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Quality Assurance? Are They Learning or Burning?

Author: Sue Pivetta

Date: 2013-03-31
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Although needed and necessary, Quality Assurance (QA) programs can create chaos in your Comm Center if not presented and managed in a way that acknowledges some realities.

You cannot put lipstick on a 'perceived' pig and call it beautiful. You must change the perception.  You cannot force people to put their defenses down when they are feeling unsafe. You can work to help them feel safe. You cannot ask people to trust when they have no evidence they should. Trust is destroyed quickly but built back slowly.

Here are five thoughts on a positive pro-active approach to QA programs at 9-1-1.

1. Build or Destroy?

Question: "Help...We just put in a quality assurance call review program. We already have grief from the floor but now there is a resistance from the supervisors to use the call assessment protocol. The feeling is this is too much to expect! This so called tool won't help anything when we are so short staffed and there is no time and negativity already from mandatory OT."

You can use a tool, such as a hammer, to build or demolish. Which is it? It appears this new thing has not been sold to those affected as to its true intent. Here the call assessment is viewed as a time and emotional burden. Busy supervisors may be resisting not only the additional time burden but the emotional backlash of becoming the gotcha person. There are already so many time and emotional strains on leaders when short staffed. What can be done to help supervisors create this program to be a very good thing for their people?

2. Finding Middle Ground

During times of high stress (short staffing, mandatory OT) people who care about doing good work are often hyper sensitive to being able to do good work. Administrators are likewise more sensitive to liability and errors and feel the need to remain cognizant of what is happening on the floor. Where is the middle ground?


How can administration ensure quality without micromanaging and provide reasons to welcome the assessments?   Involve those affected before implementing the program. If it's too late for that - call a 'how's it going' meeting. Acknowledge the feelings of being under a microscope, listen to their concerns and ask for suggestions on how to approach the need for Quality Assessments with trust and collaboration. Ask "What would have to happen to make call assessments a positive force for our agency?"

3. Leading to Water

Most people care deeply about their co-workers and generally want everyone to receive credit for what they achieved. Supervisors need is to protect their staff from further stress and hold things together. This program could offer your agency an opportunity to fill read needs that may have been previously neglected - the need for valuing, positive attention and morale building.

The true intent of a QA program is to ensure a high level of service and compliance to procedures. An aspect that is not sold enough is that good calls, great calls and consistent good work will also receive immediate 'blue ribbon' recognition. Begin or focus your program to find those good, great or consistent calls so you can set the mood and perception as this program is a very good thing.

4. Kill The Messenger?

Let's say you announce the new Quality Assurance program and you now experience an uproar. As an administrator you may feel attacked and see those objecting as negative complainers. Truth is your most important asset. Killing messengers drives truth underground. Additionally, you deliver a message of your own: "Tell me your truth at your peril." Truth delivered encountering backlash feeds discontent and contributes to the death of trust.

It's all in the presentation! Is it possible that commendations are in order but rarely sought out? Could it be that call assessments could result in support for good work during hard times? Could call assessments point out the true dangers of short staffing by bringing to light the consequences to the public or responders as well as the staff? If your goal is to support your people, the choices you make in your presentation is more effective if you take into account the personal fears of those others while also finding the good in something perceived as bad and SELLING it.

5. Use The Indirect Route?

Generally the message "You need to change for the better!" is not well received if a person is under stress and feeling attacked, judged or under-appreciated. However, there is a solution. Let the person experience a 'discovery' to create ownership. Learning is defined as a 'change' - no change will happen if there is no need to change established.

When poor quality work is found - a discovery and learning opportunity could be presented to the person needing change. Ask the person to review the work before any evaluative remarks are made by the supervisor. Assuming your protocol and procedures are clear and direct about what should happen (and what didn't happen) in this call, let the person who took the call or dispatched the call evaluate the policy or procedure in reference to their own call. Ask them to respond to the work and offer their own assessment. In the event the person does not agree with the need for change or argues the circumstances to justify the behavior supervisors may want to ask questions Columbo style. "What do you think could have happened here that would have been more in line with procedures."

Learn or Burn?

We all learn through our experience. If our experience is somehow we are lesser by our mistakes, that is how we will view any and all assessments. If we experienced problems are opportunities and can result in growth, we will welcome the opportunity to learn. Learn or burn? Let's be clear about the history of your agency as far as how evaluations have been approached. Must you rewrite history?

If indeed some predecessor has burned your people with criticism, poor training, or micro-managing, you must indeed purge history - but unfortunately it cannot be re-written. Here is how: acknowledge the mistakes of the past and create a new promise with those affected. Have a meeting and talk about past injustices and offer to make this right with their help and guidance. This may sound a bit like coddling your staff - but is the alternative is either making chaos or making peace.

Conclusion: you must sell the good, listen to fears, and acknowledge history. 1: Move the focus from individual assessments to the good of the whole by agreeing to search for positive patterns, celebrating success and attending to exposed needs. 2: Move the focus from 'telling' to teaching by allowing the discovery to be owned by the person needing change.  With just a few minor changes you can and should transform your program from 'flame thrower' to 'warm blanket'.

Sue Pivetta is president of Professional Pride, Inc.  She has worked in emergency communications since 1989 as a college instructor, consultant, workshop leader and author.   She teaches adult learning through her book and workshop The Exceptional Trainer.  Contact Sue through her website to receive monthly special offers or to join the Professional Pride e-mail group.



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