Emotional intelligence, prioritizing the human element and focusing on the “soft stuff” help turn these comm centers into a high-performing environment.
In my first article, 3 Signs of a People Driven Leader, I examined a few of the traits that set effective leaders apart from the rest, and used some examples from my research to illustrate the real-life benefits of People Driven Leadership.
Unfortunately, the kind of People Driven Leaders I discussed can seem few and far between in an industry plagued with high turnover and employee dissatisfaction. It’s easy to find news of understaffed centers and overworked teams and think, ”If there really were People Driven Leaders out there, these kinds of problems wouldn’t happen!”
The truth is that there are People Driven Leaders — and people with the potential to become People Driven Leaders — at every center.
The trouble is that, for problems that we think are technical — work stress, long hours, low pay — we turn to technical leaders who employ technical solutions. While technical leaders are great at handling the tasks of day-to-day comm center life while focusing on the nuts and bolts of the job, they often are ill-equipped to address the issues at the root of high turnover, employee dissatisfaction and work stress.
That’s because these issues aren’t technical problems that can be solved with technical, short-term, quick-fix solutions like rewritten policies or modest pay raises. Sure, those things might help — for a little while.
The fact is, the issues facing many centers today, such as staffing, overtime and workplace negativity, are adaptive challenges. Adaptive challenges require emotional intelligence, prioritization of the human element, and steady attention to the “soft stuff” to fix.
That’s where People Driven Leaders come in.
Here’s how People Driven Leaders improve their centers in ways other leaders simply can’t:
3 Ways People Driven Leaders Can Improve Your PSAP
#1) They use emotional intelligence.
There’s no denying that technical skills are a big part of our job. Following protocol, processing calls correctly, and skillfully working with equipment are all important. As such, other skills are overlooked, and the most tenured dispatchers are those who tend to receive promotional opportunities. These people are great dispatchers, to be sure, but not necessarily equipped — or inclined — to lead others.
This is a mistake. According to my research, technical experience only matters so much in a leader. (After all, you’re not managing protocol or software — you’re leading people!) What’s much more important is a leader with emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence allows them to identify the root of problems early by asking questions, talking solutions and maintaining open communication with their team members.
Emotional intelligence also helps People Driven Leaders address a major adaptive challenge with which technical leaders often struggle: employee dissatisfaction. Do your employees feel prepared for their job? Do they feel appreciated? Do they feel mentored? Do they feel confident that this is the job for them?
It takes a People Driven Leader to know how to gauge satisfaction on issues like these, and to know which steps to take if a positive adjustment is required.
#2) They prioritize the human element.
Technical leaders focus on metrics because data and figures are straightforward. Facts or numbers don’t have a personality to contend with. Technical leaders identify a problem, make the necessary policy changes and expect that’s the end of it.
But human beings aren’t computer programs. We don’t always follow rules just because they’re rules. If employees are overworked and use sick days as an excuse not to come in, a technical leader might simply start requiring a doctor’s note. But that doesn’t prevent or discourage people from getting notes from the doctor and taking time off anyway. Nor does it identify the root of the issue — that employees feel overlooked and overworked.
People Driven Leaders don’t just rely on the numbers on a page for what they need to know about their comm center — they look to the people on the floor.
It’s okay to look at metrics, but it’s also important that you’re measuring the right things to get the most accurate picture of your center.
People Driven Leaders know which measurements matter, and can use that information to create solutions to curb challenges like sick time abuse.
#3) They pay attention to the “soft stuff.”
It’s much easier to be a technical leader than a People Driven Leader. Technical leaders often point to charts and percentages as the basis for their quick-fix approaches, because focusing on the “soft side” of the job — the human reasons behind the numbers — can be frustrating and time-consuming.
People Driven Leaders understand there’s more to data than the ink on the page.
The same People Driven Leader I mentioned in my last post, the Deputy Chief from the comm center in the Southwest, told me about one of the challenges his center faced. It was what most people would call a technical problem: high CPR call processing times, which impacted CPR saves.
A technical leader might have instituted one or more of the following technical “solutions” to address the problem:
- New policy penalizing dispatchers with high call processing times
- Circulate a memo reminding employees of guidelines for CPR calls
- Hire more people
- Fire the worst-performing dispatchers
This Deputy Chief used an adaptive solution instead.
He provided training classes that explained why it’s so critical to handle CPR calls quickly and efficiently. Employees learned that heart tissue begins to die within four minutes without oxygen circulating. The training classes helped employees solidify this foundational knowledge and refine their CPR call handling techniques accordingly. They became invested in the solution in a very personal way.
Because this Deputy Chief was a People Driven Leader and chose to use an adaptive solution to the problem, call processing times fell 50 percent, and CPR outcomes improved. Human lives were impacted, on both ends of the phone line.
A People Driven Leader understands quick fixes and short-term solutions just don’t cut it. Identifying the root cause of major challenges like staffing, overtime and employee dissatisfaction requires emotional intelligence and a focus on the human element at the center. With these skills, People Driven Leaders develop long-lasting adaptive solutions that ensure the natural development of a high-performance culture.
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 second 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.