Our Greatest Asset

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.

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.