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Donna Suter is president of Suter Consulting Group.
Managing your team was, and continues to be, the biggest challenge you ever faced.
Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Eye Catching: Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Donna Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or UBM Medica.
Are you a leader? Being the boss and being thought of as a leader aren’t the same thing, are they? Join me in a trip down memory lane: That first day of being the manager of the practice you were filled with so much excitement and confidence. The world was yours for the taking and the sky was the limit.
If that day, the day you took over leadership in the office, was your first exposure to managing a work team, you might have been a little nervous-but not really. You had leveraged your talents, abilities, and education successfully in the past and you were confident you could do it again. Everything was coming up roses.
Money Matters: Should you pay off debt or invest your money?
Or so you naively thoughPay off debt or invest my money: What is the right way to go?t. Those first few months may have been a true reality check. You may have found yourself putting out fires constantly, telling employees-who you thought were bright self-starters-how to fill their days; and ultimately faced with some pretty daunting barriers.
Suddenly, your dreams looked too lofty and your confidence melted like snow in the spring. Your rose garden was filled with weeds and the sweet smell of success was choked out by the stench of low morale and bad attitudes.
Managing your team was and continues to be the biggest challenge you ever faced.
Allow me to offer a ray of sunshine. Leadership is a skill that can be learned and honed with practice. Your natural abilities will become more effective when reinforced with self-study, continuing education (practice management CE), or management/leadership courses available in your area.
Effective leaders, often called managers, are key team members who are able to plan in practical and concrete terms. A peak performing leader is one that is able to break your growth plan into action steps and motivate others to use their talents and abilities to achieve your practice goals.
Effective eyecare teams also require a leader who knows the art of persuasion. Persuasive leaders are skilled in mediation, persuasion, conciliation, decision-making, problem-solving, and staff development. A skilled manager/leader gives direction, sets priorities, and challenges your workforce to greater efficiency while also knowing how to applaud progress toward goals in a manner that motivates staff members to even greater excellence.
Is your practice fortunate enough to have such a leader? Are you that leader? Still not sure? Check your employees’ morale. Morale, like electricity, may be something you don’t understand well; but it is easy to see its results, judge its quality and, when good, use it to meet production goals.
High morale is the hallmark of good employee/employer relations. A by-product of high-morale is employees who like their jobs and strive to work cooperatively with other.
Morale is as a state of mind with reference to confidence, zeal, espirit de corps, hope, and is closely associated with productivity.
Low morale, on the other hand, is one sign of deteriorating supervisor-employee relations. It prompts absenteeism, carelessness, errors, slow work, and employee turnover. It may also be the root cause of patient complaints, low productivity, and employees ignoring office policies. Low morale could create an atmosphere of entitlement with employees repeatedly requesting exceptions to stated policies. It is often a precursor to a host of other personnel issues; i.e. gossip, badmouthing and complaining.
Don’t lose heart. Your team’s adjustment to a new manager/leader style is often a temporary challenge. It is the new manager’s responsibility to adjust to employees and learn about them while employees are adjusting to his or her new management style.
Sometimes, a change in management reveals an underlying personnel issue. If you’ve ever had to manage a person who was vindictive or hostile-or both-then I don’t have to tell you how difficult that can be. Because practices often hire people who are good at completing a certain set of tasks but have poor communication skills, new managers sometimes find themselves supervising people who are challenging, to say the least. And the vindictive, hostile worker is a huge challenge. This type of person can be malicious, even vicious, and he or she may try to cause the manager problems and do the practice harm.
These types seem to assume that they have a right to change policy, even though they have not earned the position of manager. How should a manager respond to this type of person, when face-to-face with him or her every day?
Responses for when you feel attacked:
· Refrain from any verbal response. Just hold your tongue and don’t express the anger you may be feeling. Remember to breath! Oxygen to the brain is important in tense situations.
· Be open to doing what he or she asks/demands. Even though you may not be required to do so! I don’t mean that you always jump through their hoops, but on occasion an over-bearing employee may be suggesting a process improvement or other kind of change that is good for the practice. Now, it will feel like you are submitting when you do it their way, but encouraging an atmosphere of teamwork means being open to the ideas and thoughts of others. There will probably be more times when you simply explain that you’re not able to do what is asked or perhaps question the business reasons behind the request. When this is the case, make sure your word choices align with a relaxed body language and friendly tone of voice.
· Deliver your ‘No’ in a quiet, controlled manner. In cases where the employee has no authority over you, but simply wants to boss you around, use the tone of your voice and non-confrontational words to create alliances.
· Be a role model. Naturally there are some employees who want to be part of your ‘inner circle.’ Don’t join in any gossip or character assassination of this type of co-worker.
It is very easy to get “into the weeds” of practice management and forget about the people churning out those numbers. A recognized way for a new manager to gain and keep his or her team’s respect and to safe-guard the practice’s productivity is to be responsive to employees. Promptness in resolving issues that matter to your team (problems) will ensure their satisfaction with your leadership style.
When a complaint comes up, follow these simple guidelines.
1. Receive the complaint properly. Listen to what the person has to say, making sure you hear everything. Now restate the complaint to be sure you understand the problem.
2. Define what to expect. After a complaint has been made, let the person know what to expect from you. Tell them you will investigate the problem and get back with them by a stated day or time (close of business, tomorrow, end of the week). Or, tell them you would like to talk to some other employees about the matter. Avoid raising expectations or making promises you cannot deliver.
3. Get the facts. Check every angle of the complaint. After you have gotten the facts, review the practice’s policies regarding the proper action to take. Also, examine the employee’s work record. Information influences decision and fosters discretion. Thorough investigation will result in avoiding poor judgement and lead to wise actions.
4. Take action. Employees like to work for supervisors and managers who are prompt in their decision making. Explain your findings and conclusions to the employee and take corrective action. Make amends if the practice is at fault. If you have to discipline the employee, do it with fairness and respect. Stand behind your decision and be sure to pass on all the facts to the managing partner/owner.
5. Follow-up. Make sure your course of action is carried out. Follow-up to see that corrections and amendments are made, expectations are reasonable and recidivism does not occur.
6. Record Keeping. I recommend that complaints be recorded and logged. Keep it simple and manageable.
Following this six-step process regardless of how an employee responds to you and your requests, demonstrates to your team that you are a leader that always treat employees with respect and kindness. Oh, for sure you may have to confront and take a firm stand in some situations, but even that can be done in a respectful way and be motivated by clearly understood business reasons.
Likewise, there will be times when you must boldly confront others for their good. This is especially true if you’re in a management position. We all fear these kinds of straight-forward confrontations because it is temporarily very uncomfortable. And rarely do people accept these words well initially. Yet it may be exactly what is needed for long-term change, which in the end is for their good more than anyone else’s.
You may not think of confrontation as a people skill, but it definitely is. This blog and practice can help you do it effectively. Of course, carefully scrutinize your motives first. Then, grit your teeth to do what needs to be done.
If you are like me, some leadership skills mentioned in this blog you are good at and you do well. Others, not so good. If you want everything smelling like roses, apply as much discipline to becoming a good leader as a master gardener does his or her rose garden. Lay out your leadership-improvement plans and do the work.
Do some self-reflection. Interestingly, most of us have different aspects of leadership that we find challenging. This suggests that the hard spots you stumbled over in the past are really an interaction effect and that self-improvement is possible.
Think about some potential reasons why you feel you have the title of manager but not the moniker of leader. Be specific. Do you have trouble appreciating all your colleagues or struggle with performance reviews (giving constructive criticism?). What about them don’t you like? What do they do that irritates you? What about giving constructive criticism don’t you understand? Are the issues SO big that you can’t think of anything that would increase your effectiveness? What would allow you to lead without second-guessing yourself? Don’t let some negative experiences and poor self-talk blind you to your strengths. (If you were that bad of a leader you would have never read this much of the blog.)
What are you waiting for? A rose garden doesn’t grow over night. Plant the seeds of change today. Knowledge of the issues is a start but a little more sweat equity will be needed before you see a change in yourself or your team.
Be excited about the future!! Even though some practice management issues are as prickly as a rose, most aren’t. Although you may have had a bad season, spring comes every year. Be your best. And remember the points in this blog. Thank me with yellow roses!
Putting It In View: For whose convenience-the practice or the patient?
 Charismatic leaders have a strong effect on their followers because the leader knows how to forge a connection. The authors note that these are not styles in which a leader normally operates out of one mode, but rather the leader fits one of seven styles to fit the situation and the characteristics of his or her team to achieve the best outcome. Thus, they are behavioral patterns that good leaders know how and when to operate out of. http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/leadcon.html