Trust may seem like a trivial detail amid all the positive changes you have in mind, but here’s why it’s no small matter.
As children, we implicitly trust everyone. Not knowing danger, our natural disposition is to trust that people will meet our expectations. We trust they won’t let us down.
Of course, the more life experience we gain, the more we discover this isn’t true. When our trust is broken, unreciprocated, or otherwise jeopardized, the part of our brain that controls our “fight or flight” instinct, known as the limbic brain, is activated. Anything that won’t immediately help us survive the threat gets thrown out the window. Our ability to think critically or logically is diminished. When danger feels imminent, we become locked in survival mode, unable to respond normally.
While more physical dangers, such as a lurking predator, may cause this survival instinct to manifest in more dramatic ways, the threats we face at the comm center register just the same in our limbic brain. Maybe we feel left in the dark because decisions are made without our input. Maybe we have no avenue for giving and receiving feedback. Maybe the work environment is hostile. Maybe there’s a big change on the horizon, but no one is clear on the why’s or how’s.
Each of these stressors are perceived in our limbic brain as danger, and our brain reacts to protect us.
As you work to transform your center into a People Driven Center, there’s only one way to avoid activating this survival instinct and derailing all the progress you’ve made so far: by establishing a culture of trust.
WHAT’S TRUST GOT TO DO WITH IT?
Trust may seem like a trivial detail amid all the positive changes you have in mind, but it’s no small matter.
One comm center in the South knew this especially well. At this center, surveys indicated that 98% of staff had no confidence in their center’s management. Staffing had dropped from 25 employees to just 15. Salary surveys showed supervisors were paid only $0.35 more (that’s 35 CENTS more per hour!) to step into the role. Employees who won awards for tenure or excellent work were not recognized or acknowledged in front of their coworkers — they received envelopes in their mailboxes.
Things began to change in 2016, when a former police captain with 38 years on the force came out of retirement to lead the department. As a People Driven Leader, this new Director knew he could only transform the center by establishing trust with his employees.
“You all have an equal opportunity to succeed,” the new Director told them. “It’s my job to create an environment where success is possible.”
He created this environment in several ways. Technology was updated and improved with new computer monitors and working vehicle location maps. Appointments with each employee allowed him to meet everyone, hear their concerns, and clearly communicate the expectations moving forward. He outlined what needed to change and communicated what needed to happen in order for this change to take place. Further, he made sure to acknowledge his people every step of the way. Recognition for outstanding work was done personally, visibly and regularly.
TURNING VISION INTO RESULTS
Despite these efforts, change didn’t happen right away. In the first year, 18 people left the center—a 72% annual turnover rate! When this Director sat down with each employee and communicated his expectations, he emphasized that certain behaviors, like harassment and bullying, would no longer be tolerated. The bad seeds — both re-hired team members who had returned with a bad attitude, and tenured employees who had contributed to the center’s old problems — weeded themselves out over time. Once the Director set the standard, communicated the expectations, and began holding people accountable, things changed dramatically.
The results of this People Driven Leader’s approach speak volumes. He stepped fully into the role in January of 2016. By September of 2017, the center was fully staffed. That’s 20 months to cure a problem that persisted for years before.
In a conversation with the Deputy Director of this center, I asked what this Director did to inspire such incredible changes. Though he told me the team initially had doubts about their new Director, they were glad to be quickly proven wrong.
“The biggest differences between how things were and how they are now is employee recognition and management style,” he said. “The Captain treats us with respect and consistent fairness. He knows that everyone wants to be heard, loved, and respected, and this flows through his leadership approach.”
One team member, who had left a neighboring comm center and took a $10,000 pay cut to work with this Director, echoed these sentiments.
“Management is different here,” she explained. As a result, “there’s rapport between us team members, and we all help each other out. My coworkers and I know that we sink each other or lift each other up. We choose to lift each other.”
BUILDING TRUST AT YOUR CENTER
“I’m not a great leader by any means; I still work at it,” this Director told me. “I try to look out for my people, because I can’t do this myself—our people are our greatest asset.”
You don’t have to be a former police chief with nearly four decades on the job to make these kinds of improvements — you just need to be People Driven.
As you continue to work on transforming your center, take time to reflect on the role trust plays currently.
How would you describe the level of trust your employees have in you and what you’re doing? Where is your center lacking in trust? What else might you be able to do on a daily or weekly basis to inspire a greater degree of trust from your team?
At its core, organizational trust is feeling like the center you work for has your best interests in mind. People Driven Leaders inspire high performance culture by communicating effectively and managing the transition along the way — but first, they start with trust.
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 eighth 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.