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Don’t Close Your Door to EMS Employees

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I recently received an e-mail that told me of an innovative new management principle that most major business schools, such as Wharton, Harvard and Yale, would soon be scampering to teach. The e-mail added that management books would need to be rewritten and this new management practice would set teaching of leadership and management back 200 years.

Intrigued, I couldn’t resist reading further into the e-mail about this earth-shattering management principle. I was curious about what was so tremendous and incredible. Could I possibly be on the brink of some utterly fantastic discovery that maybe somehow I could share with fellow EMS managers?

Closing the Door
As I read further, I discovered that the writer was being facetious. He was being tongue-in-cheek and not really writing about an earth-shaking innovative or unfounded management application. What the author wanted to share with me was what the management at his EMS service had distributed to its employees; a memorandum appropriately called the “Closed Door Policy.”

The memorandum basically said that managers were too busy to deal with employees when they had an issue that needed addressing. Here is what the memo said (with the names deleted).

To All Employees,

During business hours (9–17), [name deleted] and [name deleted] are being bombarded with operational issues every five minutes. This makes it impossible to complete our tasks and work assignments. We are tired of answering the locked door that specifically says, “AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY” to find out that you need to talk about scheduling, supplies, etc.

Although we appreciate all your concerns, unless it’s on fire, please e-mail us. We will get back to you in a timely manner. You cooperation is much appreciated and no exceptions will be made nor tolerated. Please take this seriously. We have a larger work load and get seriously behind due to constant visitors.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t a large service where 1,000-plus employees would keep the head of an EMS organization from doing their job because they were inundated with employees knocking on the door. So when I read the memo, I was baffled.

Leading with Your Feet
Management does need to prioritize tasks. And, as I have always preached, management shouldn’t be bogged down in minutia and should focus on strategic issues. However, I have also advocated they can’t sit in their offices behind closed doors and not interact with their employees. They need to find a balance between staying focused on strategic issues and getting out of the ivory tower to find out what’s happening in the operation.

When you get out and talk with employees, you find out what’s working and what’s not. As I’ve often said, you don’t want to wake up in the morning and read in the paper what’s happening in your operation.

A label for this practice is “Management by Walking Around,” or MBWA. I have always felt this concept was misnamed and would be better termed “Leadership by Walking Around.” After all, we manage budgets and inventories; we should be leading people.

Nonetheless, this spontaneous practice in an unstructured manner allows managers to randomly check with employees or equipment to find out what is happening in the operation.

My favorite method to do MBWA is to stop by one of our busier hospitals in Memphis where I know I’m going to find three or more Memphis Fire Department ambulances dropping off patients. It gives me the opportunity to randomly and spontaneously meet with personnel. It allows me to talk with them, and it allows them to ask me questions, let me know about any issues that need addressing, and, my favorite—deny or confirm rumors they’ve heard.

This is probably one of the best tools I have to discover what’s wrong and needs to be fixed, build rapport with employees and receive feedback. I may hear things I don’t want to hear, but that comes with the job and I would prefer employees to be honest. Sometimes it seems like it’s a small problem. But I’ve discovered if you don’t deal with the small problems, they can become big problems.

A Balancing Act
It’s important to point out that, if you’re going to use MBWA, you have to do it the proper way. You can’t just walk around to say “Good morning.” Don’t criticize. Don’t create an atmosphere of fear that causes your employees to get scared and “clam up” when they see you coming.

And, most importantly, EMS managers can’t just sit in locked offices and shelter themselves from what’s happening outside the confines of their office. Maintaining that careful balance between becoming a recluse and interacting with your employees can allow you to truly find out what’s happening within (and around) your operation.

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