May 10, 2016
By Sherri Stigler
No matter your age, you’ve probably heard these words as a refrain from the famous song by the recently deceased (Jan. 10, 2016) David Bowie, “Changes.” The lyrics encourage us to “turn and face the strange.” Yes, indeed, I’m fairly confident that it most certainly defines what we do in the public safety communications environment on a daily basis. We face the strange. We ARE the strange, and we ch-ch-ch change all the time.
As I write this article, we are living through a major transformation in our center: a new 911 phone system. And we survived! Sure, we prepared; we trained; we practiced. But there is something about the “going live” part that brought everyone to a heightened level of anxiety. Nobody ran screaming from the operations floor. There was, however, a looming presence almost palpable in the room. You could see it in the eyes of the dispatchers as they sat glued at their positions amid the hustle and bustle of technicians, IT folks, implementation teams, and supervisor types. You could sense the uneasy feeling of the unknown, trying to grasp at a new and different way of answering and processing calls … of ch-ch-ch changes.
Change is especially active at this time of the year in the communication center world. New budgets, shifts, personnel, and policies are rolled out. Maybe some of you are testing an entirely new schedule for the dispatchers. I can tell you that this ch-ch-ch change is one that carries a boatload of increased anxiety, because schedules are absolutely one of the most important and potentially controversial issues in communication centers today. Why? Because in this business, we need to be mindful of when the most calls for service come in and if we have enough staff to manage these high volume times.
We also need to take care of the people behind 911, because they are our core and most precious commodity. Often, the key to finding and maintaining work and life balance for dispatchers can be found within a carefully developed work schedule, one that perhaps offers a shorter work week, more days off in a row, or variations of staffing based on needs of the center.
So the reality exists that our meticulously planned new schedule may do exactly as our scheduling committee hopes it will do. More staff will handle busier times. Dispatchers will be happier and more rested. Life will be good! However, it’s possible that it may unintentionally do the opposite. That’s the danger of change—it always holds the potential of coming back on you with vengeance, just like a spicy dinner.
But here’s the thing—change involves taking risk in order to explore the unknown—the thing that is different, the thing that is, as Bowie points out, “strange.” Just remember that it is our willingness to try something new that often bears positive fruit. It is our motivation to care for our team and our partners that is worthy of making an effort to try something new and potentially better. It is our determination to step outside of our comfort zone and consider the possibilities of positive change that will bring great results. You will never see the rewards of improvement if you fail to try something different in the first place.
Which brings us back to Bowie’s recommendation to turn toward those “strange things.” What do those look like in your center? Will you find the courage to turn toward them, or will you abandon the opportunity to see new life because it looks a little scary on the outside? All things considered, it is my hope that you will embrace the promise of this year by turning to and welcoming those ch-ch-ch changes, no matter how difficult they appear.