My first supervisory experience came in the hardware department at The Home Depot.  Oh, stop rolling your eyes.  This is back in the days when the founders, Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank, still ran the place.  Their leadership philosophy was evident in everything that happened in that company.  Their philosophy on leadership was simple:  Take care of your people.  If you do that, your people will take care of the customers, and everything else falls into line.

That philosophy created a company whose stock split nearly every year, was the cornerstone of many portfolios, and seemingly had no upper limits.  The company was the undisputed leader in their category.  They created more working millionaires among their employees than any other corporation up to that time.  You couldn't walk thirty feet in one of their stores without being greeted and helped.  If you had a plumbing question, any of ten or fifteen people could answer your question.  People were hired for their willingness to learn, and were constantly driven to learn by attending short classes taught at the beginning and end of every day.  And a supervisor had no chance of promotion unless he or she had already trained their replacement.  That's right!  Supervisors didn't jealously protect their turf and keep everything secret from their subordinates...they actively tried to teach you every aspect of their job of running a department.  When promotional opportunities opened up, your best chance of being promoted was to point out how many people you've taught to do your job and how your department practically ran itself and you were hardly needed.

Can you imagine an EMS agency that runs like that?  Can you imagine a lieutenant who doesn't view every attempt at taking a more active role in your agency as a threat to his or her power?  Can you imagine officers who insist you take command of smaller incidents while they stand by to assist so you learn and are ready for bigger things?  How about officers who--this is going to be very controversial--actually supervise their employees and hold them to a standard of performance!

I'll give you a moment to recover from your shock and/or laughter.

My management experience is where I began calling bullshit on supervisors who complain that they can't fire anyone or hold them accountable.  Of course you can fire someone.  First you have to point out to the employee what they're doing wrong and how to improve in a detailed, understandable, achievable plan.  You have to document it.  Then when and if they don't, you have to point out how they have failed to improve and tell them how they can correct the situation with another achievable and understandable plan.  Then when they don't, you have to point out how they've been given two chances to improve in the same situation, and they have failed to do so.  You have to give them another more detailed plan for improvement, and you have to explain that additional failure will result in their termination.  No administrative law judge will find in favor of an employee who was properly counseled, given understandable and achievable plans for improvement, warned, and then terminated.

Sound like work?  Yeah, damn right it is.  But it's not hard work, it's just work.  YOUR work, supervisor.

Every employee has a file.  Files are where you write these things down.  Files are what judges look at when employees say they haven't been treated fairly.  And most of the time, files are suspiciously empty of paperwork...which is why judges find in favor of the employee.  When I moved up to managing my own store, I followed all the practices that Bernie and Arthur taught me.  I documented every conversation about performance.  If I saw you working without your safety equipment and had to tell you to put it on, the next time I was in the office I pulled out your file, opened the cover, and wrote a quick note with the date, time, and subject of our conversation.  It took just twenty seconds or so to do.  Then, when I had to tell you again, another note was made.  So by the time you had established a pattern as an unsafe worker, and the time came for a formal written notice, the pattern was clear, undeniable, and documented.  "Larry, I spoke to you on January 18th, February 3rd, and February 15th about not wearing your safety glasses.  You're still not doing it, and now we're going to have a conversation about how you can improve and you're going to sign this reprimand."

The notice would always end with the same sentence:  "Immediate and sustained improvement is required and expected.  Further violations of this type will result in further disciplinary action up to and including termination."

One of my most memorable experiences in holding employees accountable as a store manager came when I had to terminate two employees who had committed numerous serious violations of policy.  They had filed for unemployment benefits, and had succeeded in getting them because the company I worked for hired an outside firm to handle the first two levels of unemployment hearings.  When they prevailed at both, I was offered the chance to appeal.  When I showed up at the hearing, with each file, and showed the administrative law judge my many, many attempts to help them improve, complete with clear, understandable improvement plans that weren't followed, the judge found in my favor and ordered the employees to repay the state every dime they were paid in benefits.

The greatest success as a manager, however, was the number of people I never had to fire because they improved.  They were falling short in some way, as everyone does, and I cared enough to talk to them about it.  I cared enough to write it down so patterns became evident.  I cared enough to come up with an improvement plan that was achievable and understandable and would withstand the scrutiny of a judge reading it months or years later.  I cared enough to repeat the whole process when the first time didn't work.  When counseling sessions got serious, most employees made an effort to improve and succeeded.  Most employees never got to the third session.  They benefited from being told what was wrong and how to fix it, and I got to save valuable employees in whom I had invested a lot of time and money.  Those are my greatest successes as a manager.

So when an EMS supervisor tells me she can't hold someone accountable to performance standards, what I hear is she won't hold them accountable.  It's simply a case of someone who wants the title, wants the helmet of a different color, but doesn't want to do the work.  The same kind of supervisor frequently holds their cards close to the vest.  Fails to communicate about what's happening in the department.  And doesn't teach employees how to do their job.  It's a shame.  What could be more enjoyable than running a department where everyone else is doing your job for you and you get to bask in the glory of a well run organization where everyone has a stake in the outcome?

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