District of Columbia Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe is set to forge ahead with his recently announced plan to convert the department from the current 24/72 work schedule to a 12-hour shift format. According to Ellerbe, the change saves money ($36M?) and results in decreased staff of up to 400.
There are arguments for either side and we will have a chance to become thoroughly familiar with them but what is most striking is the Chief’s decision to make this his “leadership centerpiece.” Can there be any doubt that this amounts to sending a dead letter to Local 36?
One would assume that a chief fire officer would automatically engage in both a strategic and a risk assessment before embarking on any plan that would have such a wide ranging effect on the department. His move will surely result in the DCFD being in complete disarray in every sense imaginable- political, managerial, operational. His quest will become a litmus test on his leadership.
It’s hard to imagine that changing the work shift is the best available idea to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the DCFD. Because this issue will never be settled between labor and management, Ellerbe is forfeiting control of one of his most cherished initiatives to an unknown third party, be it the council, the congress or the courts. If this qualifies as strategy, it is of a reckless sort. Aside from the efficacy of the proposal, its wild card nature should give the Chief’s bosses both pause and concern.
Whatever anyone may say, he can’t even count on support from his own management team as many of them are assigned to, and presumably are great fans of, the very shift schedule he proposes to destroy. It’s plausible that management’s disaffection with his proposal will bleed over into other areas as his leadership team losses confidence in his ability to point the department in the right direction.
A fundamental requirement of effective leadership is the ability to accurately forecast the outcome of strategic initiatives and to then assess their suitability for implementation. That seems to be missing here.
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