By Rich Marinucci
I am part of a generation that did not have video tapes of every activity of our youth. As such, I have no idea how I looked playing little league baseball. But without any proof, I have convinced myself that I was certainly destined for Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame. In my mind, I had a perception that greatly varied from reality. Obviously my skills deteriorated significantly as I got to my teen years, so I am not enshrined!
In today’s world, most children won’t be able to make too many claims becuase they are captured on someone’s camera. When they make claims to a certain ability or performance, they will have to produce proof. Just as I was not as good as I may have thought, neither are most of them. And unfortunately for them, they won’t be relying on their memory, perception, and rose-colored glasses. As they say, “the tape doesn’t lie.”
So, what is the point? As we all know, videos and still pictures are rampant today. It is becoming rare to find events that are not captured on video. Most of what we have gets posted on the Internet for all to see. Cases that show errors, missteps, bad behavior, and the like get the most play and the most comments. Third-party comments don’t always consider all aspects and frequently are critical even if all the information is not available. This may lead some to discount the value that video can have in promoting continual improvement.
But when handled properly, videos can be used to coach and mentor. With any such venture, those being coached must be willing to take the constructive criticism. They must also have an open mind and a desire to learn. Using this valuable tool must be done in such a way that those involved are not embarrassed or put in a defensive mode instantly.
The introduction to the lessons is as important as the lessons themselves. If any critique is presented in such a way that those in the video perceive some type of “witch hunt” or an effort to embarrass, they will immediately shut down and not hear much of the ensuing important discussion. Some videos are best introduced in private and with a belief that there is a sense of amnesty for those depicted. Openness is required when progress is the intended goal.
First, ascertain if those in the video are open-minded and willing participants. The presentation must be balanced between good actions and areas needing improvement. It may be a good idea to focus on only a few things so that those participating don’t feel overwhelmed or like they are being piled on. If the audience has a certain level of sophistication you may only need to show the tape without explanation because they can pick out the same elements as anyone else might. Those with a strong desire to improve and a sound knowledge base are often harder on themselves and can see the lessons clearly.
Videos for training are invaluable for those seeking continual improvement. Just as successful football teams watch volumes of tape, those who wish to study performance can learn a great deal about their current capabilities and those areas that can be improved. As an example, I once asked a group how quickly they think they performed a particular task. They thought it was very quick and easily within norms and standards. When I showed them a video, not much needed to be said. It painted a different picture that anyone could see. There was no need to “pile on” as the group got the message and knew they had to improve. Without the tape, their perception would have stayed the same, just as my perception of my little league prowess remains!
To improve, there must be an understanding of the job to be done. There must be standards and goals. Performance must be measured. Perceptions must get close to reality so that actual performance is measured against acceptable standards and established goals. If you choose to guess and only go by what you initially saw and believed you will not be as close to reality as you think. I don’t think this is easy. I don’t take criticism well from too many people. But if I want to get better at whatever I do, I will need to find a mentor or coach who knows how to offer constructive criticism that I won’t reject.
To put it another way, it is like having a music teacher. My children take lessons. The only way they can get better is to listen to the teacher. I have been present at some of the lessons and listen to how the teacher corrects and encourages. They have occasionally taped the lesson so my children can hear how they are doing. After a while they can pick out most things before the teacher needs to mention them. But, even as they progress, they need the coach and mentor to make sure they are progressing as far as they possibly can.
If you and your organization want to be as good as you and they can be, you need to realistically evaluate your performance and not succumb to your perceptions. Reality can be presented with modern technology. Use it to continually evaluate, critique, and improve.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) and chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.
By Rich Marinucci