(6 min read) When was the last time you heard your field-level providers talking about unit hour utilization (UHU), time on task, and other common key performance indicators (KPIs)? The reality is, many field clinicians would not know how to define these terms, let alone tell you their value to the organization. Why should they?
In most high-performing mobile medical organizations, managers utilize data to make sound operational and administrative decisions. Determining staffing levels, identifying “peak” operational periods, and comparing values are all common uses of the data collected within our highly integrated and informative software applications. However, there is a pitfall that many do not consider or conceptualize: we neither inform or educate our providers on what this information is, nor on how it is utilized in making organizational decisions. Moreover, many organizations do not take the time to acknowledge or humanize how this data impacts their teams.
Effective Leadership Is Built Around the Team
Effective leaders believe in transparency and inclusion. They communicate with their teams during good times and bad and must be honest in their delivery – EMTs and paramedics can see right through any sugar coating. True leaders — servant leaders — have a desire to share data and information with the entire team to create agency and foster buy-in.
As leaders in mobile medical organizations, we find ourselves in a very different space than where we were 10-15 years ago. First, we did not have access to the data then that we have today (or at least, not without doing a great deal of manual tabulation). Second, we had access to a much larger hiring pool than what many of us draw from today. It is no secret that many of our industry’s field providers are mentally and physically burnt out, and therefore, are actively seeking and pursuing alternative employment outside of mobile medicine. With the emergence of vaccine clinics, improved access to care, and more, EMTs and paramedics have more off-ambulance opportunities than ever before. What must we, as managers and as leaders, do to improve employee retention rates? Uncovering the answer begins with developing a greater understanding of our providers’ needs.
Data-driven Decisions Rely on More Than Statistics
In today’s highly competitive staffing environment, effective leaders are consistently seeking opportunities to engage, encourage, and advocate for our providers. Whether you lead a public or private entity, your middle managers are screaming for more staff and more resources while also complaining about turnover, burnout, and workforce shortages. We rev up our recruitment efforts only to see a net decrease in staffing, due to poor retention practices. The data we collect from our patient care reports, dispatch, and human resources information systems (HRIS) establishes our case for hiring, yet leaves questions about retention unanswered. To get a complete picture, there is one more critical dataset that we must consider in addition to the information we pull from computers: our people!
In December of 2020, my organization implemented the Team Member Action Committee (TMAC). This group of eight highly focused team members represents every facet of the organization. We have members from each certification level, from dispatch, from night shift, etc. Our youngest member is in their early 20s, and our oldest member is in their 70s. The members’ EMS career experience spans from six months to more than 40 years.
TMAC meets once per month and reports directly to me, the Chief Executive Officer. These meetings are informative, eye-opening, and generate a great deal of feedback — both good and bad. During our first few monthly gatherings, I realized that our providers did not grasp the entire picture and neither did management! There were many questions concerning why we did something, or what purpose was behind a particular decision. It dawned on me that team members had been looking at the same problem from two entirely different perspectives without the benefit of full context. Upon this realization, I immediately turned to our ZOLL® Data Systems’ RescueNet® reporting application and began to share the data behind the actions with the team. As I reviewed the data and explained its value in support of decisions made, the team found common ground, and the discussion started to become more unified, meaningful, and productive.
Inclusive Decision Making Improves Retention and Fosters Accountability
Two things occurred when I began to share data with the TMAC. First, we began looking at the hard data (quantitative) in tandem with the team’s feedback and emotions (qualitative) in response to the data. The combined view of quantitative and qualitative datasets suddenly created a different tone and rejuvenated the conversation. Simply stated, we created an environment of transparency that allowed us to understand one another and create a more synergistic team. Second, our field providers began to understand the business component of operations, while leadership better understood and acknowledged the operational and emotional impacts decisions were having on field providers.
Collectively, we have started to build new protocols and policies that allow our organization to meet operational objectives while maintaining focus on our clinicians and customers. Provider feedback has much greater impact on our organization’s culture and decision making than it did before the TMAC, and this has had a positive effect on retention. The TMAC has a significant degree of autonomy, and as a result, the committee not only produces and submits proposals, but also holds its members accountable for their actions. We all have a firm understanding that the data justifies operational and policy reforms, and that with these changes come higher expectations for individual ownership and accountability.
Simon Sinek, internationally known speaker and author, says, “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it, or you can inspire it.” When we open the data doors to our teams, we build trust in leadership. Sharing data only when it is “good” is not sufficient or transparent. Our teams need to know the areas in which we need to improve, and they want to rejoice as a team when we hit our targets and objectives.
Today’s EMS workforce is multi-generational, and our organization reflects that. Our diverse team is bound by a common desire to have profound impact through their work. Team member empowerment characterizes the way we must lead in 2021 if we want to retain good people and be effective as organizations. Leadership is relational. Strong relationships require trust, transparency, and open dialogue. When we develop relationships throughout the organization and empower team members to effectively utilize quantitative and qualitative data to drive decisions and reform processes, we cultivate sustainable, healthy organizations.