If you aren’t intentionally creating a positive place to work, you are unintentionally creating the opposite.
Everywhere you turn, there’s another article or study or webinar about staffing challenges in 9-1-1. The stress of the job is often cited as the primary reason why people leave; but when we look deeper, it’s clear there’s more to the story.
Recent research provides further insight: In several studies involving 9-1-1 telecommunicators, almost all of the top ten stressors have nothing to do with the work itself. Dispatchers list poor leadership, management/administration issues, lack of recognition and a sense of insignificance within the department as primary sources of stress.
Each of these issues points to an insidious but often overlooked culprit: comm center culture.
When a culture is at its best, it will motivate employees and make them feel good about coming into work every day. At its worst, it can drag down productivity and undermine long-term success.
Either way, culture plays a huge part in determining whether your center succeeds or fails.
Here’s a few things all People Driven Leaders should know about their center’s culture:
#1) It may be hard to change at first…
All of the organizational variables and individual characteristics I’ve discussed in these articles so far — from emotional intelligence to leading by example — come together to form your center’s culture. An organization’s culture is typically viewed as those deeply held values, beliefs, assumptions, symbols, and rituals shared across the organization.
Culture is formed as a result of repetition and indoctrination, and is reinforced through the socialization of new employees by the center’s leaders. Culture runs deep. Anything that takes time to establish also takes time to change.
In order to change a culture, you must also change the behaviors and mindsets that led to its formation in the first place. This means first changing the climate — the attitudes and social processes that reflect how the center operates day to day. Compared to an organization’s culture, the climate is less ingrained and usually easier to change. It is more malleable and influential in the short term.
#2) …but not impossible.
Changing the climate and culture of a center can be tough, but for People Driven Leaders, it’s never impossible.
Culture and climate work together to influence how employees feel about coming into work. No center can be high-performing without first having a culture that promotes it. Likewise, if the daily climate is overwhelmingly negative, it’s likely that the culture of your organization is responsible.
People Driven Leaders can immediately begin to turn their center’s climate and culture around by taking quick and decisive action to signal their vision. These quick actions can illustrate the potential for positive change, and work to shift the climate from deeply negative and cynical to somewhat optimistic. This fosters heightened engagement, and helps convert even the most withdrawn, pessimistic employees into contributing partners to the change initiative.
Some of the quick-action initiatives deployed by the People Driven Leaders I studied included:
- Sitting down with every employee, one-on-one, to ask about their perceptions of the workplace, and why they believe things are this way
- Locating the resources and spending money on issues screaming for attention (dilapidated consoles, paint flaking off the walls of the center, broken chairs)
- Inviting employees into the culture-change conversation in a meaningful way, including designated committees, weekly meetings, or face to face exchanges
- Soliciting feedback on the “hot button” issues and moving quickly to alleviate the pressure they cause (uniforms, shift rotations, CAD adjustments)
These initiatives seem simple, but they go a long way to cement trust between People Driven Leaders and their employees — which is the first step in transforming climate and culture. Asking your whole team to help brainstorm some issues that they want to see shift short-term — within the next four to twelve weeks — can help create excitement about the upcoming changes and get them invested in your vision.
Critically, a shift in the climate also makes employees more willing to embrace the deeper changes required to change culture, which is the ultimate goal.
#3) It’s always worth it.
One of the challenges with culture is that, if leadership is not intentional about shaping it, the organization may unintentionally shape it itself — and not always in ways that are conducive to success.
This doesn’t mean that managers are intentionally driving people out of the job. But when leaders continually neglect employees’ needs, employees begin to form negative perceptions (“we don’t matter”) that define the center’s culture over time.
The subtlety and nuance inherent to people-focused issues like culture can feel frustrating when there are more straightforward challenges with black-and-white solutions to address. “Who has the time?” we may think. “There’s fires to put out!”
An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, so says the old adage. Adopting a proactive mindset is essential for preventing fires before they start. If you aren’t intentionally creating a positive place to work, you are unintentionally creating the opposite.
Transforming your comm center’s climate and culture may be a challenge, but no challenge is more vital to your center’s long-term success. By taking the time to analyze the climate and culture, you’ll also be better equipped to understand the fundamental perceptions and attitudes that drive your center’s current performance, and see what you can do to improve it.
Thanks for reading this article, containing excerpts of my upcoming book, “People Driven Leadership: How the Best 9-1-1 Centers Inspire Positive Change.” In anticipation of its release on April 13th, I’m excited to share brief snapshots like this each Wednesday and Friday, exclusively for The Healthy Dispatcher community.
This is the fifth article of 20. Stay tuned for the next!
“People Driven Leadership: How the Best 9-1-1 Centers Inspire Positive Change” will be available on April 13, 2020, the beginning of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. For more details, visit The Healthy Dispatcher website.