Administration and Leadership, Columns, Training

EMS Agencies Need a Leadership Succession Plan

Issue 1 and Volume 39.

In Disney’s 1994 hit The Lion King, Mufasa ruled the Pride Lands in all its splendor. The heir apparent, Simba, was still a cub when Mufasa met his untimely death. The Pride Lands had many dark years until Simba matured enough to take back the reins of the kingdom, fulfill his destiny, and complete the circle of life.

The demise of the Pride Lands can happen to your EMS agency if it experiences a sudden loss of leadership without proper succession planning. As leaders, we must develop new talent for the next generation of EMS. If we aren’t grooming replacements for our existing workforce, including our self, we’re doing a great disservice to our organization.

Succession planning is not just about creating a chain of command detailing who takes your place in your absence. It takes deliberate actions and plans to develop individuals to be successful when they take your place. This should start in your hiring process at the beginning of their career.

Business guru Steve Covey says, “Start with the end in mind.” A great leader will recruit and hire individuals who have the potential to take their place in the future. One must evaluate what skill sets will be needed in the future and develop that talent pool. It’s not just about replacing your skill set, but improving it for future demands.

Very few individuals come into an organization with all the skills they need for success. Employers must train their new members for success by setting expectations and providing the tools they need to accomplish their tasks.

Seattle’s Medic One system is well-known for its high training standards and requires all newly hired paramedics to complete the program, regardless of experience, to ensure the standard is met.

A rigorous field-training and evaluation program (FTEP), regular continuing education, and performance reviews will help prepare and guide the development of your staff. Ada County Paramedics (Boise, Idaho) and Wake County EMS (Raleigh, N.C.) have formal FTEP programs designed to achieve agency standards and optimize the potential for success of all new employees.

As individuals excel, it’s the leader’s responsibility to keep challenging them to improve and learn new skills. Supervisory and managerial responsibilities require new and expanded skills sets. New training is necessary for successful transition from EMS provider to management. Many organizations host supervisor academies or send their newly promoted individuals to courses to teach them new skills. Care Ambulance Service in Orange, Calif., requires new operations managers to attend the Ambulance Service Managers course for a smoother transition from clinician to manager.

Career development is not the sole responsibility of the organization. Individuals who are driven to promote will strive to continue their learning inside and outside the company.

As I promoted into management, I quickly realized my experience as a clinician didn’t prepare me for my new managerial responsibilities. This was the deciding factor that pushed me back into school to pursue my MBA—the education better prepared me for my future roles.

As leaders, we must support our staff members in their educational aspirations that will better prepare our future leaders. According to the 2013 JEMS Salary and Workplace Survey, 33% of EMS agencies offer partial college tuition reimbursement while 18% offer full reimbursement. This is incredible assistance that will only benefit EMS.

Experience & Opportunity
Training and education will give us the knowledge and background, but not the experience needed to be truly successful. As leaders, we must create opportunities for our staff to gain the necessary experience to someday replace us. This may be the most difficult task for current bosses. We often think it’s just easier to do it ourselves than take the time to train someone else, or we don’t accept anyone else’s work because it’s not done as well as you would have done it. This is a leadership opportunity—you allow others the chance to learn and make mistakes in a nonthreatening environment while under your mentorship. This is where you can build your future leaders.

Some of those leaders can come from outside of EMS. Care Ambulance Service often has interns who are international marketing and business school students. These students gain valuable experience while learning the ambulance business, which benefits the students, the company and all of EMS.

Job shadowing and mentoring offer tremendous opportunities to instill your knowledge and skills with others.

Change and transition are inevitable in every organization. Our goal should be to reduce any negative impact or losses when one leaves by preparing the company for future triumph. A succession plan should be developed for every key position. Don’t let the Pride Lands of your agency enter dark days by not preparing for the inevitable loss of leaders. Now is the time to plan for and prepare your successors. The Circle of Life must continue to advance from generation to generation and not just start over if the EMS destiny for greatness is to be fulfilled.