In my former work life, I ran a for-profit, afterschool tutoring and educational center for children. Looking back, I know that I learned a lot from that job. After all, kids show us some of our basic human instincts and traits.
At this educational center, children came to improve their academic skills in a variety of subjects. We made it fun by using computer games for some of the curriculum, and students could earn prizes for trying their best and getting good scores.
Children worked at their own pace and the curriculum adapted to their performance. If they were missing a lot of answers, those skills would be taught again. If a student scored highly, that meant they had mastered that skill and could move to the next level. The curriculum was tailored to each student’s performance and needs. We worked with children who excelled in school and needed more challenge as well as some who were falling behind and needed support.
However, usually after about six months, the curriculum became more challenging and the program’ newness and students’ excitement dwindled. It happened with almost every child and was predictable. We called this dip in excitement an enthusiasm wave.
As adults, don’t we all have these enthusiasm waves also? Think about your job, relationships, volunteer activities and so forth. Jobs offer times of highs and lows. Relationships go through changes and difficult times.
Do you see enthusiasm waves in the people at your fire station? As people experience life changes, such as getting married or having kids, their motivations and priorities change. When training gets difficult, people may get frustrated. We know the ups and downs of work and life will happen, so we need to be prepared to help people ride their enthusiasm waves.
So how do you help your members and staff handle these? Here are a few tips and steps.
Identify the enthusiasm wave. Oftentimes you can see the loss of excitement on someone’s face, through body language, or through their actions or lack thereof. Having a discussion and asking questions will help identify the issues causing these.
Discover why they are currently in the downward part of the enthusiasm wave. What has happened to lead them to feel this way? Is it one specific problem or are there many? Ask open-ended questions to get more information from them. Maybe you have a relatively new member who was performing very well and now isn’t; could it be that training got harder? Did he have an issue with someone on his crew? Did she want more responsibility and ways to make a difference in the department?
Find out what motivates members. Why did they originally join the department? Why have they stayed? What do they love most about being part of the fire department?
Develop a plan. How can you get them to get back to riding the top of the wave? In the educational center, sometimes we simply needed to adjust the curriculum. At other times, we added additional incentives, like the ability to get more prizes. Sometimes it required just a simple chat to show the students that we cared.
The answers you find from these conversations will identify the type of plan that is needed. Maybe someone is struggling with meeting training requirements and needs more practice on certain skills. Perhaps a veteran member can come in early or stay late on training-drill nights to work one-on-one with that member.
Check in regularly. After you develop the plan and start to execute it, make sure to check in with the member. See how the plan is working and adjust accordingly. Gauge their level of satisfaction. Ask how they are feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. Set a goal to get them closer to a 10.
All of us experience enthusiasm waves, from the newest recruit to the most seasoned member. Accept that these waves happen, be aware of them and develop a plan to deal with them. We all have different motivations and the key is to find what motivates each individual member.
There is not a one-size-fits-all way to motivate everyone in your department. It is much easier to help someone when the enthusiasm wave starts to dip than when they come to you wanting to quit. At that point, they have made up their mind and it is hard to convince them to stay.
As a chief or company officer, it is your duty to help people ride their enthusiasm waves. This will lead to stronger recruitment and retention in your department.