Full disclosure, I wasn’t sure I was going to publicly post this when I sat down to write it. Then I remembered at the end of the day, my job is to ensure everyone goes home safe and lessons are learned from mistakes, even if those mistakes are my own or my departments. COVID-19 has posed incredible challenges to the agencies tasked with responding to issues. The biggest challenge I have personally encountered so far, is how to communicate information that is vital to agency response to those responsible for actually responding.
Currently, I am splitting roles between front line supervisor and planning team member for the department’s incident management team (IMT). The benefit is I get first hand insight to the decisions that are made and assist with making them. The downside is I get information that is not for general release for a multitude of reasons. Those who I am tasked with leading in my every day role know where I spend the rest of my time. They know I have information and they try really hard to get that information, and I can’t blame them. The communication from my department from the onset has been lacking. That said, the department is in the unenviable position of responding to a crisis that has not been dealt with on this large of scale in over 100 years. Even with that factor, the department has committed 2 of the 7 deadly sins outlined in Sujan Patel’s 2017 article for Inc. titled “The 7 Deadly Sins of Manager-Employee Communication (and How to Avoid Them)”, being unapproachable and using passive-aggressive communication.
The previous sentence was painful to write because I know there are many in the department who do not intend it to be that way. My department also has a chain of command which makes the unapproachable part seem normal, but it does not and SHOULD not be that way, especially in these uncertain times. Now more than ever the department leadership needs to engage with its employees and reaffirm their commitment to the success of the department. Insulating themselves and responding to inquiries with phrases such as “check the blog” or “that question has already been answered” is just not sufficient and seems almost cold. The responders are afraid, their families are afraid, and the public they are tasked with helping are afraid. A leadership presence is required more than ever, not only to calm those under their command, but to deliver a strong message that can be relayed to the public.
For now, I’ll continue to calm those under my direct command, pass on what information I can when I can, and do my best to ensure other departments can learn from mistakes that are made prior to making the mistakes themselves.