Skip to main content

In PSAPs and operations centers across the country, “the way we’ve always done it,” is no longer a viable business practice. Entire organizations, from the top-down and the bottom-up, are devoted to uncovering novel approaches to solving challenges. Wouldn’t it be nice if the problems at your comm center solved themselves? This is the promise of encouraging innovative thinking across all levels of the organization. By addressing the thoughts and behaviors that prevent innovation, you can unleash the potential hidden within the members of your existing team.


How do we create culture shift?


This type of thought innovation at your agency requires two primary steps:

1. Coming up with ideas, or potential solutions, to apparent challenges
2. Executing on these ideas and applying them to organizational life (admittedly more difficult)

Surprisingly, in most organizations, innovation isn’t hampered by a lack of ideas. Rather, it’s hampered when stakeholders fail to notice and apply the good ideas that already exist.

PSAP and operations center leadership: Recognizing the need for problem-solving

Ron Dunn, a 24-year veteran of 9-1-1 and now Public Safety Communications Manager for Oxnard Police Department in California, has been an advocate for innovative thinking since early in his career.

A familiar challenge

In his previous post working for a large sheriff’s office communications division, Ron approached his lieutenant about the possibility of civilian managers overseeing dispatch operations.

Prior to this, the common practice was for sworn personnel to be assigned oversight of communications with no civilian staff input. Captains, lieutenants and sergeants would occupy this rotating position for up to three years and then continue progressing through the ranks. Unfortunately for communications personnel, those officers assigned this role had no communications experience and took on such roles grudgingly.

As a result, the problems screaming for attention were given none. Morale tanked. Recruitment and training efforts stalled. No voice was given to those who sat under the headsets.

Building support for active change and problem-solving

After catching the ear of a sympathetic lieutenant, Ron’s proposal for the creation of a civilian communications manager position was approved. With a civilian manager, dispatch was represented at department-wide meetings. The real problems were brought to light—radio infrastructure, dispatchers being left out of debriefings, peer support concerns, for example—and proactive action taken.

The action mindset + building trust

When he was promoted to the civilian manager position, Ron brought his problem-solving approach to the entire organization. He met with dispatchers on a regular basis and encouraged them to offer solutions. He engaged in open and honest discussion. Ron shared:

We don’t have all the answers. If there’s something you don’t like, please suggest a solution.

Due to the high degree of trust Ron had already cultivated, his team was open to the possibility he might do something with their suggestions. “You can bring anything to me, and I’ll bring it to the bosses,” he continued. “If it doesn’t work, it’s on me. If it does work, congratulations.” Ron sheltered his team from the possibility of failing, encouraging more innovative solutions. Within 3-6 months, a steady stream of solutions began to come forward.

Neither the problems nor solutions were new. They simply hadn’t been given an open ear. There was no one at the top to champion the effort. As David Burkus, author of the Harvard Business Review article Innovation Isn't an Idea Problem, puts it:

Innovation isn't an idea problem, it's a recognition problem.


Stay tuned...

Next week you’ll learn steps you can take at your agency to create a culture of problem-solving. And you’ll learn to identify and work-through common roadblocks.

Do the perils of creating change and solutions that seemingly go unheard sound familiar? Are you hungry for active problem-solving?


About the Author


Adam Timm is the author of the #1 bestselling book, Stress Is Optional! How to Kick the Habit, and the co-founder of The Healthy Dispatcher, a company devoted to inspiring front line 9-1-1 telecommunicators with innovative training classes, leadership coaching, and consulting services.A 9-1-1 telecommunicator for over a decade and a passionate advocate for PSAP health and wellness, he brings his stories from the front line into his writings and classes. He is a frequent keynote and breakout session speaker at APCO and NENA conferences around the country, and his second book, Dispatcher Stress: 50 Lessons on Beating the Burnout, is out now.

Also available at, Adam's blog The Power of Resilience: How to Thrive as a 911 Dispatcher.

Stay Connected with Watson

Receive more articles like this right to your inbox.