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New EMS Managers Make Mistakes

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Bob is a newly promoted EMS manager who has been hired from another state to lead an EMS agency. On his first day, things didn’t go well. He came into the office and greeted only his secretary and next in command. People who wanted to meet him never got the chance because the second-in-command monopolized his time. The second and subsequent days went the same way. Bob never got out of the office. Soon, word trickled to those working in the field that the new boss was an unfriendly, aloof jerk. As could be predicted, everything went downhill from there.

EMTs, paramedics, and people who worked in the EMS administrative offices really didn’t like Bob. He could never get everybody on board with the changes he wanted to implement. People within the EMS organization became resistant to him, didn’t like his approach and grumbled about every policy he issued

Within six months, Bob was looking for a new job because he wasn’t happy either. Within a year, the Board of Directors let Bob go. What did Bob do wrong? He had a wonderful track record in his other EMS organization, and he had a fantastic resume.

What Bob failed to recognize is that if you’re the new leader of an EMS organization, it isn’t business as usual on the first day you walk through the door.

Your First Day
I’ve always seen this as a make-or-break point. I’ve seen some good people get run out the door because of the way they came in the door. Everybody’s going to be watching what a new manager does and says, as well as observing how they react to different situations. If you’re a new EMS manager and have come in from the outside, your employees will really be watching you.

My first suggestion is to say “hello,” and meet everyone. People want to feel important, and they certainly want to be recognized by the boss on the first day. Make sure you meet every employee, acknowledge them and give them a personal greeting—from the janitor all the way up to your secretary or the next in command.

When you first enter a new organization as the new boss, you should remain positive. If you’re critical of the organization’s current operation—especially if you’re coming in from the outside—it might not go over well. People will see it as an attack on their organization. Even though you’re a part of the organization, you haven’t been accepted yet. Such statements as, “We did it this way where I just came from” may polarize you and your employees.

Next, I recommend not changing anything until you learn the works and the dynamics that make it function. It’s especially important not to change anything that has to do with the culture of the organization. If your first act is to change the patch or the name of the organization, expect a tremendous amount of resistance and trouble.

People who are already within the organization have created their identity with the organization. Although some may grumble, they still take pride in the organization they’re associated with. Taking that away from them can only bring you headaches.

My Experience
When I came to Memphis seven years ago, I got around and talked to most of the firefighter/paramedics about the organization and how EMS operated in the department. One of the biggest complaints I heard was about a quality improvement (QI) form that was issued to everyone from a QI officer if you missed something on the patient care report. A QI officer would show up at your station and make you sign the form acknowledging that you missed something. Quite frankly, it really pissed people off when the situation was their 12th trip of the day at 4 a.m. and they failed to check a box on the patient care report. It was one of the major things I heard, and it really seemed to set them off. I failed to see the significance of the form because it seemed to make the QI process punitive with having to sign the form acknowledging you did something wrong.

So looking for the “low-hanging fruit” and looking for the chance to set the right positive attitude being the “new guy” coming in from the outside, I immediately got rid of the QI form. The response was overwhelmingly positive and upbeat. The crews were elated with my decision. They felt I was a good selection for the organization and I was going to move the EMS part of the fire department forward. It helped me consolidate support for some of the tough decisions I had to make down the road with changes that were necessary, while maintaining high morale.

Conclusion
Being new to an EMS organization is a challenge. If you’ve moved a great distance, there’s added stress with moving  and finding housing. There’s no need to add to that stress by taking the wrong approach with your entry into the organization. Stay focused, observe and start slow. If you’re successful with your entrance, you will have an easier time down the road making the changes you think are necessary. JEMS

This article originally appeared in September 2012 JEMS as “First Day: Now what?”

 

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