9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ten Tips to Boost Retention And Reduce Turnover

Taken from Emergency Communications Professional Magazine, July 2010, Vol. 28/Number 5
Written by Kristyn Emenecker, Director of Solutions Marketing for Berint Systems (Melville, KY)

"How was work today?"  It's a question that echoes in homes all over the world at the end of every workday.  Let's say your response was a positive one.  You helped a co-worker find resolution to a reoccurring problem.  You were acknowledged for a successful outcome or completion of a big project.  Someone noticed your skills and reinforced how valuable you are to the team.   Time and time again, reducing employee turnover and boosting retention comes down to one thing -- the fact that people like and need to feel appreciated for a job well done.  To keep employees happy and content, this approach is applied to most lines of business, including public safety agencies.  Below are 10 simple tips that public safety  managers and supervisors can put into practice to help boost retention and reduce turnover in their public safety answering points (PSAPs).

#1: Start at the Beginning
Hire the right people for the job!  Many smaller PSAPs don't have access to dedicated human resources staff of professional recruiters, which can create challenges in finding strong candidates.  Making the right hiring decisions considerable improves your ability to maintain a strong staff, and reduces the likelihood that high turnover will be an issue.  Look around your center.  Who are your best performers?  Where did they come from?  Were they referrals from other staff?  Are they consistently from a certain organization, school or job fair?  Do your most dependable employees hold common skills or characteristics?  Identify the model that seems to work well and keep that in mind when you create job descriptions and seek candidates in the future.

#2: Communicate Constantly
Communication increases trust and decreases fear.  This is especially important in PSAP environments due to the stressful nature of the job.  Communication should span from the top down and from the bottom up.  Employees naturally communicate with each other, but sometimes need encouragement to communicate with superiors.  A transparent environment that provides open communication and encourages feedback from the frontline lets employees feel validated, useful and part of a larger cause or organization.

#3: Spell Out a Career Path
Share with your employees that you understand their career goals and passions.  By offering individual career planning, along with performance benchmarks and goals, you can help employees move from the mentality of "easily replaceable and necessary paycheck" to "passionately-pursued career."  Managers should take the time to find out the short- and long-term goals of those they manage.  For example, does your call taker want to become a dispatcher?  Or, perhaps they would like to eventually work in another area within the agency.  Are there opportunities to shadow specific colleagues in reward for good performance and as part of a long-term goal to learn that skill?  Are there management skills they'd like to learn?  Would they like to earn their ENP?  This doesn't mean you need a job opening available for them tomorrow.  Helping them work toward a goal by enhancing their skill set not only helps your agency, but also avoids the employee from looking for the "next step" somewhere else.

#4: Empower and Increase Accountability
Hire people who can make sound decisions and then give them the direction and freedom to do so.  Explain that with power comes responsibility.  Accountability is a positive thing -- it's a necessary trait for those who seek bigger and better things in life.  Of course, a manager shouldn't suddenly give employees more responsibility than they can handle.  A manager needs to gradually train and educate employees, as well as provide them with feedback on a regular basis.  Increasing accountability leads to empowerment and often to employees who stay with your organization.

Additionally, empowerment can be gained through access to information.  Leading PSAPs are leveraging quality assurance and other performance measures -- delivered in an online scorecard specific to each employee -- to help them feel in control of where they stand and what they can do better.  Measurements like speed to entry, call review score and schedule adherence are compared to individual goals, as well as to the average for the rest of their shift or team.  This helps engage in healthy competition and focuses on them achieving excellence, while avoiding surprises at review time.

#5: Provide Leadership Training for Supervisors, Team Leaders and Other Frontline Managers
Those responsible for the day-to-day management of and interaction with your call takers and dispatchers are often the biggest influences on employee retention and morale.  These special individuals need to fully understand and embrace a culture of communication, positive reinforcement, coaching and development.  Supervisors are often moved into a leadership role because they were "super dispatchers."  This means they understand the job their employees are doing, but not necessarily how to develop the skills that may have come naturally to them when the role was reversed.  Good coaching is a learned skill.  Where there are weak supervisors, there is high turnover.  Thankfully, quality assurance and training tools can help make feedback and guidance a seamless part of daily operations.  They provide out-of-the-box workflows for scheduling, delivering and tracking telecommunicator coaching.  Great training courses are available as well, and even a book or two focused on improving business can provide a great start.  Supervisors must not ignore employee communication -- it is much too important to leave to instinct and intentions alone.

#6: Purposefully Plan to Celebrate Success
The "purposeful" nature of this tip is important.  Some celebrations just happen, but this needs to be done regularly, celebrating both individual accomplishments and team successes.  These victories must be varied -- if only one type of success is celebrated, you run the risk of only a few people being repeatedly recognized, which can defeat the goal.  Be specific.  "Shelly did a great job yesterday of maintaining composure with a very emotional caller.  I'd like everyone to take a moment and listen to the conversation."  In another example, "Gina handled one of the most chaotic hours on dispatching we've seen in a while, and kept a cool and clear head throughout.  Fantastic job!"  Find a way to incorporate genuine appreciation and recognition into your day on a regular basis.  You don't always have to acknowledge one certain trait or skill, which leads to the next tip.

#7: Recognize Diverse Conributions
The term "one size fits all" doesn't apply to call takers in a PSAP.  Maintaining consistency is a critical component of good dispatching and call taking.  It's also important to realize that no two people are exactly alike or will find success in the same way.  Allowing for individual recognition creates an environment that is conducive to success.  For example, one telecommunicator may excel at providing comfort to distraught callers, while another is efficient and precise and has the highest speed-to-entry.  Both are important and can learn from one another.  Each employee needs to be recognized for their unique contribution.

#8: Provide a Mission
Those working in the PSAP need to fully understand the life and death nature of the business, and the way in which calls are managed should be taken seriously.  We sometimes take for granted the mission is assumed, but it is easy to get trapped into the daily grind and forget the all too important role of helping citizens during emergency situations.  It is the responsibility of the manager to communicate how individual roles impact the big picture, giving call takers a sense of being a part of something larger than themselves.  Their actions could potentially change the course of people's lives, making them everyday heroes -- and this cannot be stressed enough.

#9: Acknowledge Them from the Ivory Tower
Senior-level acknowledgement, no matter how small, goes a long way.  Again, this doesn't always "just happen," even with the best of intentions.  Identify a course of action or plan for agency directors, elected officials or another member of senior management to offer regular recognition, reinforcing a sense of pride and accomplishment to respective employees.  For example, supervisors or PSAP managers can select exemplary calls each  month and e-mail a copy of the recording to senior officials.  In acknowledgement of his/her appreciation, a senior official can then send a brief note to the call taker or dispatcher who handled the conversation to reinforce a job well done.  Another option is to invite your VIP for an onsite visit and acknowledge the good work of your employees.  Finally, remember to nominate your deserving call takers or dispatchers for any organization accolades such as NENA's "William E. Stanton Award" or the E9-1-1 Institute's "Call Taker/Dispatcher of the Year" award.

#10: Institute Exit Interviews and Apply the Findings
Upon notice that an individual is leaving your agency, schedule an exit interview to discuss the reasons behind the person's departure.  This is a great opportunity to obtain constructive feedback.  Don't let this information sit idle.  Apply the findings so the organization can improve as an employer.

The more employees feel that great sense of accomplishment, the more they want to earn it again.  Tips like these are quick to implement, and can help your PSAP boost retention and curb turnover in one of the most important and rewarding careers in the industry.

No comments:

Post a Comment