If you’re struggling to get the right people in the seats (and keep them there), your hiring process could be to blame.
More and more directors are bemoaning the fact they can’t seem to get the right people in the seats. Low staffing and high turnover drag down even formerly successful centers, and leadership teams can’t understand why.
“People just aren’t cut out for this job anymore,” they might say, or “We do everything we can, but we’re still hiring duds.”
But the problem isn’t the people — it’s often the hiring process that isn’t doing the job.
To get the best people in the seats, you need a recruitment and hiring process that helps you identify the good candidates from the ill-suited right away. Here’s a few indicators that your center is still hiring with a faulty system:
#1) You wait to begin the recruitment process until you really “need” people.
In 2001, despite years of trying to improve, one West Coast comm center continued to sit at a turnover rate higher than the national average. They’d tried everything — building a new center, reorganizing the management structure, even raising pay by 18 percent. But nothing was working.
After several more years, this center finally discovered the solution had to do with the recruitment and hiring process. It wasn’t enough to scour the city for qualified candidates each time the center was understaffed — this center realized they needed to be proactive about every step of the hiring process before the need for more employees arose.
The leadership team updated the process from top to bottom. To fill up the academies, they organized a recruitment team, revisited test score cut-offs, moved the background screening to the front of the process, and used peer review. They instituted four “unfunded overhire” positions so that they would always have a trained person ready to begin when someone quit. Finally, they adjusted their lateral transfer policy and implemented a three-year recruitment and retention plan, which resulted in three full dispatch academies in a one-year period.
In short, this center’s leadership instituted policies that ensured they would have good people in place before they needed them, so they’d have the right people when the true need arose.
These changes worked, and eventually, the center’s turnover rate dropped to less than one percent.
#2) New hires resign because they didn’t know what they were getting into.
The best centers know that the hiring process is a give and take. You should have the chance to learn about the candidate, but the candidate should also have the chance to learn about the job — even (or especially!) when it comes to the challenges of the position.
Unfortunately, many recruitment initiatives in the 9-1-1 industry aren’t realistic. They’re overly rosy and provide candidates with all of the perks of the job, but none of the struggles. While this tactic may net more new hires at first, it quickly backfires when employees leave as soon as they realize the job isn’t what they thought.
To combat this, it’s important that candidates receive an honest account of what they can expect as early as possible. For example, one Southwestern center invites the candidate’s family to a meeting attended by the center’s manager and supervisor. The family is invited to ask questions and told to expect their family member will work days, nights, weekends and holidays. Not surprisingly, this particular center places a strong emphasis on family, both in and out of the center, and has a strongly inclusive culture as a result.
While some individuals simply can’t do this job—and unfortunately won’t show this until they’re in the training process—screening them out by giving them an honest description of what the job entails prevents misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations. It also prevents the agency from spending any more time, attention, and money on someone who isn’t a good fit.
#3) You hire candidates based on the “hoped for” fit.
Ever had a candidate who looked promising throughout the hiring process, but just couldn’t hack it once they got under the headset? Many directors have experienced this frustrating phenomenon, but struggle to understand what causes it. The answer? They’re hiring based on the “hoped for” fit, not based on whether the person fits right then.
One director said me, “I can teach someone the skills of the job; I can’t teach them to be nice. We don’t have the time to teach compassion with everything else we’ve got going on. We hire for fit now, not for what we hope the person will become during training.”
You can have a candidate with 9-1-1 experience and who can perform the mechanics of the job well, but isn’t kind and compassionate with callers or coworkers. If kindness and respect towards people are values that matter to your center’s culture, and your recruitment and hiring process aren’t geared towards screening for these qualities, there’s an opportunity waiting.
#4) Communications has no input during the interview process.
Whoever handles hiring for your agency—city personnel, county HR, or the like—must give Communications a hands-on role at some point in the process. Only those who work under the headset can ask the pertinent questions and vet the answers according to their real-world application.
Centers across the country, including several I spoke with for the book, have dramatically improved their candidate fit and training program success by giving communications personnel a seat on the interview board, or somewhere else in the screening process.
One center went from a “hire everyone who meets the bare minimum” hiring philosophy to re-engineering the oral interview process by asking pointed, values-driven, culture-related questions. They saw the difference right away not only in how successful their candidates were out of the academy, but years down the road as well.
It’s not easy to attract the right people, but it’s even more unfortunate when we don’t know if we’re hiring the right people, even after months of investment in the process. Addressing each one of these indicators will increase the likelihood that your new people stick around and succeed in their role.
Thanks for reading this article, containing excerpts of my upcoming book, “People Driven Leadership: How the Best 9-1-1 Centers Inspire Positive Change.”
This is the 14th 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.