Clear communication and bold leadership are two indicators your PSAP is on its way to becoming a People Driven Center.
Over the last several articles, I’ve shared what People Driven Leaders do that sets them apart. We know they look for ways to show they care about their employees, and that they rely on emotional intelligence to address their biggest challenges. We also know they lead by example and set clear expectations.
But what does a People Driven Center look like? How can you tell you’re on the right track?
The following five signs appeared consistently during my conversations, and they can help illustrate where you’re at so you can better understand where you still might need to grow. Don’t worry if you can’t check all the boxes off yet; transformation takes time.
#1) Communication is clear and flows freely.
A People Driven Center embraces free-flowing communication across all ranks. Communication is frequent amongst line employees, as well as between the line and supervision. The communication is two-way and non-threatening. It doesn’t consist merely of the gossip mill. Face-to-face discussion, in addition to written documentation, is important.
For years, the team at a center in Michigan didn’t feel heard. They had resigned themselves to being forgotten and unseen members of public safety. A newly hired director changed this. From the beginning, the new director was very clear about where the organization needed to be—his vision—but he was open about the specific path the team could take to get there. After just three days on the job, he moved in the direction of this vision. He sat down with everyone and gave them an opportunity to speak, bridging the divide the tough years had created. He was particularly detailed about his expectations with supervisors. With clearly articulated expectations and hope for the future, the team opened to new possibilities.
#2) Team members are involved and participate in decision making.
Inspiration follows when all levels of the organization are appropriately involved in decision making. Employees possess organizational ownership when they feel as though they had a hand in improvements. The organization must reflect a sense of openness. Fear and intimidation aren’t components of the cultural landscape.
Armed with suggestions from line personnel and with the help of the reinvigorated supervisory team, the director above made sweeping changes to outdated policies and procedures, created a Certified Training Officer (CTO) program (employees previously had not received any training), and did whatever possible to build rapport. It didn’t take long for staff to see that the director walked his talk. He was there for them, provided clear guidance, and then let them figure things out. “Sure, I’m the boss,” he said, “but I work for you.”
#3) A feeling of trust and loyalty permeates the organization.
An atmosphere of high interpersonal trust exists in a People Driven Center. Employees generally feel proud to tell people where they work and what they do. They look forward to coming to work and feel their center is a good place to work. They willingly attend work-related meetings and share time together outside of the center.
The staff soon saw the new director was there for them. In the words of one supervisor during that time, “After talking with him, we were hopeful. We agreed to give him a chance and to see what could happen.” An amazing turnaround in morale resulted as the staff saw they were getting the support they’d never had before. Within one year of these changes, a center that couldn’t meet minimum staffing was fully staffed. The 9-1-1 board said, “You get fully staffed [at 24 positions], we’ll give you more bodies.” They followed through, plus let the new director hire four operations managers.
#4) Morale is generally high.
Positive morale is critical to a healthy climate. This is demonstrated by a friendly atmosphere where employees like each other, like their jobs, and approach the work with enthusiasm. Overall, employees are motivated both personally and on behalf of the organization.
The biggest task the new director faced was building rapport with staff and rekindling trust in management. In addition to operational changes and frequent communication, he invested in his staff in another way. He bought all new equipment—consoles, radios, monitors, CAD system, chairs—and renovated the dispatch center. The new director enabled his team to perform at a higher level than ever before. He shared his vision, set expectations, and then stepped aside. This type of leadership creates more leaders. It unifies the team around a common purpose, and it helps people understand their true worth. Who wouldn’t want to work at a center where it’s clear your efforts are recognized and appreciated?
#5) Leadership is seen as acting in the best interest of the greater whole.
Leadership relationships play an important role in a People Driven Center. Employees must perceive leaders as working well within and throughout the organization. Leaders must be seen as acting in the best interest of the department and generally friendly and approachable.
In effect, the new director helped his people realize their fullest potential. He didn’t fire everyone and start over. He didn’t bring in a bunch of outsiders to do the jobs of the existing team members. Instead, he said, in very clear terms, “Here’s where we need to go; let’s get there together.” A People Driven Leader trusts his people to know the way. The existing personnel at this center were dedicated. They loved the job. They wanted each other to succeed. And when they were given the right tools, they did.
“[Our new director] inspired commitment to the organization,” said a tenured supervisor, “not commitment to him. In fact, he would never take credit for what’s happened.”
In my conversations with this director, I’m struck by his deep humility. He always pays deference to his team. I caught up with him once at a conference and said, “I’d love to hear how things are going at the center since our last conversation; do you have a few minutes?”
Without hesitation, he said, “Oh, you should really talk to the Ops Manager, she’s done such a great job.”
Only by assessing your employees’ perceptions of each of these areas can you begin to understand where improvement is possible and necessary. Some center managers may shy away from taking a closer look at the people side of the business because they fear what they might find. Others may not know where to start. Sussing out deep issues in an effort to make lasting positive changes is a sign of strength and commitment. When done in the interest of those who work under the headset, it’s also a sign that your center is People Driven.
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 sixth 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.