my peers, I don't really care what anybody else thinks. These are the guys and gals I work with that depend on me. If they trust me then I feel like I have earned something very valuable.
 Second, I have seen that Departments which have a standard recognition program have a very high morale, in general. For instance, I know one Department that gives 'optional equipment' to members when they reach certain milestones. When they are voted in as a probie, they are given two t-shirts and a hat. When they complete their Firefighter One, they are given a new set of Bunker gear, when they complete all the requirements for their probational year and become a full member, they are given a leather helmet. Their standard program is written down and the requirements are clear, when you earn it, you get it. So if you see one of them on a fire scene, you can tell by how they are dressed where they stand in the Department. This creates a certain drive for members to stay on track and earn that 'stuff'. The psychologists will tell you a lot about why something like this works, but all I know if what I have seen, and this works. It comes back to having things well organized and planned, while being consistent in your treatment of your members and getting away from doing things on a whim. It's a business, so run it like one. You can't give them a raise or a bonus, so give them a job shirt.
 Third, recognition of your members in the public eye will not only do well for that member, but also for the entire Department. Getting out press releases when appropriate can go a long way to providing good PR for your Department, the individual member involved, and all the other members. Everybody likes to see one of their team get put out in front and recognized when they deserve it. Even if you just put a congratulation note on your message board on the Fire House, it makes a difference for people. And it's all free, you just have to DO IT. Also, don't forget to always nominate some of your members for the County, State, Regional, or other awards that are available out there. Many of these awards go wanting for candidates. One year, members in my Department were awarded 3 plaques by the regional EMS council because there were few nominees and we took the time to write up the nominations.
 Bottom line: Tell your people you appreciate them. Do it sincerely, and do it often. Make it your Culture, get EVERYBODY to do it, not just the Officers and Organization. This all leads into our next and last subject.
 Coming Up: RESPECT

Be well, Be safe, Be sharp,

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