So, I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted; life, work, and family have got in the way. I recently changed jobs, not particularity because I wanted a new career, or was looking for a new ‘thing’, I just couldn’t do it anymore.
A little more than six years ago, I left a job running a company – one that was well paid, with great benefits, and a fantastic work-life balance, to accept a job that I had always dreamed one. Though still in my industry, it is often seen as the pinnacle of the profession. A place of respect, autonomy, freedom of expression, true input into daily operations, a TEAM. It was great, the best job, the best position, the best…Well, no. No it wasn’t the best.
Let me set this up a little bit for you. In my field there are around 10,000 people in my geographic area holding the same licensure level. Of those there are around 60 that get to fly the friendly skies for a living in a medical helicopter. Do the math = that’s 0.6% of those in my field in the area who get the opportunity to do this job. It’s an AMAZING honor and privilege to even got the change to be a flight paramedic in New England, there positions are rare, and the scope of practice is unequaled by our land based brethren. The pay is also much better then the median in the field (though I was in an executive position prior, so that had little impact on me personally), which drives a lot of paramedics to apply and give this world a shot.
I started with 4 others, a LARGE group to be oriented at the same time – 4 of us made it through, only losing one to the pains and perils of the first year of flight, though that took 2 years. This actually should have been the first warning sign, as traditionally attrition was much higher, (greater then 50%) in the recent past, but a new sheriff had recently come to town (well two of them actually), and the dynamics where changing. A few months later, we opened a new base, a remote base, away from the oversight of leadership (a term I use loosely, though it was thrown around as if it made some better then their actions really deserved). They wanted “experienced providers” to staff this base, NO EXCEPTIONS!!! Well, until there was. You see, they didn’t have enough people to staff the base, so two of us inexperienced providers were shipped down the road even though this “wasn’t safe, and dangerous for patients” just days earlier, (warning sign #2). Not a problem, because I’m me! Of course I excelled, saving many lives much to the admiration of my bosses and co-workers (OK, that may be a bit strong, but I learn a lot and held my own anyway). Didn’t go so well for the other newbie, as I think that person may be busing tables, or working a cash register now, but I digress.
We went through a bit of upheaval over the years though; a small coup d’etat occurred which was directed towards the entire governing body, but was misread by Sr. management and poor decisions were made. You see, we had at that point 5 managers to oversee about 30 people! A bit top heavy I would argue, but it was the “———” (insert company name here) way! Well, they went after the top manager, who may have been a bit of an ineffective personal leader, was a great business mind who had grown the department in his short period of time, made extensive safety and personal enhancements, and improved the reputation and bottom line. He was kneecapped, and made director of business, effectively pulling him out of all day to day operations and staff interactions – he left not long after (warning number 3).
Come to think of it, that may have been warning number 15, but I’m not going back to re-write this, so just stay with me!
We were without a true manager for about a year – even with a national search, for some reason we couldn’t get someone who was willing to lead us. The acting director was actually the number two person under the old regime, and was seen by many to be part of the problem over the past many years. Now, there is a whole Nurse v. Medic undertone in this whole thing too, but that’s for another post (maybe). Eventually, we had only 1 candidate, the acting director / current manager / old guard person was put up for the job. In an interesting twist, the organization’s leadership asked the current staff to be part of the interview process. Just so you understand why, we functioned under something called Shared Governance, meaning in theory our opinion really mattered. In reality, it was a way to try an keep a Union out of the organization by granting a pseudo-voice to the staff, without real power or impact, but I digress. I was lucky enough to be 1 of the 5 people who were granted this privilege to be part of the hiring process, though we felt since the only candidate was an internal candidate who had prior management oversight of the department that all staff should be allowed to give us their input. So… We put out a Survey Monkey to see what people felt. Response was really good, about 85% of the staff responded, and the direction of their input was overwhelmingly negative.
How can we be the staff’s representatives if we didn’t supply the hiring manager with this information? We couldn’t, so we presented it, but this didn’t sit well. See, it was now ovibous our little survey was getting in the way of the hand-picked successor, and the VP refused to even look at the results, (warning #4). Guess what? The only candidate was given the job! Shocking I know, though the truth was he really wasn’t the only candidate. The VP mistakenly also sent us the CV of a candidate who was more qualified, with more experience, more education, and a long track record of success in the industry, though she said there were no other candidates a week earlier, (the application was date 45 dates prior, we were blatantly lied to) (warning #5).
Now he is in power and declares “There’s a new sheriff in town!” (warning #6). Not only is that whole statement just stupid on its face, its also nonsensical and factually inaccurate. That sheriff had been in full control for over a year, and in majority control even longer! Beyond that, really, it’s really just a stupid thing to say when you walk into a new position like that.
Here comes the power trip: From HR reps being in the hanger threatening the lively hood of staff members, changes in scheduling that totally eradicated any semblance of a work-life balance, and destroying any esprit de corps department wide, it was a great first year in POWER for this new director. Things were well, the organizational leadership saw the staff as a bunch of whining malcontents, and this leader as an inspired man who would get the department back from the brink. An interesting thing happened though. Rumors about the budget being underwater for the first time in a generation began to swirl, staff were being called off and told to use vacation time if they wanted to be paid (never had happened in 19+ years), and we seemed to be unable to hire for open positions which forced many to be re-assigned, moved, or re-scheduled disrupting family plans. Even management positions stay open, which just escalated the issue of poor oversight, and follow through.
WHEN THE OFFICE IS BURNING, YOU SHOULDN’T BE PLAYING WITH JET-A!
Staff starts to walk, yet you double down on these poor decisions, bad management practices, and lack of engagement. Even more staff walks, which just makes those decisions even harder – now you can’t even staff the aircraft because you are without enough staff to do so. You continue to call-off staff, rearrange their rotations, and demand more…. MORE STAFF LEAVE! In about 3 months you loose around 100 years of experience, and find yourself having trouble getting people to accept positions to fill those vacancies. The program (or bases) are shut down because you can’t scrape together 2 people to work! REALLY?!?!
Get into a flight suit and get to work! But no, wouldn’t want to interrupt your work-life balance would we?
I ask you, how can you not see what the cause is? Do you think the department’s reputation may be suffering? Maybe even your personal reputation in the industry may be suffering? Hell, the reputation of the entire organization may be suffering? Other regional agencies are asking questions… For the first time in modern history, those who have applied and were offered positions in this prestigious field actually TURNED THEM DOWN? REALLY? Come on! You still don’t see the why?!?!
When you come into a position without the respect or trust of those below you, there are really two ways you can go with it. You can become a dictator, forgetting that these people don’t work for you, YOU work for THEM. Stomping your feet and giving orders without caring or even simply acknowledging the concerns of the staff isn’t leading, it’s sophomoric, it’s juvenile, and beneath the office for which you hold. It leads to increased dissatisfaction, it leads to attrition which actually costs you more then all those call-offs have saved you (I know, that’s accounting, call me – I’ll give you a tutorial. It’s business not nursing, so…) It creates a whirlpool, a spiraling vortex that bring the department down and you right down with it. It’s what you said you hated in the prior director, and yet what you doubled down on. OR you can try a 360 evaluation, maybe a real root-cause analysis of the issues that presented themselves. You could lean on staff with experience in leadership, or business, or management, and use their talents to assist you.
You COULD HAVE done all that, but you chose option #1. I’m truly sorry that you did. A great department, a great tradition, and great people will continue to suffer. As the staff losses faith, the business side will continue to deteriorate (remember, the staff are the face of the department, when you loose them…). The whirlpool continues. 6 people in 2 months, gone. It’s a small department, how much can it withstand?
Clear Skies and Tailwinds!
And Safety Second?!?!? Remove the net!