Having a team that supports your efforts as a People Driven Leader is key to making lasting improvements to your comm center’s culture.
Making positive changes at your comm center can be a huge undertaking, and you can’t do it alone. In fact, the People Driven Leader knows it risks the center’s long-term success to try. People Driven Leaders are dynamic forces for positive change, but they still need a strong team to help put their plans into action.
Here’s how you can build a team — of both new hires and existing employees — that will support and invest in the positive changes you make as a People Driven Leader.
THE 4 KEYS TO BUILDING STRONGER TEAMS
#1) Skillfully handle difficult conversations.
People Driven Leaders know innately what’s already been proven — that emotional intelligence, or how a person identifies and understands emotions in themselves and others, has a powerful effect on the success of a comm center. That’s because emotional intelligence influences the quality of virtually every aspect of our lives, from how we behave, to our relationships, to the personal decisions we make.
It’s easy to see, therefore, how even one person with a bad attitude, poor outlook on life, or generally negative demeanor can potentially sink the success of an entire comm center.
In the course of my research, I spoke to one Director of a mid-size PSAP in the Midwest who handled this very type of employee.
This Director’s “problem child” frequently soured shifts with her pessimistic mood. When she started her shift, the employee would slam her bag down at the console, sigh deeply during and after calls, and frequently slam the phone receiver down. Everything she did during her shift screamed what her coworkers all knew — I don’t want to be here! It was taking a serious toll on the rest of the center.
Luckily, the Director was a People Driven Leader skilled at handling difficult exchanges. She took the employee aside for a frank conversation. Instead of threatening the employee, telling her to shape up or ship out, this director said, “We have a problem, and we need to do something about it.”
The Director made no accusations and withheld judgment. By saying “we” instead of “you,” she showed the employee that she was on her side and open to finding a solution together.
The conversation worked. The Director and employee agreed on a solution, and the employee went on to make an incredible change. A year later, the employee earned the center’s Director’s Award for her progress. A problem child no longer!
#2) Lead by example.
One of the most important qualities of an exemplary leader is that they model the way for their team. They lead by example and inspire followership as a result.
The leadership team at a center in the Midwest practiced this every day. Instead of sitting in the office reading the newspaper while their employees work hard, or coming in late and leaving early while their employees worked mandatory overtime, the Director and Assistant Director showed up. They were present and available. They helped make new hires feel like a part of the group early on. They went out with the team after work.
A team member here was a recent hire, but not new to 9-1-1. Though she had worked at four other comm centers before joining this one, she was still wary. She’d had negative experiences with bad supervisors in the past.
That changed when she got to this center.
“I felt welcomed before I even started,” the employee told me. “I didn’t feel like an outsider. I was immediately included in conversations like I had been there all along. It’s clear we’re all a part of the family, and we can talk about anything.”
By setting a positive example for their employees, the leadership team, both People Driven Leaders, inspired a culture of welcoming and inclusion among their team.
#3) Set clear expectations.
How can a team achieve their goals if they have no idea what the goals are? Mixed signals and muddled expectations can set your center back and take a toll on morale.
A PSAP in the Southwest had a problem. Up to 75 percent of trainees were leaving before they even finished the program. According to HR exit interviews, tenured staff bullied new employees, and training instructors thumped trainees on the head with a pen to get them to speed up.
The assistant manager at the time knew things didn’t have to be this way. She knew how people wanted to be treated — how she wanted to be treated. In an effort to clear the air and set new standards, she held a series of team meetings where the entire 50-person team gathered to determine how they wanted to treat one another moving forward.
These meetings helped set new expectations. Collectively, the team agreed to treat each other with respect, act with integrity, and embrace teamwork, every single day. Supervisors were held accountable for ensuring employees adhered to these new standards, and the staff was empowered to hold supervisors and peers accountable. A line had been drawn in the sand: Here’s what’s acceptable, and here’s what isn’t.
With these clear expectations in place, things began to shift. Two years later, the center was named “Best Communications Center” by the state-level NENA/APCO Chapter.
By setting clear expectations and following through, People Driven Leaders give their team a roadmap to success that everyone can follow.
#4) Inspire and build trust.
When expectations are clear and then met consistently and visibly, a comm center can establish the culture of trust required for any successful change initiative.
When one comm center faced consolidation with the local Sheriff’s Office, bringing their staffing from 64 to 145 employees, the Communications Manager knew trust would be key in making the transition work. Both centers were already dealing with morale issues, high turnover and sick time abuse, and new technology only added to the stress.
The Manager knew he had to unite his teams, somehow. “If I was going to be successful, it had to go through the employees,” he said. “If I couldn’t foster ownership and buy-in, I couldn’t meet our objectives.”
So, for the first two months of the consolidation effort, this People Driven Leader met with each of his 145 employees individually. He asked them how they thought things were going and wrote down the issues they brought up. The issues were then ranked to decide which should be tackled first.
The Manager chose to set up committees to get every member of the center involved in enacting change. One committee was in charge of examining standard operating procedures and writing new policies. Another was assigned to take on the morale issue — and it was by no accident that those assigned to the morale committee were employees who had routinely exhibited low morale themselves. Their attitudes changed when selected for the committee, because they got to own a part of the change process. They felt valued and respected for their input.
The Manager then implemented the suggestions offered by the committees, furthering inspiring organizational trust. Because they were trusted to be a part of the change initiative, they trusted the Manager had their best interests in mind. These are clear signs of People Driven Leadership.
Thanks to these efforts, the center began to see other evidence of real change. The center saved $200,000 in overtime spending in their second year. Sick time usage decreased by 54 percent. Annual turnover dropped from 44 percent to 13 percent.
Without a strong team behind them, even the most well-intentioned leader will struggle to succeed in improving their comm center. By skillfully handling difficult conversations, leading by example, setting clear expectations, and inspiring trust, People Driven Leaders empower their people to take ownership of the changes the team makes, cultivating a culture of positivity and accountability.
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 third 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.