Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This...

November 2007 Issue Number 94

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.

We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Upcoming Events  

"Many Faces, Many Voices--One Dream, One Union" Human Relations Conference of the International Association of Fire Fighters. January 20-23, 2008, Sheraton Hotel, New Orleans, LA. Go to for more information.

Maryland Fire-Rescue National Fire Service Staff and Command March 12-19, 2008 in Nashville, TN. Go to for more information.

8th Biennial Fire Service Women's Leadership Training Seminar April 24-27, 2008 Glendale, AZ. Go to for more information.


In the News

Mission Impossible?

When I teach leadership workshops, I often ask participants if their organizations have formal mission statements. Just about every hand in the room will go up in response. Then I ask who can repeat for me that exact mission statement. At most, two or three people will even make an attempt.

What good is a mission statement if no one knows what it is? And it's not enough to just know the words from memory. Those words should really mean something to every person within the organization.

The sad truth is that many mission statements are not worth the paper they are written on. They are generic, bland, and full of vague platitudes that may or may not have anything to do with the reality of day-to-day life within that organization. Worse, many mission statements do nothing to inspire members to achieve more as a group than they might think possible as individuals.

Why do so many mission statements miss the mark? For one thing, many of them are much too long, trying to say everything about the organization instead of distilling things down to a few essential values. It has been said that the best mission statements can fit on the front of a tee shirt-- not implying that they should be slick advertising copy, but that they should be that succinct and easily understood.

Consider for example the mission statement of the organization Habitat for Humanity. They assert that their organization envisions "a world without shacks." Clearly these four words do not say everything about who Habitat for Humanity is or how it conducts its work. But those few words do say a lot: that the organization is primarily concerned with eliminating substandard housing on a global scale.

One of the most well-known fire service mission statements is that of the Phoenix Fire Department. Their statement is: "Prevent harm. Survive. Be nice." This statement is catchy enough that even those who are not members of the Phoenix Fire Department know it. But more importantly, the statement does contain essential values-- that safety is a primary concern, that we are as involved with preventing damage as mitigating it, that our relationships with others are important.

One reason why some mission statements fail is because the process for creating them is flawed. In many cases, the group creating the statement is limited to senior management, or the process is poorly facilitated. The worst outcome is when a nice statement is created, and the words on paper are clearly contradicted on a daily basis by the behavior of those within the organization.

Ultimately, mission statements should provide real information in answer to the questions: Who are we and why are we here? Good mission statements should inspire members of the organization toward a goal that is beyond just getting by on a daily basis, but the way that goal is achieved must also be reflected in day-to-day behaviors and practices. Nothing is worse than a mission statement that is seen as a joke. In that case, having nothing in place might be better than having a statement that invokes cynicism and apathy. Good mission statements take time and effort to develop. Once in place, a common sense of mission can go a long way toward guiding organizations and groups through the challenges they face.

Source: New York Times, September 23, 2007


News Brief

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found "reasonable cause to believe that a pattern of... harassment and retaliation exists for a class of female and black firefighters based on gender and race" within the City of Los Angeles Fire Department. During the past year, the 3900 member department has paid out more than $13 million in legal settlements based on discrimination and harassment complaints.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, October 3, 2007

Sexual Harassment Update

Family Responsibilities Discrimination

A woman is denied a promotion because she is a single parent and her boss doesn't think she can handle the additional work along with her family obligations. A man is denied access to medical leave to care for his young children while his wife recovers from surgery, because his supervisor believes that only women can be primary caregivers for infants. These are just two examples of a type of practice identified as Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD), something the EEOC has recently issued guidelines toward ending in the workplace.

Although family caregivers are not a protected class under federal law, the EEOC points out that men and women who perform these roles are protected under existing laws, specifically under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law that specifically addresses workplace accommodation for family needs is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Two common practices that the EEOC seeks to end are treating male caregivers differently (often more favorably) than female caregivers (such as promoting fathers but not mothers) and using sex-based stereotyping as a basis for workplace decisions (such as denying parental leave to new fathers, or making assumptions about what kind of work a new mother will be able to handle.)

The courts are already taking such cases seriously. According to the Center for Work-Life Law at the University of California, FRD cases have increased by 400% over the past decade, and plaintiffs in those cases are more often successful compared to other types of employment law cases.

Source: HR Daily Advisor, October 3, 2007



© Linda F. Willing, 2007

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