In 2001, a group of software developers developed a set of values and principles they believed should be used in their field to guide their work. This document, known as "The Agile Manifesto," sought to modernize the processes developers followed and make them more straightforward, responsive, and flexible.
While the "Manifesto" contained four key values and a dozen principles, one has stood out more than the others. The fundamental value of people over processes.
The agency I work for is going through a period of significant turnover. Turnover is often associated with negativity, but in this case, it is due to many people reaching their service retirements around the same time. Our fire department went through an expansion twenty-five years ago, and many of the folks hired to meet the needs of that growth are now at the end of their careers. These hard-earned retirements allow our members to move on to the subsequent phases of their lives in a dignified fashion and open up opportunities for existing employees to get promoted and for new hires to come onto the job.
For an organization, widespread personnel changes such as this can cause strain. Retirements take decades of experience and investment out the door. Promotions put people into new roles and responsibilities. Hirings require lengthy vetting and training processes. These things take up tremendous amounts of time and financial resources and create strains on efficiency that can take significant work to overcome.
But it's crucial to remember that critical value in the "Manifesto" - people over processes. Your organization is only as good as the people who work for it. Your organization only exists because of these folks and the efforts they put forth. These people and their hard work and sacrifices need to be recognized. And to be meaningful, this doesn't just mean handing out a paper certificate or throwing a box of donuts on a conference table (although these can be nice and appreciated gestures by all means).
Some of these events demand full-blown celebrations.
This very week saw the senior member of my own fire department crew retire after finishing twenty-five years of service. We could have just shaken his hand and given him a certificate suitable for framing on his last day. But, instead, we turned his last twenty-four hours of work into a giant party. We laid out a massive spread of food (including tons of desserts) and invited all our on-duty members to cycle through our firehouse to wish him off. We also asked all of our retired members to stop by. Many did, and several who could not make it made sure they called the station to offer their congratulations. Even an on-duty engine company and chief officer from a neighboring fire department stopped by to offer their thanks and best wishes.
More importantly, we ensured his family was there for all of this. We wanted them to share in this celebration and see how much their family member meant to our organization and an entire generation of people who served there. Public safety jobs require missing holidays, birthdays, and other special events. Those working these jobs aren't the only ones making sacrifices - their spouses, children, friends, etc. - are also affected. Organizations need to show how meaningful these sacrifices are.
In the closing minutes of his final 24-hour shift, we invited everyone back to the firehouse the following morning to once again celebrate his career. His family, friends, and on and off-duty coworkers returned. We had coffee, bagels, donuts, and even a bagpipe band. Some words were spoken, the band played some songs, and many hugs and photos ensued.
Those last 24 hours were certainly not our company's most productive. While we did conduct a public education event in the morning and responded to a few calls, we spent most of the rest of the shift hosting dozens of visitors, taking photos, and eating a lot of desserts.
We tried to make it clear to our member that his 25 years of dedicated service were appreciated and significant. And we wanted to make it clear that his family's 25 years of sacrifice were equally valued and important.
Just moments after our member took his equipment off of the engine for the final time, the on-coming shift rushed out the door to respond to an emergency. Obviously, critical processes still need to be carried out in the workplace. But we also must recognize that our people are the most vital tools in most workplaces.
Those vital tools sometimes require us to put people over processes.
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Jim Aleski is a 25-year fire service veteran and career engine company Lieutenant in the Philadelphia metro area. Jim serves as a Branding and Content Specialist at NEP Services and formerly served as the Communications/Social Media Director for the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey (PFANJ), the state affiliate of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). Prior to becoming a career firefighter, Jim responded as a volunteer while working for more than a decade as a media producer. Jim was involved in the production of hundreds of national TV commercials, network branding campaigns, music videos, and corporate communication projects. Jim holds a BS in Mass Communications from Emerson College and earned a MS in Fire and Emergency Management Administration from Oklahoma State University.