Developing the Future Leaders? Start Now

Public safety communications agencies have been struggling with creating an environment that signifies the importance of the job that we do on Leadership Road Signa daily basis. This has been going on for years, with a push to highlight the professional nature of the industry and positions. Unfortunately, the attempts have to reach the front lines to be effective. Many front line dispatcher and call takers do take their profession seriously, and attempt daily to raise the level of the work and learn about industry happenings and future technologies, but some just don’t buy into the rhetoric and see only a paycheck. Is this the fault of the employee or a disconnect in the industry? I think a little of both but the industry could do better.

Organizations such as the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials and the National Emergency Number Association offer courses to further the immediate needs of call centers, with offerings for communicators in topics such as active shooter, or stress management, but neither does a great job of preparing the front line communicators for a career in full. Management type courses are often restricted to management personnel and require proof of current management status. The adage that you can’t get ahead if you haven’t already been ahead, rings fairly true at times.

Is there a way to offer development type courses to front line personnel who are interested in moving up in the industry? Is there a mechanism to identify those in front line positions that are involved but often disregarded due to the current position they hold? It starts with the idea that everyone has a voice and ideas come from the most unlikely of places.

In order to prepare for the future leadership needs in Public Safety Communications, agencies and industry organizations need to become mentors to those who with to advance, share the knowledge that is needed to act as management personnel with anyone who is interested, and invest time and money into broadening the potential of employees. For example, if today, your communications center became wide open in the area of management due to a mass exodus of leadership, would you staff the open positions with qualified personnel in your communications center or would you look to the outside for a fresh approach? If you have adequately informed personnel available that you have developed in an appropriate manner, you could have many options for promoting from within. Is this always the best case scenario? No, but it is an option, and it’s only available to you if you are vigilant about providing development type resources. Going to the outside world for staffing can be a great way to build a team, but the time it takes to bring an outsider up to speed on the policies, procedures, and equipment usage may have been better spent investing in the future of your current team.

I have heard the argument that promoting from within creates a difficult environment for the person promoted, but having gone through this process in the past, I can testify that moving from one position to a higher one is not difficult if everyone understands that the conditions of the job has changed for the person promoted. They no longer are only responsible for their actions, they have responsibility for everyone that reports to them, so the team dynamic is altered and the work continues.

Moral of the story: Invest in your agencies future now, because tomorrow may be too late.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

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Are your expectations clear as mud?

In Public Safety Communications, training takes many forms; classroom, one on one, individual effort, etc. If you asked your front line employees, how would they rate the clarity of the expectations that you have set? expectations

F-Standard Operating Guidelines are in place but they haven’t been updated since the Clinton Administration. You can’t tell if that is the letter A or B due to the dust on the binder.

D-Guidelines are in place and partially updated, but never reviewed unless your communications center hits the news. No training is in place to review guidelines periodically.

C-Guidelines are reviewed, and discussed, but updates mainly include changes that are absolutely necessary without an overview of the entire process. Guidelines are handed out to be seen only in an “out of the norm” incident.

B-Guidelines are usable but other documents hold important information on call processes or dispatching procedures. Training is provided for guidelines if requested by the employee.

A-Guidelines are a living, breathing document, updated frequently, reviewed constantly, improved and clarified. All personnel are trained on guidelines as they are updated and allowed to question new procedures to adequately understand the information.

Does your agency need to define your expectations more clearly?

 

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

perksNo, not the book, or even the recent movie adaptation………….though on a side note, you should really read the book and watch the movie, they are well worth your time, but have you considered how much a wallflower observes and absorbs in relation to those who are always engaged and active?

Ok, so I lied, lets talk about the award-winning book and critically acclaimed movie for a moment.

Charlie (though that is not his real name) is the voice of the story, the only viewpoint you see throughout. He is writing letters anonymously (hence not his real name) to an unknown person, giving updates and critiques of life as he knows it. Charlie has a group of friends that help him along his way, most notably Patrick (previously known as nobody) and Sam, the girl that he is head over heels in love with. Charlie is a quiet type, watching and wondering while the world is passing him by. He takes in every morsel and tries to analyze the meaning of it all. In the end of course he realizes that life is for living, but was his “wallflower” status really all that bad?

Flip the coin and jump into training. What do you do every day when you are training someone?

I know that I usually spend time trying to transfer information and skills through discussion and practice, but there is always a time when I step back and do nothing but observe. I observe how the trainee is using the resources available, how they are applying the skills that we have just covered, and how they are interacting with co-workers. I analyze what needs improvement and reinforcement and what expectations have been met. I compile all of that information; much like Charlie did in his letters; into a Daily Report and map out a direction for the next day, week, or month.

I am a Wallflower

I am also an opinionated, assertive, and confident worry wart, but it all starts and ends with the Wallflower part of me.

If I don’t watch, I don’t learn. If I don’t learn, I can’t help anyone else learn. If I can’t help anyone else learn, what am I doing here?

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Michael Stevens answers “How much does a video weigh?”

imageseeMichael Stevens is framing interesting questions in order to draw attention to his educational videos, and it works. How can we use this in Public Safety to spark creativity and critical thinking skills?

Watch below and let me know what you think.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The Puzzle of Team Building for 9-1-1

Building a team is not the easiest task for anyone involved in public safety communications. No matter how much thought and preparation go into the process of putting teamtogether a group of individuals and getting them to function as working group that helps and supports each other, sooner or later, a member of the team leaves, or life intervenes.

High employee turnover also affects how the team comes together. Public safety has always faced the challenge or reaching appropriate staffing levels due partly to decreased revenue, the nature of shift work, and the lack of advancement options. People who join an agency thinking that they can do the job, many times, find out later that it is not for them. They were becoming integrated into a fairly functional team and now, six months later they are gone. So the biggest challenge of building teams in public safety communications is the turnover rate. Frustrations abound not only for leaders but for front line personnel who may feel the team may never be as good as it can be.

It’s like a puzzle, someone has to fit all of the pieces together to make it all work, right?

collaborate

It depends on the type of team that you are creating and nurturing. Historically, a team is a group of people are working together for a common goal. A leader is a part of the process, sometimes dictating the direction of the team and holding people accountable for their actions. When we lose one team member, they simply insert another team member into the picture and try to mold them into the process.

What if the team looked differently? What if the team was built around the concept of collaboration and interaction? Instead of one person working to put pieces of the puzzle in place, you have a group working together on making sure when the puzzle is finished, it doesn’t come apart. The leadership is still there, they have to be, lives depend on the work that we do, but the responsibility for creating a great work product is on the team itself.

Building the 9-1-1 center of the future requires us to think outside of the puzzle, find new pieces of the puzzle, and make sure we can adapt to the needs of the customer, but also to the needs of the current and future team members. Collaboration helps to create ownership in the job that is being done, builds confidence, and promotes trust among team members.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Showcase your Communicators

NPSTW_Blog_Header1With only a week or so left before the start of National Public Safety Telecommunications Week (April 14th-April 20th) I am sure that many communications centers around the country are gearing up to honor and thank the front line personnel who answer the call for help each time someone dials 9-1-1. Whether you simply say thank you, or throw a large luncheon, offer door prizes, or write a formal declaration to be read at board meetings or city hall, there is one thing that you can do within your own jurisdiction that could make a difference to the communications center year round.

Showcase your Telecommunicators!

It’s not showing off for leaders to make an effort to educate the field personnel, ancillary departments, and the public on what actually happens in the 9-1-1 call center as calls come in and units are dispatched. A great way to start showcasing your communications center is to, quite simply, educate those people on what you do. Newsletters, whether professionally done or created in a word processor and printed out, can help get the word out about what it is really like to sit under the headset. So, here are a few more ideas to get the information out to the people who may not know, or truly understand what it is you do.

1. Newsletter: As stated above, a newsletter can be created to showcase what goes on in the communications center. This doesn’t have to be a one time deal, monthly, or bi-annual newsletters are a good way to keep information flowing and update all personnel on changes within your agency.

2. Intranet: With a basic publishing software such as Microsoft Publisher or Kompozer, you can create a sleek intranet that can be maintained behind your agency’s firewall, but still accessible to field personnel. Include job descriptions, typical shift configurations, and a description of TAC assignments and additional responsibilities that others may not now about. Introduce your personnel to the field teams in this way with a brief biography of their experience and time of service within the department.

3. Tours: Offer tours of the communications center for any personnel who want to get to know your crews better. Putting a face to the voice on the radio may help improve relations and create friendships that could last a lifetime.

4. Push the Press: Don’t just offer a press release about National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, invite the newspaper or television station in to do a story on the center and highlight the importance of the 9-1-1 personnel in the process of saving lives and property.

Probably the most important thing to remember is that Telecommunicators do their job year round, just like police officers and fire fighters. This is the one week that every telecommunicator really does want to hear the work thank you, especially from their leaders.

And, we do care about our brothers and sisters who are out in the field fighting fires and putting their lives on the line, we appreciate their service to the community and are grateful they are willing to do the job. We just want to feel like a part of the team, not a support function.

Hope everyone has a wonderful NPSTW 2013.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Reinvent The Wheel

Public Safety Communications Centers have long had a process for training new personnel. After all of the assessments are complete and they are placed in a program, it’s either class room time for a few weeks to cover the basics of 9-1-1 communications, policy and procedures, and an orientation to the position, or the personnel are placed with a training officer to do the same individually incorporating the hands on portion. This has worked, for the most part, but with tightening budgets and the need to place personnel under the headset as soon as possible, not all new hires learn at the same rate, so is this working effectively?Useless work

With technology improving almost daily, there are options for allowing the learner to set their own pace and be prepared to take on the critical role in your organization. Below, we look at a few options for streamlining the process and meeting your goals at the same time.

Policy and procedure Manuals

It is crucial to the success of any new hire to be adequately trained on the policies and procedures of your organization, but does it have to be completed in a classroom or take away from the hands on training? With available tools such as wiki’s, publisher programs, and screen share software, you can take the training out of the class room and onto the desk top. A self paced computer based training mimics online learning through educational institutions. With a little planning and creativity, you can turn your policy manuals into a comprehensive and dynamic training tool that is accessed on your computer desk tops or sectioned drives remaining behind your agencies firewall. A combination of modules that present the information in an easy to follow manner, would allow your trainers to spend more time concentrating on the hands on portion of training and developing products for in service requirements.

Software such as camtasia studio (http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.html $299.99) allows you to record the screen you are using on your desktop in the form of a presentation to train personnel on how to use certain software such as computer aided dispatch, telephony, or resource tools. (Check with your software provider for licensing agreements about screen capture and recording for training, or write these into your request for proposal on your next purchase.) With no significant software or policy changes, you can use these indefinitely and save much-needed time and money allowing the learner to move at their own pace.

Developing an intranet resource to act as a “classroom” also is an effective means of delivering content to new hires. Links to any file on your agencies protected drives, or links out of your firewall if you allow internet access, can be provided to reinforce training, and allow you to create assessments that are geared toward your objectives.

On the subject of assessment, there are several quiz maker or test maker softwares available for free or for a nominal amount online, providing with easy access to tests and some can even score based on your setting and notify the trainer when the learner has completed the assessment.

In Service Training

Technology can also be used to provide your agency with a great in service program. Certifications for Emergency Medical, Fire, or Police Dispatch (depending on your certification authority) require continuing dispatch education to maintain certification. Building a revolving training program that reinforces policy and procedure while continuing to build much-needed skills, or exercise unused skills, is an important part of maintaining your agencies liability shield and even meet local, state, and federal requirements. Using the same tools listed for new hires, you can create a program that is specific to your needs and it is flexible, allowing you to update and change as needed.

External Sources

Organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, offer training online that is designed to enhance your training program. FEMA offers independent study programs on many topics, and they are free to anyone who wants to learn. APCO offers courses on topics related to public safety, and while there is a charge, the courses are professional and well planned. APCO also has started a subscription based training program, offering monthly topics to help your agency meet CDE requirements.

While you may not need to replace all of the spokes, reinventing or redesigning the wheel for your organization could help save money, improve comprehension, and keep your agency focused on saving lives and protecting the property of the community that you serve.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Developing the Leaders for Tomorrow

The following is a link to an article that I had published in “The Call”, the quarterly magazine of the National Emergency Number Association.

It highlights some of the challenges that we face in Public Safety Communications and how we can meet those challenges to create the leaders that will be needed for the next generation of upper management.

With budget cut backs and high turnover, the only way to prepare the industry for the future is to engage and motivate the employees that are currently working in the field to remain.

http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/naylor/NENQ0312/index.php?startid=22#/24

In what ways are you working to identify leaders in your organization?

Disclaimer: The content of this blog and any opinions, observations, or ideas are mine and not associated in any way with my employer, The Reedy Creek Improvement District.