Business As It Should Be – First Thoughts
This article is the first in a series where we’ll explore the ways in which business is done. One of our goals is to look at how business is done and suggest ways in which it can be done better. The tab for these messages is labeled BAISB – an acronym for Business As It Should Be.
As I approach the end of my career as a paramedic, I’ve been reflecting on the different ways in which I’ve seen business done. Since a friend is starting up a new business, we’ve been discussing business models and I thought I’d share a few thoughts with you.
One of the more unusual things I witnessed in the way business is done came when I transferred between two branches of the same company. The difference in business philosophy between the two operations was striking, considering they were under the same corporate banner.
The location I moved from was run by a manager (I’ll call him Steve) who had an open-door policy. Any time I had a concern, I was welcome to walk into his office and discuss it. The open-door policy gave opportunity for flatterers to hang out in Steve’s office, but he was a perceptive man who saw right through these folks.
When Steve hired me, I had just spent a year and a half looking for a job. I had a lot of experience but I became involved in a long battle with my previous employer. Word got around that I was a troublemaker and no one would give me an interview. Steve hired me with a couple of provisions. He wanted to put me through a critical care training program and if I completed the training, I would be hired full-time. The firm paid all my expenses including travel and food while I was in the class. The bill came to around $5,000.
After I completed the class, I was given a restricted set of protocols until I was comfortable with the higher level of care. On the first day of work, I did three transports at the critical care level. Steve asked how the calls went. I told him everything went smoothly. He told me that the billing for those three calls equaled the $5,000 the company spent to train me. He understood that the company would reap a great return on the money it invested in training me.
Suspecting that I was ready for a bigger challenge, a few weeks later, Steve had dispatch send me on a call where the patient had several IV medications that were outside the protocols the company had set for me. I didn’t understand why they sent me on this call. Everyone knew I wasn’t qualified to do this transport. I called dispatch and asked if they were aware of my restricted protocols. They said they were and informed me that I should do the transport and call Steve if I had concerns.
I gave him a ring and asked why he sent me on the call. He didn’t tell me why. He just said he was giving me permission to do the transport (if I was comfortable doing it) and he granted me amnesty since I would be operating outside of protocol.
I agreed to run the call.
The transport was pretty stressful. The patient had a cerebral aneurysm and was being transferred to a larger hospital for neurosurgery. He had a lot of IV medications running and he was on a ventilator. But I got him there safely and without incident.
I talked with Steve afterward and ask why it was so important that I take the call. He said he wanted to test me.
Steve had a theory. He believed that a properly trained paramedic could safely transport a critically ill patient that would normally require a nurse. But he needed to test his theory. He knew I was always looking for bigger challenges and thought I was the most likely person to take a chance and go outside of our protocols. It was a calculated risk that paid off. Using transports like this one, he built a program that would raise the bar and create a higher scope of practice for paramedics.
I was impressed by the fact that Steve trusted me enough to let me take such a risk. We both had a lot at stake; my license could have been suspended or revoked. But our willingness to cooperate and take risks allowed us to create a new model for our industry.
Steve had gained my trust on previous incidents when unfounded complaints were filed against me. In those cases, once he realized I’d done nothing wrong, he backed me completely. He was the first manager I’d ever worked for who supported me in that way. Strange as it may sound – it was more common for managers to assume employees were guilty than to consider the possibility that they were innocent.
Allow me to share one more illustration of how Steve managed his company.
There was a highly publicized traffic fatality that involved a collision between an ambulance and a car. The ambulance was responding to a call with its lights and sirens on. A woman didn’t see the ambulance approaching and drove into its path. Her car was struck in the driver’s door and she was killed. The media crucified the ambulance driver with the help of his employer, who refused to support his account of the incident. He was eventually fired from his job.
Seeing a man who was the victim of cruel circumstances, Steve hired him. The man (we’ll call him Tim) was grateful for a second chance to continue working in the profession he loved. Tim worked the busiest unit in town, which was assigned to the ghetto. They ran twice as many calls as everyone else, but I never heard Tim complain. He did his job well and was eventually promoted to field training officer and preceptor. It was an amazing thing to behold. Steve facilitated the redemption of Tim’s career and possibly his life, by giving him a second chance. His employment with our firm gave him the opportunity to work in an environment where his skills were valued and he was allowed to reach his fullest potential.
I enjoyed a long working relationship with this company. They cared about people. There was trust and mutual respect between management and field employees. We had an exceptional training department. While many companies boast about being a leader in their industry – our company actually was a leader. We made significant changes to the way the state licensed paramedics and created a new level of certification. Don’t get me wrong – we had our share of difficult times, but we always got through them and moved forward with the company’s mission. During the 32 years, I’ve worked in EMS, this was the best company I’ve worked for. They conducted business the way it should be done. Eventually, I transferred to another operation within the same company. I could not have imagined the stark differences between these two operations.
After moving to the other location, I ran into one problem after another. The new company refused to honor the pay grade they promised me before I transferred. They started me near the bottom of the pay scale. (I was at the top of the pay scale before transferring.) After working there for a year, I took a two-week vacation. Although my vacation had been approved four months in advance, when the time came for my vacation, they scheduled me to work those two weeks. It took some doing to convince them my vacation had been approved. When I came back from vacation, the company had placed me on inactive status and removed me from the schedule. I had to talk with human resources to be re-activated before I could go back to work. The week that I returned from vacation I learned that the company had terminated my health insurance coverage.
The management team didn’t have an open-door policy; it had a revolving door policy. In the short time, I worked there, mid and low-level managers came and went frequently. The same was true for field employees. It seemed like we were never at full staffing. We lost EMT’s and paramedics every week and hired new ones to replace them. Management didn’t seem to care about employee turnover. They viewed us as a replaceable commodity. Morale was horrible. No one liked working there.
Welcome to business as it shouldn’t be.
My friend and I have worked for companies that use ineffective, and in some cases – downright bizarre means to accomplish their business objectives. My friend is interested in identifying and implementing strategies that will make his business a model of how business should be done.
One thing that we’ve identified as a key element is the way in which we view one another. In the examples above, Steve saw his employees almost as peers. He valued their input, trusted them to make good decisions, invested in their training, allowed them to take reasonable risks, and backed them up when trouble came. When you treat people this way, it allows them the freedom to take risks.
Achieving our fullest potential as human beings requires us to take risks. It is only when we operate in unconventional ways and in previously untried modes of thinking that growth can occur. Thinking and operating outside the box is risky. Most people won’t take risks if they believe they’ll be punished for failure. If you want to encourage people to achieve their fullest potential you must create an environment where they feel safe taking risks. Many companies create an environment where failure due to taking risks is met with punishment. These companies place a kind of glass ceiling over their employees which limits their growth.
Another key is understanding why we’re in business in the first place. Just as divine healing is not primarily about making diseases go away, operating a business is not primarily about making money. Divine healing is primarily about introducing people to God and revealing His ways to them. Similarly, business is primarily about connecting people and providing a means for them to work in unison to further God’s greater plans for mankind. Much of what God wants to do involves the redemption of people’s lives from despair, depression, rejection, and failure. We must keep in mind that our business provides a platform where He can redeem them back into a life of purpose.
These are my first thoughts on how business can be done better. In future articles, we’ll explore these ideas in more depth.
Thanks for dropping by.