In the busy day-to-day operations of your practice, spending time to focus on being a good manager (and reminding your senior staff to do the same) can fall through the cracks. But good management is key to running a healthy practice. It creates happier employees and an overall better work environment for everyone, including you. And research shows that the relationships between doctors and staff play an important role in a patient’s perception of the quality of care they receive.
The study, published in the Annals of Family Medicine, is the first to show that things like encouraging nursing staff, or a willingness to change things in response to feedback from others, actually has an effect on how patients view the care they receive. It’s probably not news to you that happier employees offer better service, but now, under the Affordable Care Act, patient satisfaction scores have become even more important because they are being used by the federal government to calculate Medicare reimbursements.
And retaining that happy employee is important, as well. Direct replacement costs can be as high as 50-60 percent of an employee’s annual salary, according to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study, so keeping the best employees — and keeping them happy — is not only good for your patients, it’s a sound financial move for your practice.
How do you improve your management game to hang onto your best staff and make them happy to be working in your practice? Here are some tips to get started.
Set up goals
And be clear about them. Your employees want to know what success looks like, how to get there, and how it helps the practice. But even more important can be the framing of these goals — the way you present them to your team. If they don’t seem achievable, or if it’s too hard to judge where they are in the process of getting across the finish line, employees can feel discouraged and their labors fruitless. One way to help set clear, achievable goals for your staff is to think SMART, which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-oriented.
- Specific goals should be broken down and defined clearly. Instead of “be friendlier when greeting patients,” describe the goal with specifics: “Welcome each patient by name and ask about their day.”
- Measurable goals can be easily defined for people who generate revenue, but for office staff, measurement might be whether or not a new process was implemented.
- It’s easy to create a goal that is not attainable for a staff person. It seems like someone should be able to implement a new software package and train the staff on how to use it, but remember what goes into each task you assign. Does that staff person have to learn how to use it first? Is he or she already overloaded with work? Don’t assign more than is possible.
- Be realistic. Don’t set goals for your staff people because YOU want to achieve them for your practice. Keep in mind what is possible for each individual and his or her skill set.
- Then decide when you will measure performance — six months, a year? Whatever you decide, stick to it.
This template from SHRM can help you get started with goal setting in your practice.
Offer feedback, the right way
Employees want to know how they’re doing, but make sure the feedback you’re giving is valuable by being honest and giving context. Without hard examples to refer to, praise can feel less than genuine. Instead of saying, “You did a good job with the EHR conversion,” try “You did a good job keeping the team focused during the EHR conversion. Your positivity helped everyone stay motivated to hit our deadline.” Vague suggestions for improvement can be confusing or feel unwarranted — and if the feedback is confusing or overly harsh, it’s a good bet it won’t be acted on.
Recognize and reward good work
Give kudos and use incentives. Just make sure you also recognize how your employee’s success benefits a larger practice goal. Avoid empty praise so that your recognition demonstrates how an employee’s success helps the business and fosters personal growth. “Your efforts to make the waiting room more comfortable have not gone unnoticed. I’ve heard several compliments from patients, which makes people more at ease when they get to the exam room.”
Be “environmentally aware”
From adding mobile devices to exam rooms to onboarding new staff, change is inevitable. Consider how transitions impact your employees and plan accordingly. Understanding the implications of change on team members and being empathetic goes a long way to show you’re invested in their success. It can be as simple as saying, “How is XXX process going for you today?”
Check for toxicity
Some workplaces aren’t just difficult or stressful. Some are toxic, and while it can be tough to define what that might look like in your practice, it’s still something to be aware of. Wharton management professor Adam Cobb explains that across industries, it seems that what indicates a toxic workplace is often the way employees treat one another. So be observant — is there one front desk person who criticizes other staff when patients are nearby? That person could be making it hard for others to do their jobs.
Have a plan for when things aren’t working
And follow through on it. If goals aren’t being met, make sure it’s not because expectations weren’t made clear. Gauge your team’s understanding of your practice goals by asking questions and being a good listener. First, turn inward. What could you have done to be clearer? Give everyone a chance to course-correct. If things still aren’t working, it could be time to have a difficult conversation.
Each of these tactics hinge on giving context. Context helps your team understand why you’ve set individual and practice-wide goals, frames feedback (good and bad) into actionable insights, and can help make it clear why changes are made.
Being a good manager helps you nurture and retain the best employees, and that ultimately builds a stronger practice.
For more tips on making your practice run smoothly, visit the practice management section of our blog.