The COVID-19 pandemic may last 18–24 months or longer. Its impact has been felt around the world, stretching healthcare systems to their limits and disrupting essential services. As this crisis continues leaders must find ways to keep their organizations resilient in the face of its challenges.
Organizational resilience consists of leaders being flexible, able to make quick decisions, think strategically and operationally, understand the magnitude of crises and their potential impacts, and anticipate and mitigate risk before it harms their organization. It requires leaders to communicate effectively and demonstrate leadership qualities by bringing everyone together to address a crisis. Moreover, resilience must be part of an organization’s culture if it plans to survive and thrive during a crisis event.
Three activities must be at the core of every organizational resilience plan:
Attending to employee needs;
Communicating effectively with customers; and
Ensuring the organization remains equipped for business throughout the crisis.
During a longstanding crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a high probability your personnel will be on edge, concerned about their safety and families. Make every effort to see past direct reports’ walls of “I’m fine” and be steadfast about supporting their needs during these uncertain times.
Engage now more than ever—for example, assign new projects to employees that reinforce their vital role in the organization; ask for feedback and let them know their input is appreciated; allow them to work from home where possible; and work with them if they have challenges like daycare for their kids or a lack of equipment. Visit stations and spend time with crews. This will go a long way toward showing them you care. As employees are reassured and leaders stand with them, the employees will become more resilient.
Leaders who are successful at ensuring their organizations remain resilient in crisis never lose sight of what business activities are essential. Here are a few examples:
Key performance indicators—Monitoring performance is critical for sustainability. Are requests for service increasing or decreasing? What about hospital turnaround times? The number of infectious-surveillance patients? Are current revenue and expenses meeting projections? Keep sight of these.
Communication—Communication is vital day to day and even more so during this COVID-19 crisis. Communicate effectively and often with employees. Let them know what’s changing—for example, how the organization is addressing staffing issues, updating COVID-19 protocols, addressing supply chain disruptions, etc. Be proactive in providing timely answers.
Opportunity—Use crisis to strengthen the organization’s role in the community. Demonstrate your commitment not only to customers but to emergency service partners as well—for example, maybe you can decontaminate local police and fire dispatch centers, stations, and vehicles for agencies without their own resources. EMS organizations can also assist with COVID-19 testing, sharing transport data, and contact tracing. Show that no matter how big the crisis, your organization is poised to help wherever needed.
Coaching—Take this time to coach others on how to prepare and work through such a crisis. This will help better prepare future leaders.
Monitoring service delivery—Monitoring service delivery changes must be a priority during a crisis. Seek feedback from frontline personnel, vendors, and customers. Develop plans to quickly check, analyze, and adjust where needed (expenses and revenue, staffing, fleet, supplies and logistics, etc.). Speed in decision making may be critical.
Exceeding customer expectation may be a challenge when an organization is stretched to its limit. Customers need to know they will not be abandoned. A crisis communication strategy embodied by the acronym HEART is effective with external stakeholders:
Humanize your company—Show customers and community members you stand with them, care about their well-being, and understand their concerns. This can be done through social media or other media that don’t compromise safety or violate privacy. Perhaps you can leave informational literature with patients or family members about the pandemic and what the organization is doing to assist.
Educate about change—Keep customers and community members informed of service delivery changes and evolving threat guidance. Help them with what they know about masks, testing sites, traveling to hotspots, what to consider an exposure, what to do if you test positive, and so on.
Assure stability—Let your employees, customers, and community members know the organization will do whatever it takes to ensure there’s no disruption in EMS service delivery. Provide examples of how you’re doing this. If there will be a change to EMS service delivery, let them know.
Revolutionize offerings—This is the time to think outside the box and make the organization stand out by offering services not routinely done, e.g., COVID-19 testing, new mobile integrated healthcare efforts, disease surveillance and tracking, etc.
Tackle the future—A final goal must be to anticipate what will take place after the crisis is mitigated. Start thinking about the organization’s business position postcrisis and commit to making whatever adjustments are needed moving forward.
Crises are inevitable. EMS leaders must be prepared to anticipate and adjust business activities to ensure their organizations survive them and can bounce back afterward. Never lose sight of attending to employees, ensuring the organization is equipped for business, and demonstrating to those we serve that we are ready to respond if they should need us.
Orlando J. Dominguez, Jr., MBA, RPM, is assistant chief of EMS for Brevard County Fire Rescue in Rockledge, Fla. He has more than 30 years of EMS experience and has served as a firefighter-paramedic, flight paramedic, field training officer, EMS educator, and division chief. He has authored two books, including EMS Supervisor: Principles and Practice, and is a certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt. Follow him at @ems_officer.