A new culture of shadowing has been promoted by the Senior Management Board and is an initiative allowing any member of staff to experience the service from a different angle. This initiative has been very successful with employees from all areas of the service shadowing senior managers, and our senior managers shadowing various roles too.
The following is an account from Station Commander Andy Jones, reflecting on his day spent shadowing Chief Fire Officer Jason Thelwell:
“I noticed an open invitation on the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) blog for anyone within the service to spend a day with him or one of the other principal officers. I pondered for some time to consider what benefits it would offer me – what would other people think? Did I have the time to attend? Then I thought about some of the comments I had continually heard (and agreed with) while on station as a Crew and Watch Commander; that communication with senior officers could be improved.
The CFO’s blog made it clear that now I, and everyone else, had the opportunity to shadow members of the Senior Management Team (SMT). How could I refuse this opportunity to see exactly how the team works and how decisions are made at the highest officer level of the authority?
I discussed the opportunity with my line manager and then sent an email requesting a day shadowing the CFO. Within a couple of days there followed an invite to join the CFO for a day. I was expecting a few thing to happen in the day. I expected to be told to leave the room when the CFO was talking on the phone or meeting with the Deputy Chief Fire Officer. I was expecting the members of SMT not to be open when I was present, and I was expecting a day of testing challenges, seeing what I knew and how I performed. But the fact is I was totally wrong.
My day started as all days start, with a cup of tea. But this cup of tea was over a one-to-one with the CFO. This one-to-one was to set out the day, tell me to ask questions, and about how I saw the national and local issues facing the service over the next few years, as well as the challenges we face now. The CFO listened to my views and explained his perspective on the issues, but encouraged me to challenge him.
“We then went through the papers for the morning’s SMT meeting which I had been sent the week before. This was to see if I had found any areas within the agenda items which I had concerns about, and the CFO also explained the areas he was going to challenge. Before the meeting he met with the DCFO and I thought “I’m on my way out now”, but no; he asked one of the area managers to give him and the DCFO a few minutes and told me to stay whilst the two of them discussed the SMT agenda and any areas they wanted clarification on.
At the start of the meeting the CFO introduced me to all those present and explained I was shadowing him for the day. He again encouraged me to participate in the meeting. Hearing how the decisions were made at SMB level was quite an eye-opener. Most of the areas I had noticed within the papers were being challenged by other SMB members and the presenting officer had, on most occasions, the answers for them. If not they agreed to further investigate the issue. Some items within the meeting were confidential and this was made clear by the CFO, but I remained in the meeting while the items were discussed. This alone illustrated to me the open nature the day was taking and the trust they had in me.
Following the meeting, the CFO asked me what I thought, and we discussed again some of the agenda items. The CFO went through some areas in great depth, giving me all the detail and allowing me to go through a thought process to decide what I would have done if I was in his position. The main thing you notice is that when you are faced with all the facts and not “duty rumours”, you come to a similar outcome.
We then had lunch with more discussions about general life, and headed to Buckingham Fire station for a visit. On my way I was considering the questions the crew may ask the CFO, and how he would answer them having heard information from him and SMT through the morning. I was shocked in more than one way – he did answer every question as I had heard previously during the day – be it at SMT or during our one-to-one; he didn’t hide anything. If he could not answer a question the CFO would note down the request and then told the crew he would get back to them. I was also surprised as I was expecting different questions, but these didn’t evolve.
My advice to all members of the service, is to take this opportunity to shadow the members of SMT and put your views across directly to the most senior person in the authority.”