New Leadership – The First 100 Days

newhtfdfirechiefweb“However the economy is doing, a challenge for leaders in the twenty-first century is attracting
and retaining not just employees, but the best employees—and more important, how to motivate
them so that they work with passion, energy, and enthusiasm. But very few people with brains,
skills, and initiative appear. The timeless challenge in the real world is to help less-talented
people transcend their limitations”. (It’s Your Ship, by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff)
When I was hired as the fire chief of a small (30 personnel) fire department, I learned before my
first day that there was a high turnover rate. One of my jobs was to determine why and take steps
to alleviate the exodus. In the previous five years there had been a 60% turnover rate. That’s 18
people with less than five years and of the remaining 12, eight of those were officers. I also
learned that morale was low, which seemed obvious to me, training was very little, and trust with
the city administration was almost non-existent. My first hundred days was going to be busy.

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One the more effective ways to plan your first 100 days as a new leader is to develop a 30-60-90
day plan. I developed one for this job and followed it pretty closely. If you have read Captain
Abrashoff’s book (if not you should) then you’ll know one of the methods he used was to
interview all of the crew, all 320, individually to attempt to gain valuable insight into why sailors
wanted to leave the USS Benfold. The first step in my plan was to interview all of the fire
department personnel, although there were only 30. I too wanted to find out why firefighters
wanted to leave this department.To begin each interview I asked each person three questions;
1. What do you like most about this fire department?,
2. What do you like least, and
3. If there was one thing you could change on this department, what would it be?
I also asked about families, spouses, significant others and their like and dislikes. Some sessions
lasted about 15 minutes while others took over an hour. I did learn a lot about the department,
why people left and why there was so much dis-trust with city administration. Other items on my
30 day list were meeting other department heads, sitting down with the finance director to learn
how their budget process worked, and meeting with the human resource director to learn of any
ongoing or historical employee problems.
The 60 day part of the plan included unfinished items in the 30 day plan, meeting other fire
chiefs in the county, meeting with county emergency management, and touring the new county
911 call center. As a result of the interviews I also included the beginning of a review of the
department policies and SOG’s. One great thing about a 30-60-90 plan is that it is flexible.
The 90 day part of the plan included unfinished items from the 30 and 60 day part of the plan. I
included in this part of the plan meetings with shift officers to discuss the department policies
and SOG’s, gather ideas for training programs, and laying out my plans for the department.
During the one on one meeting with each of the personnel, I gave brief mention to my work
philosophy but knew that as I learned the culture of this organization, my philosophy might have
to change a bit. And it did.
The last part of the 90 day plan included the all-important meeting with the city manager. This
was my turn to describe what I had found, what my plans were to turn things around, and lay the
groundwork about upcoming budget items.
All in all the 30-60-90 day plan worked well. I was able to adjust later parts of it to accommodate
important items that were discovered in the first 30 days, and the plan always gave me a
reference point to go back to get on track. Good documentation throughout will give the leader a
good source for their meeting with the city leader.
New on the job? Three words – Plan…Plan…Plan
Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home