I was playing around with Twitter the other day and blundered onto a site that discusses social media, coincidentally named Social Media Insider, which of course, led me to a link (and to another) in regard to quality. The title of the blog was actually "What Does Better Mean" and it was on a blog on marketing that Seth Godin writes.
He points out, essentially, that the consumer defines what is better, which in our business, seems to be counter-intuitive at times. I have seen on the occasional post and heard on the street and in fire stations around our nation, a certain level of frustration with the whole "customer service" mentality of running an emergency services organization. And frankly, if you live in a community where they have bigger concerns than their fire loss (like in areas with high crimes rates, high unemployment, or any other major emotional issue), the definition of a quality fire department might be that of one that shows up when someone dials 9-1-1. My point being, that although YOU desire your organization to be the best, it hasn't necessarily carried over to your customer base (i.e.; taxpayers). Unless you do a better job marketing your organization, don't go expecting them to hand you money the next time you ask for it.
If you live in a community like the one I live and work in, there is a certain expectation that things will be the "best". But just what is the "best"? Is it defined as the best because we say we are the best? Or is your definition of the best backed up by quantitative data that supports your claim, by having significantly lower reaction times, or significant numbers of neurologically-intact post-resuscitation patients, or excellent customer satisfaction as measured by surveys? Or is it that you have shiny trucks and nobody says you AREN'T the best?
I had a short discussion with my friend/colleague Lt. Tom today (the author of the Prehospital 12-Lead ECG blog) and it revolved somewhat around the definition of "better" and this blog by Godin came to mind. The thing is, we don't get to define what is "better", the taxpayers do. And if they want something a certain way, we have to be cognizant of that desire and fulfill it. If we as experts in our field see it differently, it is incumbent upon us to do some education. Crying about it isn't going to help, and unless you can frame the discussion into something the public can really get their head around, don't expect an overwhelming outpouring of support. Tom actually showed me a presentation he was doing that was excellent and even I could see that what he was saying made sense and would be a benefit to the community. Now it comes down to getting an audience.
If you aren't taking the time to visit your taxpayers in the schools, in their civic clubs, at the nursing homes, and in any other method you can get the word out there, you shouldn't be surprised when no one is overwhelmingly standing in your corner at budget time. And in this time of economic crisis, you really need people in your corner. This is the time when people have to realize that support of public safety is essential and new plants in the median can probably wait.
The only people to count on for this task is your own people and if you aren't motivated by the prospect of sitting down and having lunch at the elder-care center, think about the lunch you'll be choking down when your budget gets shot down by 10 or 15%. If marketing your organization is distasteful to you, think of the alternatives. Get out there and hit the trail and show your customers what "better" really is; an organization that cares about its community and is willing to go and meet them and show them what they need to do to make themselves more fire and disaster safe. We all love fighting fires, but at some point, somebody has to pay the bills. It's time to grow up and do some advertising for your department and hope it is good enough to win over supporters.