From the Officer's Desk: Keeping Employees Engaged
“From the Officer’s Desk” is a bimonthly column aimed at EMS leaders.
Chief Murphy is the EMS division chief for a midsize fire and EMS department. The department is fairly progressive in its EMS service delivery; however, he’s had a problem keeping personnel engaged and committed to day-to-day operational duties.
For example, it’s been a challenge keeping his team focused during meetings: He has encouraged members to bring new ideas to the table without success, and he routinely has to assign team members to certain projects because they won’t participate willingly.
Chief Murphy wants to create a high-performing team in which members seek out projects without being told, suggest new ideas, remain engaged with daily duties, and are committed to continuous quality improvement. He understands the way to develop a high-performing team is to ensure members remain engaged. Therefore he needs to find out why his team appears to be disengaged and find a way reengage them.
There are several things Chief Murphy can do to begin laying this foundation. For example, he must:
- Reflect on his performance as a leader and determine whether he is contributing to employee disengagement;
- Get to know his employees by having formal and informal conversations;
- Use assessment tools that provide additional information about team members, such as personal behaviors, strengths/talents, and motivational preferences;
- Establish a coaching relationship with team members and have ongoing coaching dialogue through regular meetings.
Getting to know his team members will not only provide Chief Murphy with the necessary information to support his team and help them achieve their goals; it will also guide him to the root causes of employees' disengagement at work. If your employees are happy at work, it’s likelier they will remain engaged and committed to the organization, yielding a high-performing team.
People Are Essential
Organizational leaders must always take care of their employees and provide every opportunity for their success. If members feel their organization cares about them, they are likelier to commit to the organization and remain engaged.
I consider strategic, financial, and educational objectives and maintaining a culture of quality to be business priorities. These activities must be deep-rooted and part of the organization’s DNA.
However, at the top of the priority list must be to support and take care of the organization’s employees. These individuals are the foundation of every organization and its most important asset.
These are the people who support and promote the organization’s purpose every day. Every organizational leader, regardless of industry, must clearly understand and embrace this priority. Without the people, there is no organization.
As an EMS officer there’s no doubt you’ll work alongside direct reports or those considered senior employees. You’re now responsible for their work outcomes, providing them the tools they need to complete their duties, keeping them engaged, and providing necessary feedback. But how do we get them to become and stay engaged at work?
Keeping the Team Engaged
First, when we look back to Chief Murphy’s desire to turn his team into one of high performance, one of the first things he must do is evaluate how well he’s doing as a leader. It’s critical for all leaders, before pronouncing their team disengaged, underperforming, or lacking motivation, to consider whether they’re contributing to that environment and what can be done to remedy it.
It all starts with the leader. Self-reflection and evaluation must be ongoing to avoid complacency. You can do this by working with a leadership coach or mentor you know will be honest with you. They should let you know what you’re doing well and what you need to improve.
In addition, brush up on leadership skills by attending seminars and workshops and reading the latest books and professional journals on organizational leadership. Consider shadowing well-known leaders in the industry.
Second, when working with your team, get to know them as individuals, not automatons. It will be a challenge to develop a high-performing team if the only time you engage with members is when they report to work, during projects, when checking the status of assignments, and when discussing project outcomes. The following are just a few activities a leader may use to promote employee engagement:
- Ask team members what they like most and least about coming to work. Look into what they dislike and what you can do to mitigate it.
- Do they have the tools they need to get the work done? If not, get them what they need. If you can’t get the tools, let them know and show you’ll keep working on it.
- Are there special projects they’d like to be part of? If possible, assign them to those projects—you’ll be amazed how committed an employee can be if they’re happy and doing what they enjoy.
- Do they like to work in groups or by themselves? Some projects require working in groups, others don’t. Getting those who like to work by themselves to be part of a group (or the reverse) will take some time and effort. Be patient and work through it.
- Celebrate their accomplishments and acknowledge their mistakes. Turn mistakes into lesson-learned experiences. As the work group leader, you must take the hit when something goes wrong and give credit to your team when things go well.
- Celebrate special occasions: birthdays, engagements, promotions, and so on. As you get to know your team members, you will know if they like to be acknowledged and how during these special events.
- Ask them what they do for fun during their time off.
- Ask how they like to spend time with their families.
In addition, assessment tools may provide additional information about employees’ behaviors, personal strengths, and motivation preferences. For example, the DISC Personality Assessment highlights four key tendencies and preferences that are part of the individual’s behavior: dominance (such individuals are strong-willed and direct), influence (talkative and lively), steadiness (accommodating and gentle), and conscientiousness (analytical and private).
Gallup’s CliftonStrengths identifies 34 themes of talent that fall under four main categories: strategic thinking, executing, influencing, and relationship-building. McClelland’s Needs Assessment provides insight into each team member’s motivational needs, breaking them down by preference: achievement, affiliation, or power and influence.
A final activity is coaching. When coaching, the EMS officer must understand that it isn’t about them, the coach, but about the individual they’re coaching. An effective ongoing coaching dialogue requires active listening; establishing credibility, trust, and mutual respect; removing obstacles that may prevent maximum performance; and being accessible if needed.
Don’t Lose Sight of the Goal
Chief Murphy had some challenges when it came to engaging his team at work. He addressed those through self-reflection, working on getting to know his employees better, and using assessment tools to understand their behaviors, strengths, and motivational preferences.
As well, Chief Murphy established coaching opportunities where he could begin to work with employees individually. This way he will develop a strong relationship with his team members, promote a high-performing environment, and demonstrate a commitment to keeping them engaged.
As an EMS officer, regardless whether you’re in the field supervising providers or in a senior administrative role overseeing a division or organization, never lose sight of how important your people are. Reflect back to when you were a frontline employee and how you wanted to be treated, how you wanted your ideas to be considered, and the things that kept you engaged.
Take the time to ask your team for input, be inclusive, get to know and coach your team, and proactively listen. As you take these actions, you will begin to take steps toward engaging your employees and creating a high-performing team.
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.