presented by the iafc ems section
>> by gary ludwig, ms, emt-p
Closed door PoliCy
Keeping lines of communication open can help you & your staff
Irecently received an e-mail that told me of an innovative new management principle that most major business schools, such
as Wharton, Harvard and Yale, would soon
be scampering to teach. The e-mail added
that management books would need to be
rewritten and this new management practice
would set teaching of leadership and management back 200 years.
Intrigued, I couldn’t resist reading further
into the e-mail about this earth-shattering
management principle. I was curious about
what was so tremendous and incredible.
Could I possibly be on the brink of some
utterly fantastic discovery that maybe somehow I could share with fellow EMS managers?
CLOSIng THE DOOR
As I read further, I discovered that the writer
was being facetious. He was being tongue-
in-cheek and not really writing about an
earth-shaking innovative or unfounded
management application. What the author
wanted to share with me was what the man-
agement at his EMS service had distributed to
its employees; a memorandum appropriately
called the “Closed Door Policy.”
The memorandum basically said that man-
agers were too busy to deal with employees
when they had an issue that needed address-
ing. Here is what the memo said (with the
To All Employees,
During business hours ( 9–17), [name deleted]
and [name deleted] are being bombarded with opera-
tional issues every five minutes. This makes it impos-
sible to complete our tasks and work assignments.
We are tired of answering the locked door that
specifically says, “AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL
ONLY” to find out that you need to talk about
scheduling, supplies, etc.
Although we appreciate all your concerns, unless
it’s on fire, please e-mail us. We will get back to you
in a timely manner. You cooperation is much appreciated and no exceptions will be made nor tolerated.
Please take this seriously. We have a larger work load
and get seriously behind due to constant visitors.
Surprisingly, this wasn’t a large service
where 1,000-plus employees would keep the
head of an EMS organization from doing
their job because they were inundated with
employees knocking on the door. So when I
read the memo, I was baffled.
LEADIng wITH YOuR FEET
Management does need to prioritize tasks.
And, as I have always preached, management
shouldn’t be bogged down in minutia and
should focus on strategic issues. However,
I have also advocated they can’t sit in their
offices behind closed doors and not interact
with their employees. They need to find a
balance between staying focused on strategic
issues and getting out of the ivory tower to
find out what’s happening in the operation.
When you get out and talk with employees, you find out what’s working and what’s
not. As I’ve often said, you don’t want to
wake up in the morning and read in the paper
what’s happening in your operation.
A label for this practice is “Management by
Walking Around,” or MBWA. I have always
felt this concept was misnamed and
would be better termed “Leadership
by Walking Around.” After all, we
manage budgets and inventories; we
should be leading people.
Nonetheless, this spontaneous
practice in an unstructured manner allows
managers to randomly check with employees
or equipment to find out what is happening
in the operation.
My favorite method to do MBWA is to
stop by one of our busier hospitals in Memphis where I know I’m going to find three
or more Memphis Fire Department ambulances dropping off patients. It gives me the
opportunity to randomly and spontaneously
meet with personnel. It allows me to talk
with them, and it allows them to ask me
questions, let me know about any issues that
need addressing, and, my favorite—deny or
confirm rumors they’ve heard.
This is probably one of the best tools I
have to discover what’s wrong and needs to
be fixed, build rapport with employees and
receive feedback. I may hear things I don’t
want to hear, but that comes with the job and
I would prefer employees to be honest. Sometimes it seems like it’s a small problem. But
I’ve discovered if you don’t deal with the small
problems, they can become big problems.
A BALAnCIng ACT
It’s important to point out that, if you’re
going to use MBWA, you have to do it the
proper way. You can’t just walk around to
say “Good morning.” Don’t criticize. Don’t
create an atmosphere of fear that causes your
employees to get scared and “clam up” when
they see you coming.
And, most importantly, EMS managers
can’t just sit in locked offices and shelter
themselves from what’s happening outside
the confines of their office. Maintaining that
careful balance between becoming a recluse
and interacting with your employees can
allow you to truly find out what’s happening
within (and around) your operation. JEMS
Gary ludwig, MS, EMT-P, has 35 years of
EMS, fire and rescue experience. He currently
serves as a deputy fire chief for the Memphis
Fire Department. He’s also Chair of the EMS
Section for the International Association of
Fire Chiefs. He can be reached through his website at