Appreciation inspires commitment — but it has to be genuine, and demonstrated daily.
I began this article series in February with one simple premise: the best comm centers in this country share several common characteristics.
Throughout the series, I’ve discussed these traits at length. We’ve seen, for example, how good communication helps centers succeed, and how the People Driven Leaders who run them maximize the potential of their employees.
But the most significant trait of leaders at these high-performing centers is the manner and consistency with which they show their appreciation for their employees.
People Driven Leaders sound alike when they talk about their employees. They say things like, “I work for them, they don’t work for me.” “My job is to make their job easier.” “I look out for my people, because I can’t do this myself. They are our greatest asset.”
In James Hunter’s seminal leadership classic, “The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership,” he reveals where this sentiment comes from: love.
According to Hunter, “It’s not how you feel, but how you behave. It’s built upon influence, which is built upon service and sacrifice, which is built upon love.”
This level of appreciation from a leader inspires commitment. But it can’t be faked. It has to be real, and demonstrated daily. When it is, amazing things happen.
THE IMPORTANCE OF APPRECIATION
The assistant director at a center in the southern U.S. was holding his breath for a better situation when his agency hired a new director. Luckily, the incoming director understood leadership and got busy improving things. Within months, the new director’s efforts began to work: The culture shifted, working conditions improved, employees re-engaged with the job they loved.
Recently, when asked about these changes, the assistant director said, “I used to hate coming into work. I truly thought getting this job here was the worst mistake I’d ever made. Now, I’ve never been prouder of the place I work.”
They say in the military, “The s— rolls downhill.” But so does the good stuff! Fostering a climate of appreciation, and thereby motivation, begins simply — by greeting the person next to you, or saying “hi” when you pass a coworker in the hall. It’s nothing more or less complicated than developing an attitude of gratitude.
In fact, gratitude is so important that it even affects how well employees are able to incorporate feedback into their work. At one large center in western U.S. the director told his supervisors, “If you’re going to have an exchange with an employee that the employee might perceive as negative [constructive feedback, discipline, remediation, etc], you must first have had three positive exchanges with this employee. And you must maintain this three-positive to one-negative ratio at all times.”
According to a study, the ideal positive to negative ratio is actually closer to six-to-one — but think of the shift that even a three-to-one ratio would have on your center! If the only time your team ever hears anything from you is when it’s bad, then making a concerted effort to say something positive will go a long way towards changing your center for the better.
Some supervisors say, “It’s not my job to improve someone’s morale. Their attitude is their problem.” On one level, that’s true — you can’t magically fix someone’s mindset, or automatically boost their morale.
But some things are within your control. People Driven Leaders begin by asking themselves, “Am I doing everything within my power to make this an environment where positivity and motivation can thrive?”
DEVELOPING AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
It takes time to make a habit, and daily recognition of your employees is no exception. But it’s this everyday consistency that actually makes the most difference. For example, some centers love to go all out for National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. This is fantastic — but if once a year is the only time the team feels noticed for doing a great job, it’s not enough.
You aren’t required to expend a ton of effort to show daily gratitude, either. One center works to foster a climate of appreciation year-round with a “brag board,” where team members share important personal news, anniversaries, and accomplishments with each other. Another center identifies outstanding calls through their QA process and puts the names of those calltakers in a prize drawing. Yet another center has a bulletin board with a silly picture of every employee on it, plus a fun fact about that person. Fellow employees are encouraged to post notes of appreciation next to the photos of their peers. The board is overflowing with notes!
This kind of recognition between employees is valuable, but it simply can’t make up for absentee or negative leadership. If employees manage to establish a positive culture amongst themselves, but the leadership team doesn’t participate, it doesn’t mean that weak leadership doesn’t matter — it means that team came together despite weak leadership.
The facts are clear: People would rather come into a job that makes them feel appreciated. Sure, some cynics — proponents of the “suck it up” culture that’s so pervasive in our industry — might try to claim that people today want to work less and receive more in return.
But in reality, people just want to be happy — and if their job is preventing them from being happy, they’ll quit. Now, more than any other time in human history, we have the ability to ask ourselves what we want and then seek it out. Blame it on the Internet, blame it on social media or whatever you’d like — it’s a good thing.
That means it’s also a good thing when, in the face of so many other options, someone chooses to work for your comm center — or chooses to stay. Every day, your employees have a decision to make: “Do I keep working here, or do I find something better?”
Are you creating a workplace that makes this an easy choice? In which direction?
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 18th 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, click here.