You’ve been working hard to set the stage for success. Now, you and your employees can start writing your center’s new story, together.
If you’ve been following this article series leading up to the April 13 release of my new book, “People Driven Leadership: How the Best 9-1-1 Centers Inspire Positive Change,” you know that this is the final installment.
Over the past ten weeks, I’ve shared research, stories and experiences from People Driven Centers across the country. As we’ve seen, both centers with long-established reputations for success and centers that have made astonishing improvements alike offered valuable insights and encouragement. Through these 20 articles, I hoped to provide leaders looking to inspire positive change with a few of the tools that would help them, and their centers, get there.
If you’ve been working during this time to bring some of these changes to life at your center — a healthy culture, better communication, and People Driven values, to name a few — you have reached an exciting part of the process. No, your center won’t be completely “transformed” yet, and yes, some of the changes you’ve made will have been hard-won.
But the foundation has been laid. You’ve been working hard to set the stage for success. Now, you and your employees can start writing your center’s new story, together.
STARTING A NEW STORY
It took years for the director at a center on the U.S. east coast to bring a new story to life, but she didn’t stop until she — and her people — had done it.
A consolidation of county emergency management and city police teams three years prior had resulted in animosity and division. United in name only, two separate teams worked under the same roof. Personnel from the city had a reputation for unfriendliness and didn’t work well with their county colleagues. To make matters worse, the operations supervisor had a bad habit of playing favorites, sowing further discord within the center.
At the time, the director above, whom I’ll call Mary, was working as a supervisor of a 23-person squad. She saw the negative effects of the ops supervisor’s favoritism firsthand. When a line level employee reported the bad behavior of one of the ops supervisor’s favorites, Mary said, “I agree something must be done, and I’ll follow up with you soon.”
When she brought the concerns to her boss, she was told leadership wouldn’t be taking any action. Mary didn’t back down. “I assured the employee I would follow up, so you’ll have to do something. You tell her why nothing has been done.”
Not long after, the ops supervisor was removed from her position, and Mary was appointed in her place to make the necessary changes.
Within the first month, Mary had met with all four squads and communicated the new expectations. For the most part, the team embraced her ideas. Out of 86 total employees, 75 were ready to make a change. The 10 or 11 who weren’t on board made snide comments, saying, “We’re not doing anything different. We’ve always done it this way.”
The shakeup took about 14 months. With the new standard in place, Mary and her team began holding people accountable for their actions. A 16-year employee and a 7-year employee were both eventually let go because they refused to adhere to the new expectations. After a verbal warning, then a written warning, and then suspension, they were finally dismissed.
Discipline was used only as a last resort. One of the biggest positive changes to the center’s culture and morale occurred after Mary began to set aside four hours each month to work a console on the floor. It was something the previous director had never done. Initially, the team was concerned and wondered, “Why is she here? Did we do something wrong?” Then they began to understand. They saw she could do the job and was keeping her skills fresh. They saw they could relate to her—that she was one of them.
Communicating expectations, setting a standard, and holding people accountable for this standard helped the center overcome its biggest challenge: bridging the gap between city and county employees. Five years after the consolidation, they realized the vision of becoming a truly unified team—instead of working separately as city and county.
Mary took over after year three, and it took her two years to make the transformation a reality. Even with 90% of staff supporting the effort, along with a compelling vision, it still took time.
I asked Mary what advice she has for the line-level supervisors who have lost hope. Despite the good they know they can do, these individuals often feel stuck between the employees they work for and the managers they work under. She shared the principles that have guided her during her 30+ year career:
“Stay focused on what you believe needs to happen,” she said. “Always take the high road if someone tries to take you down, and stay the course. Follow-up with your people. Assure and show them you are trying to do the right thing. Don’t let anybody change your ideal. If you know what needs to happen, it’s your turn to make it happen. It won’t happen overnight, but it can happen.”
What story is your center ready to tell? What is the legacy you’ll leave?
The People Driven Leaders across the country who have turned their centers around are proof that amazing changes are possible. It’s not idealism if it’s true.
“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, click here.