Increasing Tempo and Decreasing Resources Equals Frustration

If we all pull together, there's no telling what we can achieve.

We have, in emergency services, always been in the business of doing more with less. It’s our creed. But there comes a point where we are expecting the outputs to exceed the inputs, or we are shoving more input in than we can possibly output, and in either case, something is going to blow. This can be written:

Where t = tempo, r = resources and f = frustration: ?t + ?r = ??f.

When we reach the result ??f, it has been often expressed with an expletive and a raised middle finger. To illustrate, let’s think about this like a mall parking lot, shall we?

In the preferred scenario, we have a goal and in order to achieve that, we have to put something into the process to make it occur. If we have our theoretical parking lot, so long as the number of cars that go into the lot are equal or less than the number of cars exiting the lot, there won’t be a lot of pain. However, when the balance tips and the number of cars entering the lot exceed the number of cars exiting, there will be quite a deal of anger, especially if the input of cars continues to exceed the available number of spaces and a bunch of mouth-breathing numbskulls drive around the lot aimlessly, exponentially adding to the confusion. In normally high-performing organizations, situations like these can evolve into frustrating moments when we continue to expect more and more for less and less, without considering that what we have is a definite resource issue. In those finite resources, of course, we are referring mainly to time and funding.

If I were to build you a house, and money was no object, time was no object, and you didn’t care what it looked like, I would have absolutely no problems putting you in a home. If money were no object I could buy what I want; pay myself what I want; I could hire people who have built homes before; and any number of resources I could possibly need, I could get, if you know what I mean. Likewise, if time were no object, I wouldn’t worry about how long it took for permits, or whether or not the subs were there on time. And of course, if you didn’t care what it looked like, I could build you a tent and charge you several million dollars.

When we begin to place limiting factors on the outputs, there occurs a correlating increase in pressure. As managers, it’s easy to delegate. There are plenty of managers out there, however, who delegate without consideration for the resources needed. It doesn’t do us any good to keep throwing more plates in the air for our subordinates and expect the outputs to remain consistent. It’s the theory of laminar flow: the more pressure you add, the more chaotic the environment and the less effective the output. You need to either decrease pressure, add capacity, or increase the size of the discharge.

The most challenging part, however, is remembering that the personnel you most trust with pulling off clutch moves are the same ones who tend to get loaded and loaded until they reach a snapping point. These are your high performers who won’t dare tell you “no” because they really want to succeed and to help you to succeed as well. It’s important to discuss the workload with these individuals and if you find you have to back off the heat for a while, make it happen. They’ll appreciate your recognizing the situation and in allowing them to adjust their pace, may be able to come back stronger in the long run. But keep beating that same horse and I can reassure you, it might take a while, but when it does go down, it won’t be peacefully.

Your job as a leader is to continually evaluate the situation and adjust. If additional resources exist, you can add these, but unfortunately, that isn’t a likely scenario. So it comes down to heat if we want to increase the outputs. As leaders, we have to constantly assess whether the heat we add to the problems is sufficient, or too much. If it is not enough, things will go at their own pace and may never be accomplished. Too much heat and you run the risk of backlash. But the right amount of heat creates change. And if change is what is required, you are going to be the one with your hand on the throttle. Manage it wisely; it’s a temperamental machine sometimes.

  • Jon Marsh

    Sounds like a “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen” moment. Your advice is always sound and proactive. Hard times and adverse conditions with the economy,a somewhat revolutionary political atmosphere occurring, war, and the peril of mother nature offers tremendous opportunity for today’s future leaders. Young and upcoming fire officers who welcome the heat will look back at these times someday and appreciate them with all their heart.

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Deputy Fire Chief - Operations Division for Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire Rescue and an Emergency Response Coordinator with the United States Department of Health and Human Services  National Disaster Medical System Incident Response Coordination Team.

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