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The House is Falling: Suffering the Consequences of Neglect

Author: Sue Pivetta

Date: 2011-03-15
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Every November for the last four years I have attended a retreat. The first year Jane came wishing to lose weight, Andrea had a problem with her husband, Tom wanted to quit smoking. The first year every per- son sincerely wanted to change, and the second year, and the third year and the fourth year, they sincerely wanted to change. Nobody has changed. So Jane still suffers from low self-esteem, she seems to get bigger each time we see her. Andrea can’t leave Keith and they’re both miserable — now Andrea is having an affair. Tom has some nerve health thing going on and still smokes. So, again we are reminded that ‘nothing changes if nothing changes’. And even worse, things do deteriorate if neglected.

Deteriorate is a harsh word, and certainly our Comm Centers are not deteriorating — no, on the contrary — most Comm Centers are beautiful, well equipped and well done with cutting edge technology, chairs consoles, CAD and beautiful décor. Yet the house is falling and it’s not Chicken Little crying foul.

The house is our human resources, but they aren’t applying and they aren’t staying.

This house is dilapidated and in serious need of repair. The roof is leaking, the yard has weeds, mice and ants are everywhere, the plumbing is clogged, the carpets are tragic, the windows let in the cold, and the fireplace can’t be used because it smokes you out.

There is not just one problem that is easy to solve in the 9-1-1 industry. There are many areas in need of repair, here are some thoughts:

It is no mystery that the pay is at times inadequate. Inadequate to attract good candidates, inadequate to keep good employees, inadequate to enable workers to feel valued or heard. They (whoever they are) claim pay isn’t what matters, just like other human services jobs such as counseling, caring for the mentally ill.  True maybe — the pay in itself probably would not be the reason people don’t come and people don’t stay.  Like many chemicals, alone they are not toxic, but combined with other chemicals they can be deadly.

Inadequate pay +

  • inattention to recruiting — getting the wrong or no message out there to the right people.  Public safety responders have recruiters dedicated to hiring.
  • nurturing the public opinion that this is a ‘stressful’ job instead of ‘selling’ the rewards and reaching out to media.
  • permitting the job to BE that stressful instead of creative scheduling, childcare assistance, flexible work schedules.
  • sanctioning-training programs that do not care for adult learning needs to include simulation, improved evaluations, trained trainers.
  • closing the eyes to poor working atmosphere where historical problems create a negativity incubator for new hires.
  • de-valuing employees through poor attention to needs, erratic meetings, no course of action for conflict resolution.
  • valuing ‘effects’ and technology over people’s needs and challenges. Attend a public safety conference where 99% of the booths are selling technology.

One or two of these could be reasons why an agency is having a hiring or retention crisis.  Often challenges are about history.  Without purging history, leaders have a very hard time repairing the damage, getting rid of the pests, replacing the pipes, spending the money, putting in the labor and being patient and persistent with the process of rebuilding.

This may sounds a bit overwhelming — yet it is rare that even in the face of crisis administrators hesitate to reach out to specialists to help. And again, it’s perspective – it’s history.  They think they can paint, build, exterminate, repair without any professional help, such as consulting.  Maybe they can repair and rebuild, but meanwhile the leaking roof has now ruined the floor, the fireplace has started a fire, the ants bit the baby, Jane keeps getting bigger, Andrea is now in love with two people.

If CAD has a problem - no problem, call in a tech no matter what the cost.  Personnel downshifted, low morale, mistakes, depression and conflict – nature of the beast. DIY: paint, build, exterminate, repair without any professional assistance.  Have a meeting, memo, award or reward.  All better! The negativity returns, conflict is only quieted but not resolved, staff exits, and overtime increases.  Paint cannot repair a leaking pipe.  Transformational leadership creates permanent change.  Call in the experts who can identify the deeper structural needs.

Transformational rule: from the deep to the surface… by reordering, inserting, or deleting elements; a rule that converts deep structures into surface structures.

Leaders who have made a difference in this industry have the tenacity, resolve, and patience for permanent change.  These leaders have invested as much time and capital in the humans on the floor as they have in the CAD or chairs or consoles or lighting on the floor.  Is your center as appealing in the inside as it is on surface?

All problems have solutions but not all problems have people willing to do what it takes to solve them.


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


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