Sherri Stigler

Sherri Stigler

Lean In

Sherri Stigler

Spring has sprung, and heck yeah, I’m excited! While it might seem a little “ho-hum” to our southern brother and sister emergency dispatchers, it certainly raises the excitement level in our frigid Wisconsin 911 home. The snow is melting, and soon we’ll see the frozen world come alive as the first greens creep toward the surface, breaking from the depths of the soil and into the warmth of the sun. It’s a difficult and necessary journey, much like the one traveled by staff eager to grow and advance in the profession.

Whenever we start a new class of fledgling emergency dispatchers, our director leads the group through an “icebreaker” activity. He has them stand up and explains the significant effort it will take to be successful in the organization. He asks them to raise their right hands as high as they can. Once all hands are extended skyward, he asks if they can “reach a little higher.” Inevitably, hands extend even farther with fingers wiggling and struggling for a few more inches north. That, he tells them with a smile, is the difference between those who do what is asked and those who reach to their full capacity.

When we look at the “Circle of Life” in dispatch, we tend to understand the universal struggle to attract, hire, and retain great emergency dispatchers. It is an all too common malady faced by nearly everyone in this business. We hear about it at trainings, conferences, and especially at networking opportunities, such as the Fitch & Associates Communication Center Manager (CCM) course. When I attended CCM nearly eight years ago, we discussed the challenges of hiring and retention, finding solace in the realization that most everyone tangled with these issues. Fast forward to this past year, and our latest CCM grad supervisor said that this “broken record” topic was still playing. So how can we break this trend? How do we create an environment where people want to excel, to rise … to reach? Here are some suggestions.

Expand the search field

Attend job fairs, give tours to groups with explicit interest in the profession, such as public safety classes from community colleges and citizen academy classes. We get some of our best applicants from these contacts. Send the posting out to specific job-related trade publications, educational job boards, and especially through social media. Open your doors and allow people to learn about what we do (and how proud we are of what we do).

Train with purpose

Develop a well-organized (and memorable) training program. Consider classroom training and training in the operations space. Finally, clarify expectations. Trainees should never have to wonder where they are in the process.

Support and encourage self-advocacy

Emergency dispatchers who desire to grow in the organization need to be “fed.” That nourishment comes in the form of training, mentoring, and identifying a path of continual growth and improvement. Without a challenge, these folks tend to leave organizations, so it’s critical to keep them engaged and empowered. Oftentimes, these “rock stars” will find projects and opportunities to improve processes within the department, so we need to allow them to polish and ultimately to shine.

Embrace feedback and evaluation

Think of personnel evaluations as quality assurance for the individual. Evaluations are necessary and important conduits for continuous improvement. If we don’t evaluate our calls for service, we can’t determine whether or not we are applying the protocols correctly. The same applies to the general work performance.

Choose greatness

Be a place where successes are celebrated and where people feel valued and important. Highlight their extraordinary examples of teamwork. Renew your commitments to them.

Spring has sprung! I challenge all of you to discover and nurture those new sprouts of life in your center. It is time to excel, to rise, and to REACH!