When you hired the people you work with, was ‘act like mushroom’ one of the lines found in their job description? Mushrooms love being kept in relative darkness where they can be fed a constant diet of decomposing material (crap) and hopefully thrive.
This is not the way to build trust, show leadership or build a team of competent professionals. I’m going to go out on limb and assume that you have staff members trained, on your payroll, in your uniforms, on your phones, driving your vehicles, representing your agency to the public because they are best of the best. If not, and you’ve only been hiring people who can fog a mirror, then there are other issues to discuss.
Assuming that you have the best of the best working for you, you OWE them information. They are your mobile marketing force, your ambassadors in the community and they need to be able to interact with knowledge and authority when they encounter your clients/patients.
Several years ago I was working as interim General Manager for an ambulance service that was going through particularly hard times. The IRS actually wanted to padlock the doors and auction off the equipment. During the roughest 120 days of the engagement the rumors were flying, fed by competitors and the usual ‘back row crowd’ from within.
I needed to keep morale up, explain to the troops what was happening and we needed to stand strong as a company to keep our contracts, our dignity and to keep the staff from defecting thinking the ship was sinking. My response was to do two things, first I called a company wide meeting, off site with food…EMS people love to eat…they all came. I explained the truth of the situation including the possible outcomes which included losing the fight with the IRS in which case we’d all be looking for work.
I explained our strategy, the time frames we were working under and took the abuse from an angry crowd who felt let down by management…(in truth it was one member of management who had caused the issue but we were all guilty in their eyes).
The second thing I did was launch a one page, two sided weekly update sheet called ‘The Rumor Mill’. Every week we collected all of the stuff that was out on the street…listed each rumor and then provided management’s response (this was pre-Internet… if the same thing happened today we’d be doing a daily or weekly blog). If we had not done this…in writing…the message would have been twisted around by each story teller, especially our competitors, and we’d have had more problems to deal with.
This, in-your-face method of rumor control also allowed management to tell our story our way. We gave copies of ‘The Rumor Mill’ to our staff, our clients and had extras in the ambulances in case we ran across someone with the wrong information.
The employees now KNEW what we were thinking, what we were doing, they took up and active role in squashing the false statements, they were not being controlled by rumors and urban legends and had a way to feel empowered to fight back and stand up for their company. Everyone saw that they were positive therefore people were positive about the outcome. A lot of good comes from positive attitude in the face of adversity.
The outcome was that we won our negotiation with the IRS (with agents named Ransom & Savage…I kid you not), adopted a pay back plan, fired the member of management that caused the issue, structured a merger with a friendly competitor and the company is still in operation and thriving to this day. If you’d like to hear about the IRS negotiation and how we convinced them to see things our way…drop a comment in the blog, if enough people ask I’ll write a future post about it.
While this is an extreme situation that called for rapid, crisis intervention techniques, the key to success in this situation and in the day to day operation of your service is to communicate your message effectively so that the troops are informed and involved.
Being treated like a mushroom sucks!