Good feedback provides course correction, establishes trust and emphasizes employees’ strengths before weaknesses.
Too often, telecommunicators take call after call and work shift after shift without receiving one key piece of support: supportive feedback. In comm centers across the country, these employees do their part by working hard and saving lives, but they don’t receive any word on what they could be doing better — or how they’re doing at all.
For many supervisors, if “feedback” isn’t regarded as an outright expletive, it’s at the very least considered a waste of time. “What’s the harm?” some may think. “No need to take time to give feedback if everything’s going well — right?”
Unfortunately, without receiving a measure of our advancement towards becoming a better calltaker, dispatcher, or supervisor, we begin to wonder what the point is. Then, when we’re forced to work OT, cover a holiday or get bumped to an unwanted shift, it’s a lot more difficult to answer the question, “What am I working so hard for?”
A recent study even found that those who didn’t get feedback were just as dissatisfied with work as those who received only negative feedback.
WHY IS FEEDBACK ESSENTIAL?
Giving team members regular feedback is essential for a number of reasons. It provides an opportunity for them to course-correct if needed. When dispensed weekly, it gives supervisors a perfect avenue for building rapport and trust, while offering the chance to catch employees doing something right. One director requires his supervisors to maintain a positive-to-negative feedback ratio of 3 to 1. This is much easier to do when giving feedback is built into the workweek.
The problem is, most organizations don’t know how to provide useful feedback. A glance at the stats from the general corporate world tells the story: Only 36% of supervisors complete appraisals thoroughly and on time. In one recent survey, 55% of employees said their most recent performance review had been unfair or inaccurate, and one in four said they dread such evaluations more than anything else in their working lives.
Part of the problem is the supervisor’s inability or unwillingness to have difficult feedback discussions. Another part is the tone that many supervisors use when giving feedback. When an employee makes a mistake, the natural response is frustration. The traditional approach is to reprimand the employee in some way, in the hope that the punishment will “teach them a lesson.” Research shows that a compassionate approach is much more effective in building trust and loyalty.
HOW TO GIVE BETTER FEEDBACK: THE QA APPROACH
Aside from the tone with which most feedback is dispensed, the frequency with which it’s usually offered must also be changed. One of the most effective ways to increase the number of opportunities to have feedback conversations is to implement and correctly use a QA (Quality Assurance) approach. While many centers have some sort of QA procedure, I’ve found that many fail to use QA to its full potential.
APCO and NENA’s Standard for Establishment of a Quality Assurance and Quality Improvement Program at Public Safety Answering Points was released in 2015 to address the need for a consistently applied protocol of telecommunicator call handling performance and improvement. One of the authors and major proponents of the standard was Nathan Lee, husband to Denise Amber Lee, who was slain after a failure of the 9-1-1 system in the area of her residence.
This breakdown in the 9-1-1 system was not a technical breakdown. All the calls placed were connected. The phones and CAD systems worked that day. Rather, it was a breakdown in adherence to protocol and proactive supervision that led to these tragic events. Properly followed QA protocols help prevent such breakdowns.
QA THE RIGHT WAY
Though they undeniably help save lives and improve centers, QA programs frequently get a bad rap — through no fault of their own. Since many front line employees have been conditioned to expect mostly negative feedback from supervisors, they’re often more suspicious of added scrutiny. I’ve heard many comm center employees say of QA initiatives, “They’re just trying to get us into trouble.”
But that’s not the point of QA at all — in fact, quite the opposite. The goal is to catch people doing great work, while ensuring the quality of total work output. If tied back to the center’s core values, it’s a powerful way to keep looping back to what your center stands for. If one of your core values is “Excellence in all we say and do,” for example, the QA program is one of the best opportunities center supervision has to maintain a consistent standard of excellence.
When used the right way, a QA program gives center leadership the opportunity to provide weekly coaching and performance feedback for employees — a chance to build connection and provide guidance.
Without a system for accountability in place and used regularly, a center’s culture will gravitate to the lowest common denominator. The QA program offers this system, and, when properly implemented, acts as a safety net to prevent the entire center from dropping to its lowest possible levels.
There is always room for improvement in 9-1-1. The best centers view feedback and QA programs as chances to reinforce their commitment to being an exemplary center. By using these solutions, we can ensure dedicated team members excel in a job they find challenging, yet deeply meaningful.
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 15th 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.