6 steps to turn great EMS ideas into actual, lasting change

Having a great idea is the easy part — getting others to see its potential takes hard work

By Chip Sovick

Have you ever envisioned the best new EMS idea since sliced bread, developed a plan for implementation and presented it to your team, only to have them completely reject it without even hearing you out?

You are left scratching your head and wondering what mistakes you made. Did you present too much detail? Not enough detail? Where did your message go wrong?

Or perhaps it was months later, after what you thought was a great start, and the project fizzled and never got off the ground — and no one but you seemed too upset about it. Why did no one else seem invested in your great idea? Hadn’t you convinced them?

The truth is that an idea’s merits and your presentation style only account for a part of the success of your new idea. Getting your leadership team, and the rest of the organization, to believe in your brainchild (or anyone else’s) requires much more than a flashy PowerPoint and a convincing argument.

Consider these six critical steps whenever you introduce your new idea — whether it’s a completely new way of doing business, or just a change to one small part of a process.

1. Involve core team members from the beginning

Decide who you need on the core team for this project and involve them early in your concept development. Essentially you are getting them in on the ground floor, letting them know that they are part of the change management process.

Don’t limit your initial team to your regular work group. Involve people from other departments or areas in the organization to make sure all the bases are covered when it comes to ideas and input. Consider areas like dispatch/communications, finance/human resources and field operations when putting together the group. Involve experienced leaders and newer members of the organization. Consider including personnel who you know think differently, or even someone who often opposes change, as long as they are still willing to consider new ideas and not bring negativity to the process.

2. Lay out a clear vision

Providing a clear and simple view of what you are hoping to do, and what you hope it will accomplish is paramount and gives the team a clear road map for success. The easier it is to understand what is being proposed and why, the easier it is for your colleagues to get behind the idea, help refine it and sell it to the entire organization.

3. Be flexible and open-minded

It is important to be flexible as the team moves forward; being rigid and inflexible to potential changes will never win anyone over or get the job done. It will simply stall the process and cause team members to disengage in the process.

Be receptive to new ideas from team members, even if they involve just minor changes. And if they propose major alterations, be willing to consider them just as you hope the team will consider yours: with an open mind, objective assessment and a willingness to admit that someone thought of a good idea before you did.

4. Be prepared to overcome objections

Any new idea or project will be met with resistance and objections. It is part of the life cycle of developing a new idea, especially in public safety and EMS, where tradition is strong and what we are taught in classrooms is often treated as gospel.

Being prepared to rationally overcome and handle questions and concerns is paramount. Initial objections should not be viewed as team members not supporting a plan or project, but more as a process to gain a greater understanding of the idea and to refine it. Encourage your initial leadership or program development team to think of any possible objection or concern, so you can make adjustments to the plan and prepare answers when the new idea is rolled out to the larger organization.  

5. Tie your idea to strategic goals

The majority of innovative ideas will most certainly have a strategic impact on an organization. It is important to assist others to see the relevance and relationship of your vision to the success of the organization. It must be clear that your idea supports the organization and assists it in reaching one or more of its strategic objectives.

Be explicit about which strategic objectives and goals will be addressed by the change, and propose ways to measure its success. Measurement is the key to actually seeing if the change is achieving the desired goals, and it also demonstrates a willingness to take a risk and admit the impact was not what you had hoped it would be.

6. Make it easy

Last and probably most importantly is to make it easy for members of the department to say yes and get on board with the idea. If your idea is overly complex and difficult to understand, it has little chance of gaining acceptance. Team members will get lost in the details and have a difficult time saying yes. If there is fear of retribution, your team might agree to everything in the room, but they may work to sabotage the plan once they walk out the door. By assembling a diverse group, allowing dissent, preparing for objections and aligning your idea to strategic goals, you can give your organization the best chance of being innovative and making progress.

About the author
Chip Sovick, a senior associate with Fitch & Associates, has more than 25 years in the health care industry. He served as president and CEO of a large multistate air and ground critical care transport network for more than two decades. Previously, he held a leadership position for a progressive county EMS agency. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.

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