Our Greatest Asset

This week, I wanted to resurrect a piece that I wrote a couple of years ago.  For anyone interested in being a manager or a leader, there is nothing more important than knowing the people who work for you. . . 

In the past, I have written posts about the worst jobs in America.  I tackled both the 2009 and 2010 lists of the worst jobs in America, where EMS and being an EMT was way down at the bottom (or right at the top) and that is a huge issue.  It’s time to get out of that rut, and as Skip Kirkwood, Scott Brown, and a few other posters pointed out on JEMS Connect and LinkedIn, it all starts with leadership.

It’s time to acknowledge what our greatest asset is.  It’s not the trucks that we drive around, it’s not those $20,000 cardiac monitors in the back of those trucks, and it’s not our stretchers, our buildings or our contracts.  It’s our people.  We send them our everyday expecting them to do “do their jobs.”  We ask them to respond to calls of all sorts of types, transport patients, put their lives on the line, and take the lives of others into their hands, and then when they are ready to go home, we look at their body of work for that day, whether its large or small, shrug our shoulders and say “it’s their job.”

The first step towards this is improving our leadership, and improving how we handle people, or how we “engage” them.  Employee engagement is extremely important, and how well it is done depends largely on what your motivation is for doing it.

First of all, what is engagement?   I did some searching, and found my favorite definition written by Ken Scarlett, President and CEO of Scarlett Surveys International.  He defines employee engagement as “a measureable degree of an employee’s positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, colleagues and organization which profoundly influences their willingness to learn & perform at work.”  To put it more simply, an employee who is engaged is one who has invested in the ideas and ideals of the organization, and the investment an employee puts into their organization is directly connected to the investment the organization makes in them.

Some view employee engagement as a way of interacting with an employee, sort of an ice breaker.  A way of saying, “Hey, Bob.  How are you today?” (Cue Bob’s response) “That’s great, but have you heard about our new safety policy?”  This is a one way exchange that is masked as engagement, and masked as a conversation.  You need to take interest in those who work around you and under you, and listen to what they have to say if you ever want them to hear what you are telling them.

This post can also be found at EMS in the New Decade.

Here’s a simple test that I challenged a colleague of mine with last week.  Name ten employees who work for you.  Now, tell me three things about each of those employees that have nothing to do with work.  It’s not always an easy thing to do, but it’s so important.  It helps you understand what makes a person tick, and more importantly, it helps you understand who your employee is.  They’re not an employee number, or one half a crew on the street, they’re people with struggles, and hobbies, and skills that go far beyond being a care provider, and that’s more important than anything they do on the street.

Friday night, I sent him a list of ten employees that I came up with randomly off our schedule, and included three facts about each.  It was a tough task, but I was able to do it.  I sent it off with him, and as part of our dialogue that followed, he asked me, “So how did you learn all of this?”  It’s quite simple, actually, I started conversations.

I spend a lot of my day on the streets interacting with my crews.  My job at our station usually entails me handing out radios, keys, computers and drugs, and working on getting people out the door to pick up the next call.  When I get out, I have a better chance to spend some time with my crews on post and at the hospitals.  I pay attention to what people are listening to on the radio.  I ask open ended questions that I’m legitimately interested in: “How’s your day going?  How was your weekend?”  And I see what people say as a response.

Then it’s just a matter of making a mental note of their answers, which is easy if you invest in your people, and genuinely care.  Remember who has kids, or who is a sports fan and what teams they own.  Find out who owns that new motorcycle in the lot, or who played a great round of golf that weekend.  Next time you run into them, ask them how things are.  Follow up on what you talked about last time.  Make them feel important, not because you have to, but because they are.

You don’t need a notebook to do this, and you don’t need a spreadsheet.  You just need a mind, and a heart.  If you are in EMS, you should have, by default, the ability to care for people.  We do it every day, for complete strangers.  Take that energy, and direct it to your most important asset: the providers.

It doesn’t take money and benefits to make a great career, and an excellent work force.  The annual Top 100 Companies to Work For list will tell us that.  Being the highest paid doesn’t automatically mean that you are happy.  What it takes is a mutual investment.  We need EMTs and paramedics to invest in their careers, their services and themselves, but this is only achieved when their services and their leaders invest in them.

The Importance Of A Smile


So simple and yet so very powerful. They alone have the ability to break through indifference, warm the emotions of others around, and when used at the right time can influence what others will do. Smiles are relatively cheap in comparison and virtually every budget is able to afford as many smiles as you need.

smiling blondeSmiles are one of the most important tools that you will have as both a provider and a leader when dealing with people from all occupations and social classes. Provided that our happiness in life will depend largely on how we interact and manage a connection with others, a sincere smile is the most effective way to establish a relationship and build a rapport and compatibility with others. A smile will maintain the attention of the person you are speaking to, helps boost openness through body language, helps reassure the other person of your attentiveness to what they are trying to communicate, and genuineness at being willing to help or aid them.

Smiles are also a true mood changer. Feeling negatively or being in a bad mood often results in similar body language such as frowns, furrowed brows, scowls, and lower lip biting. Consciously choosing to smile instead of displaying the aforementioned negative characteristics has the power to change the mood of yourself and those around you who may also be having negative feelings. Smiling in these moments will help lift your own spirit, improve your outlook on the situation, and lead you to making positive decisions using good judgment that is no longer tainted by the negative atmosphere.

Want to know the best part about a smile? Everyone has one, including you! Use it to your advantage in reaching your goals with others.

5 Ideas For Celebrating Victories

No matter how small we may think it is, we need to celebrate our victories. Here are 5 ideas for recognizing and commencing that celebration with your providers:

  1. A Written Letter of Commendation from “The Boss – Telling someone they did a good job is important, but taking the time to put it in writing helps increase the value of that message. Not only is it great that they can show their co-workers that you truly value their service, that’s something they can take home and show their friends and family. It can even be something that they display in their home, a source of professional pride, for others to see for years to come
  2. A “Thank You” Card – greeting cards have traditionally been used for close friends and family on special occasions. Isn’t a positive customer service report such an occasion? Don’t you want those who report to you to feel as if they are a part of something bigger, like an extended family? “Thank You” cards can go a long way to deliver that
  3. A Cup of Coffee with “The Boss – It will cost at most $21 (if you go to Starbucks) and 15 minutes of your time and undivided attention to make your Providers feel great about their performance, their career choice, and your Agency. Want to know the funny thing? Your time and undivided attention will often be appreciated more than the coffee…
  4. A Public Posting of Praise – It’s important to be sure that your Providers are recognized among on another. Whether it be a memo, flyer, or copy of the letter of commendation that you’ve written put up on a bulletin board, crew room, or locker room goes a long way to achieve that. It not only provides some recognition for those who have done a good job, but provides some incentive for others to do the same
  5. A Mention In Your Agency’s Social Media Stream – Is your provider on Facebook? Is your agency on Facebook? Hopefully they both are (if you’re agency isn’t, then read this post) and then posting a photo on your Agency’s Facebook Page and tagging your provider in it does two things simultaneously. First, it recognizes the Provider to your Agency’s audience as well as the Provider’s friends and family. Second, it gives your Agency some content for their Social Media Presence. It’s a win-win for all those involved

What does you agency do to celebrate the victories? Let us know in the comments…

The “B” Word

There is one thing that the Fire Service has universally created, fostered, and grown throughout its history that I truly admire, respect, and wish we could bring to the Emergency Medical Services.


You hear the word come out quite often from all levels of the Fire Service when discussions are about work conditions. You see the word in action during times of crisis, usually during a line of duty injury or death, to support and provide whatever is needed. You feel the word when you walk into a firehouse at dinner time and sit down at the kitchen table to break bread, laugh, and swap tales from calls long past.

This is what truly differentiates the Fire Service from both Law Enforcement and the Emergency Medical Services.

Why It Matters

There is a reason why the fire service is perceived to be as strong as it is. The unity that the sense of brotherhood provides has brought great power to bear when situations, both political and civil in nature, need to be resolved for the betterment of the whole organization. When I talk about the “whole organization”, I mean the Fire Service itself and not an individual department. Admittedly this is more of a global perspective that we aren’t necessarily used to looking from, but we need to start looking at it this way sooner rather than later.

Chief Mick Mayers of Firehouse Zen, one of my favorite fire service and leadership reads, recently had this to say in a post titled Labor Day Conflict:

When individuals choose to advance their personal values over the needs of the whole, they lose track with the reality that the organization is an organism which has many parts and systems. If any of those parts fails due to the neglect or lack of community with the whole, then the whole perishes. You can’t kill off a part to your benefit if you expect the whole organization to keep producing, and yet, it continues, mostly because of greed, selfishness, and ego.

KnockoutWe spend too much time and effort promoting and furthering ourselves and our individual organizations while putting other organizations with the same mission down. While some will cite commercial entities competing against one another as the inherent source of this evil nature, why then do municipal agencies and volunteer squads openly malign them for this capitalist behavior? If the commercial entities are the source, why then do the career municipal agencies join them equally in criticizing the volunteers for inexperience and providing a lack of consistent quality service? Why do the commercial entities and volunteers condemn career municipal agency members for the perceived lackadaisical response times and overall laziness in responding to calls? The only aspect in common with all three is that they equally rail against the other two.

As Chief Mayers pointed out, you can’t kill off a part and expect the whole to keep producing. This includes agency types. The sooner we realize that we are all part of the greater whole that is the Emergency Medical Services, the sooner we can promote some unity, the sooner we can develop ourselves into a caring brotherhood like the fire service, the sooner challenges will be able to be overcome with the power of that purpose.

So what’s stopping us? Let me know your thoughts in the comments…

Celebrate The Victories

Looking at the organization of a number of EMS Agencies we often see departments dedicated to quality. Whether it be a Quality Assurance, Quality Improvement, or Investigations units we take complaints pretty seriously.

How many of you have ever eaten at a fast food restaurant? Whether it be McDonald‘s, Burger King, Wendy‘s, Taco Bell or any of the countless others you would have had to deal with a cashier at the counter.

How many times have you gone into one of these restaurants, placed an order, paid your money, received back the correct change, and then have the cashier deliver the order correctly on a tray for you to take away and dine on?

Once at the table you see the order is correct, relatively hot, and from a food service perspective you received a good meal. Has that ever happened to you?

Thumb up with good job written on a blackboardIf you answered “Yes” to all three of those questions then please answer this one: Have you ever gone home and written a letter to the manager of that fast food restaurant for the service you received? Have you ever called the manager at the restaurant to commend the cashier for a fine job? Have you, on the way out the door, every stopped to speak to the manager and thank them for the job they and their staff have done for your meal? If you answered “Yes” to any one of those three questions then you are in the absolute vast minority.

Expectation of good service is part of our cultural DNA. There is a sense that it is owed to us for the patronage we provide to the establishment or service provider. When we receive it we think nothing special about it. When we don’t receive it, we make sure the manager or the establishment knows that we were unhappy.

As a society we are quick to complain and reluctant to commend when it comes to service.

When we do get a commendation or positive feedback we need to make sure that we celebrate that just as much, if not more, then when we investigate and discipline for a complaint. We need to put as much focus and energy on the good our providers perform alongside the questionable.

Ask yourself, who handles the good in your organization? If you have a department dedicated to investigations and quality control are they the ones who do it? Is it a function of Human Resources or does your agency have a separate Commendations and Celebrations Unit? If not, then you need to ask who does do it.

If the answer you receive is no one, then it’s time to step up and change that. If you wanted to be a leader, now is your opportunity to become one. If you already are a leader then you’re providers are overdue.

Always celebrate the victories. No matter how small they may seem to you, to those being celebrated it’s a whole lot bigger.