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.


  1. “I ask open ended questions that I’m legitimately interested in”

    This is the single most important statement in your post. The idea that managers should ask questions and interact with their employees is stated in resources, blogs and classes but all too often those activities are engaged in solely for the sake of engaging in them. Speaking with your employees and even your coworkers because you WANT to means so much more to the people in question. It humanizes them and humanizes you. We all chose the get into a career which can be periodically de-humanizing. Genuine interest in the lives of those around you goes a long long way. Great post Scott, thanks!

  2. Melissa Alexander /

    Wonderful, Scott! We need more leaders like you, not only in EMS, but in all kinds of organizations! Keep up the good work.

  3. Dave McKenzie /

    Taking the time to get to know people, what a novel concept. With the ” hurry up and get the job done mentality” it’s difficult to get close to fellow team memebers. And yet it is essential that make a sincere effort to do so. Simply asking “How are you?” doesn’t yield a heartfelt response. Folks know when you care about what they are saying. As a society we seem to be in such a hurry. Tweeting blogging and texting have thier place. However the art of face to face communication is irreplacable when it comes to getting to really know someone.
    I am in full agreement with Patrick Lickiss. Open ended question do the trick they leave the door open for conversation. simple “Yes and No” type answers never really work. think about it when we assess a patient are we content with yes an no answers to our questions, probably not. And yet we only spend a few minutes with them. How much more important is it that we spend time getting to really know our members of our team.
    Keep up the good work Scott. See, I told I was listening
    I should be noted that this is one of only a few times that I’ve blogged. based on th subject, i could not resist the oppurtunity contribute to such a timely issue.

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