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The Few, The Proud

One of the toughest jobs we face is motivating employeesƒespecially the younger ones. As we’ve discussed in this column before, younger people entering our profession are part of the ˙entitlement generation.Ó Their attitude is generally summed up as, ˙What’s in it for me?Ó As kids, they were raised on fast foodƒeither by going through a drive-thru or by popping something in microwaveƒand using a universal remote to access endless TV channels, music and high-def everything. The world has always been available to them at the push of a button.

In contrast, when I was growing up,I was the remote control because I was the youngest child in the family. And there were only about five TV stations to pick from. Satellite and cable weren’t even being conceived.

The entitlement generation concept was driven home recently when a new firefighter/paramedic recruit who didn’t like a deduction on his paycheck bypassed the entire Memphis Fire Department chain of command and showed up at the door of our human resources director, demanding an explanation. When he didn’t get satisfaction there, he trotted across to City Hall to see the city attorney (after being advised not to by the human resources director). But he felt he was ˙entitledÓ to an answerƒand was going to get one.

So how can you successfully motivate an employee who’s part of the entitlement generation and expects instant gratification? Take a lesson from the Marines.

The Real MVP„TOP
When 18-year-olds show up for boot camp, the U.S. Marine Corps follows a simple acronym called MVPƒor mission, values and prideƒto motivate young recruits. MVP is based on five principles that could be adapted to your organization.

Principle 1: Over-invest in core values
By over-investing in your organization’s core values, you set the standards for your employees. You should introduce those core values to new employees the first time they walk through the door. Sometimes your core values can be found in your mission statement. For example, your mission statement may read in part, ˙Teamwork with commitment to excellence and compassion.Ó This principle also builds a sense of belonging to your EMS organization.

Principle 2: Prepare new leaders
If you’re like most managers, you know which key employees you can go to if you want something done. But when we use this approach, we put employees in categories of ˙usefulÓ versus ˙not useful,Ó sending the message that some employees are unnecessary. If you send this kind of message, why should the ˙not usefulÓ employees be motivated to do a good job?

Principle 3: Distinguish between teams and single-leader groups
Teams follow a group theory: If the team loses, the entire group is accountable for the loss. But the single-leader group has one leader, and the group trusts them to lead and decide. Both models have their functions and benefits, but you shouldn’t create confusion between the two. Be aware that if leaders in your organization are forced to function within a group in an equal role, their loss of control can cause frustration and resentment.

Principle 4: Attend to the bottom half
Simply stated, take care and show attention to those who are doing the work of your organization day in and day out. This principle works best with new employees just entering the organization, so a strong recognition program for entry-level personnel is needed to send clear signals.

The Memphis Fire Department has a program for new paramedics that centers on a mentoring process (see ˙Mentors in Memphis,Ó November 2007JEMS). The program focuses on taking the best of the best firefighter/paramedics already in the department and pairing them with new employees during their academy time with the goal of mentoring them and helping them succeed.

Principle 5: Discipline to build pride
At the outset, using discipline seems to go against the basic concept of motivating someone. But the Marines use a code of conduct (punishments associated with infractions) to build self-respect and hold employees accountable for their actions. By holding them accountable, you help them improve their work habits, which improves their self-image. If they can improve their self-image, there’s greater motivation for them to discipline themselves.

I’m not suggesting that you turn your employees into Marines. However, some of these basic principles are applicable when it comes to motivating employees, especially those from younger generations who have a vastly different set of expectations than us baby boomers. It’s our responsibility to recognize what motivates our employees in order to retain highly skilled professionals.

Gary Ludwig,MS, EMT-P is a deputy fire chief with the Memphis (Tenn.) Fire Department. He has a total of 30 years of fire and rescue experience. He is chair of the EMS Section for the International Association of Fire Chiefs and can be reached