By Kevin Pagenkop
Have you ever seen a “Q”? Based on the whisperings of dispatchers, this mythical creature is a faceless force of negativity whose only function is to tell everyone what they are doing wrong. They lurk in the shadows of emergency communication centers and exist only to listen to the dispatchers’ calls and then nitpick their performance and point out all of their faults. Fueled by caffeine and versed in a language of performance standards and protocol rules, these odd creatures exist only to suck the morale and confidence from the staff.
While there may be a quality assurance dispatcher (or “Q”) out there that meets this description, most of the quality assurance personnel that work with us are kind, positive, and objective professionals. The anonymity of “Q” allows for easy demonization and placement of blame, but in most cases, that description is misplaced and unfair.
Certified EPD-Qs, EFD-Qs, and EMD-Qs are trained to apply written standards to case review, provide objective and unbiased feedback, and identify areas for improvement so that dispatchers can apply the data obtained through the auditing process and increase their confidence, competence, and eventually, their compliance. So why is this negative perception of QA so prevalent?
For most of us, these behaviors are learned early in our youth and have been frequently reinforced throughout our lives. “Feedback” has come to represent an evaluation of all we have done wrong. Even when critical feedback is combined with positive reinforcement, we tend to overfocus on the negative and cling to our emotional reactions. And emotional reactions can be contagious. Over time, negativity can become the prevailing culture of any given group (or center). It then becomes acceptable to subscribe to this way of thinking. An individual’s perceptions and reactions then begin to shift so that they are consistent with the overall atmosphere maintained by the majority. New employees simply propagate the myth that the “Q” is the troll beneath the bridge.
Watching the Winter Olympic Games revealed a very different culture. A noticeable pattern of behavior was demonstrated by all of the athletes regardless of which sport they competed in and which country they represented. As soon as they had completed their performance they immediately looked up to the scoreboard. What were they looking for? Feedback. Olympians covet feedback. Whether positive or critical, this information, this data, was essential to their future performance.
Consider the multiple qualifying rounds for some of the Olympic sports. If a speedskater or snowboarder did not perform to standard, or he or she made an error, that athlete wanted the feedback so that he or she could apply it and have an opportunity to improve in subsequent performances. These athletes are conditioned from a young age to value feedback. To them, QA is an essential and positive part of their growth and development. Their desire to be the best, to win a medal, provides them with a very different perception of feedback—and the person providing it.
How can we develop this same way of thinking? Can we create an atmosphere where we immediately request our “scores” at the completion of a call? Can we develop a culture where everyone wants more case evaluation so that they can apply the data and improve on subsequent calls? Is it possible to consider the “Q” as a coach—a trainer that wants us to succeed?
It starts with each one of us. We should have pride in our performance and want to be the best at what we do. Just as athletes continually train, we should continually seek and complete Continuing Dispatch Education. As even the most conditioned Olympian can make an error or have an “off day,” we too should understand and accept that we are fallible. This shift of culture should start on Day One. Review your new-hire curriculum or dispatcher academy. Is understanding QA data or applying feedback included in the initial instruction? This is a great opportunity to reinforce the benefits of performance evaluation before the first Case Evaluation Record is even received.
Don’t wait for someone else to initiate positive change. Remember and reference the Olympics. Applying them as a model for excellence, we can begin conditioning ourselves to view performance evaluations as part of our development and success. The path to the podium is accepting, and applying, QA feedback. Working with our “Q,” we can “go for gold” and strive to be the best at what we do.