9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Joy of Management: Motivation by Example

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, December 2011

Written by Patricia R. Mooney, communications manager of Lucas County (Ohio) EMS and an Ohio APCO member. She has more than 30 years of management experience in both the private-business and public safety sectors.

Comm center management has evolved over the years that I have been a manager. During my college years, I worked as a manager in a retail sales establishment, which taught me a lot about communicating with people. Likewise, many of my college classes revolved around management, humans resources and personnel productivity. I still enjoy taking these types of classes, which might explain why I'm writing this article. From my perspective, comm center managers need to enjoy supervising, leading and working alongside their dispatchers.

When I began my public safety career in 1988, I saw many negative people management principles being used. Initially, many of the dispatchers were people who were in trouble, on medical placement or had low seniority, which explained why they were working in a comm center. I saw no motivation being given to these personnel to better themselves, the comm center or promote good morale.

When I sat with one of these dispatchers, I was informed that they prioritized calls according to various specifications. For example, if the incident involved a weapon it would be a priority 2, unless there was an injury which would raise it to a priority 1 call. Crimes that were reported as happening right now -- or in progress -- were also given priority 2.

While I was sitting with the dispatcher, we receive a call about a dog barking. In reviewing the priority listing, I felt the call would be prioritized as a "noise" complaint -- priority 4. However, the dispatcher said it would be a priority 2, because the dog was barking right now.

I learned by the end of my visit that this telecommunicator coded everything priority 2, making the priority 2 queue almost unmanageable. No manager talked to this dispatcher; he was only temporarily assigned to the comm center, so why make waves?

Over the years, comm centers have evolved from using temporarily assigned personnel to using career telecommunicators. People actually apply for these positions because they want to work in a comm center. What a novel idea, having someone who truly wants to be there work in that position.

There are college-level classes in comm center dispatching, specialized training for dispatchers (e.g. EMD, EFD, EPD), and even public safety management courses. Yes, we have come a long way, but, we also still have a long way to go.

Our personnel have evolved out of the dark ages, but has our comm center management evolved? Do you or any other managers/supervisors feel that your personnel get a good paycheck for doing their job, so money is their prime motivator for showing up to work? Don't get trapped into believing that the only motivator for working is money. Yes, we all need a good salary, but we also need to be treated in a way that makes us feel like we belong to a team that positively affects others lives. So what can management do to promote positivism?

Each team member must be given all the tools needed to handle their responsibilities and understand how their position fits in the big picture of public safety. Initial training should include how they answer the phone, how they enter a call and how they talk on the radio, and explain the why behind the actions. Giving trainees the big picture will help them understand the reasoning behind why they are expected to do things a specific way.

Be certain to have a policy and procedure handbook that covers day-to-day situations. This establishes the foundation of the comm center responsibilities. However, don't try to write a policy for each situation; it's better to empower your team members to handle incidents that are outside "normal" daily incidents.

Historically, managers have been afraid to empower their employees. They'd rather be paged whenever something beyond standard operating procedure (SOP) occurs. However, telecommunicators who have been empowered to handle situations not covered by an established SOP and then notify the manager typically have a personal investment in the position. This leads to the development of a more cohesive team.

In other words, don't keep them in the dark and fertilize them with manure. Often, morale problems can begin with rumors of things to come, especially when the perception is that management keeps secrets from team members. I know at times management can't give out all the information to their employees, but being truthful during those times will be accepted positively by the employee. Just say, "At this time, I can't give out the details, but when I can, I will."

If you then follow through, your employees will trust that you'll not keep them in the dark and you'll gain their confidence.

Don't show your face on the comm center floor just when something is wrong, or everyone will cringe every time you step out of your office. One of the hardest things for managers to do is to adopt MBWA -- the management by walking around style.

You should get out on your comm center floor and listen to your telecommunicators' comments, suggestions and, yes, their complaints. They are the people who handle the job day in and day out, and they'll have some good suggestions, if you just listen. If you take some action on their comments, you'll show your support for them.

Other ways to show support are to discuss with them ongoing training programs, hold regular comm center meetings, maintain a positive attitude and, at the very least, say hello and be polite when walking by an employee. Think about it: You say hi to total strangers you pass in a hallway. Why wouldn't you do the same for the people you trust to make your comm center run smoothly?

Making your telecommunicators' environment comfortable will help keep morale high among team members. Such factors as lighting, temperature, visual and audio distractions, and especially the chair and console can have a large impact on your telecommunicators' ability to efficiently handle their duties.

In the past, many managers felt that taking suggestions from the team in regard to ergonomics would not be cost effective; telecommunicators would surely choose the most expensive items. A dispatch chair meant to be used 24/7 might be slightly more expensive than a normal office chair, but we need to look at the bigger picture: cost compared to time in service, warranty offered, telecommunicator comfort and acceptance. The chair you choose can have a great effect on your overall comm center's effectiveness, making a few extra dollars spent a very good investment.

Set the bar. If you set the bar on the side of high expectations, then your dispatchers will meet it. Expect your telecommunicators to handle situations appropriately, and they will. Don't set them up to fail by expecting them to fail.

Managers must also lead by example and show their good morale, positive attitude, ability to work as part of the team and professionalism. When you show telecommunicators what's expected of them, they'll work to reach the bar.

If the manager is constantly negative, doesn't back the telecommunicators in their decisions or doesn't fight for things that will help the dispatchers do their jobs, then you will have created a non-functioning, disgruntled, unenthusiastic team.

A manager who consistently shows they care about their telecommunicators and is willing to go to bat for them will help build a cohesive, happy and motivated team.

Think of what treats your dispatchers would enjoy. We all know that bagels, donuts, cookies, candy, pizza and cakes can create a positive surprise for your team. But what kind of treats could you occasionally supply that wouldn't also make their weight move up on the scales? Possibly, 100-calorie packs of snacks, cookies, etc. to help keep the serving portion in mind would be a good surprise. Non-food items such as stress balls, coffee mugs, key chains or greeting cards can also help keep morale elevated.

Do you allow telecommunicators to eat at their desk, drink coffee at their workstation or even have a candy bar while at work? Some comm centers are very strict on their rules about food while others are more lenient. When considering this aspect of operations, remember that people who eat together can feel more like family, which will create a tighter knit team. If you have strict rules against eating in the comm center, maybe you should look at allowing an occasional potluck and see how things go. Surprise the troops.

Another idea: Schedule a holiday gathering at a local restaurant to allow team members and managers to meet in a more social atmosphere where you're all equal. The telecommunicators may take this idea and surprise you by turning it into a quarterly or monthly social gathering, which will also help keep morale positive.

So what's the difference between comm center management then and now? The comm center is not longer "that place" where people are assigned as punishment or light duty. Public safety communications has become a career of choice and has become a profession, not just a job. Managers need to enjoy supervising this unique action-oriented group of individuals. Telecommunicators today are proud of the job they do, and they want to continue learning, be given clear directions, goals and policies, and be trusted to handle their responsibilities consistently.

The manager then was more worried about getting the job done and less worried about how telecommunicators fit into the equation. Often, they said such things as, "If you don't like the way I run the place, there's the door," "Because I said so," and "You get paid to do this job, don't you?"

The manager now is not only the leader of the team, but should be part of the team, a leader who worries not only about getting the job done, but empowering and supporting each team member. Comments from today's managers should include, "What do you think of this draft procedure?," "We're changing our policy because..." and "How's your family doing?"

Managers are somewhat like parents. They have to set the guidelines and boundaries, deal with those who do not follow the rules, and try to keep them on the right path of life. But is that all moms and dads do? No, they also talk with their kids, ask them how their day is going, laugh with them, sometimes cry with them and, hopefully, have fun with them; they truly care about them.

Telecommunicators do a stressful, important job in today's society, and no one says they can't enjoy doing it. And some of that enjoyment starts at the top and runs downhill. Managers, don't just let the bad stuff run downhill. Show your team that good things can also come from management.

Start today by going out to your communications center. Spend some quality time, say hi to everyone, ask how their day is going and really listen when they respond. You might surprise yourself, and find out that you enjoy managing people today even more than you did yesterday.

No comments:

Post a Comment