Pursuing A Culture of Excellence

Business Success  What makes a medical practice exceptionally good at what it does? How does it stand out from the competition and attract top talent? Great clinical care, solid strategic plans, and exceptional employees all make a difference, but what top notch medical practices have that mediocre practices lack is a culture of excellence – beliefs and behaviors demonstrated day in and day out that enable and inspire everyone in the practice to do their very best.

Culture can be defined as the “set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization, or group.” Culture is not a “goal” to be mandated, but rather the outcome of a collective set of behaviors. Leaders can influence those behaviors in several ways and, in so doing, shape the culture of their practices.

As a physician and an individual that your staff looks to for leadership, follow (3) steps daily to enable a new culture to be ingrained into your practice …

  1. Convey your vision of a winning culture. Define your aspirations, what will be different, and how these changes make a difference for the success of your medical practice.
  1. Demonstrate how new cultural behaviors advance your practice. Nothing reinforces new behaviors more than success. So once you define these behaviors, work with your staff to apply them to a project that needs improvement.
  1. Reinforce the new culture by integrating it into personnel management processes. Staff members tend to focus on what’s measured and rewarded. So the third step for building a new culture is to use the desired behaviors as criteria for hiring, promoting, rewarding and disciplining staff.

Even in this uncertain time of healthcare reform, the medical practices that I work with that are winning know they should invest in their people. Medical practices that are committed to a strong workplace culture tend to perform very well.

As the owner or managing physician of your medical practice, when was the last time you made the effort to understand, really understand, what the people you work with are thinking and how they’re feeling about their jobs? Despite the dismal stories we hear on the news regarding workplace engagement, there are many successful leaders who do one simple thing: They frequently ask their employees how they feel about their job and what could be done differently or better to make them happier. When this dialogue takes place, they receive priceless information that helps them retain their best employees and optimize their productivity.

Throughout my career, I have gained an understanding of the value of employee feedback. I’m talking about a sincere, consistent effort to make your staff’s workplace the best it can be. Ask employees how happy they are at work and what you can do to make them happier. These two questions indicate to your staff that your care about them and that they have your support. Furthermore, these discussions will provide you with a clear understanding of their concerns so you can provide your staff with meaningful direction. By knowing what motivates your staff, you can boost their performance and their satisfaction at work. These discussions also serve a purpose by allowing you to proactively head off issues before they become larger problems.

Assuming your staff is made up of several high-performing, highly motivated individuals whom you want to retain, here are a few ideas for monitoring and improving their work performance.

  1. Schedule a recurring appointment, monthly or quarterly on your calendar and ask your employees whether they are happy at work and what you can do to make them happier.  Don’t wait an annual wage or performance review to have this conversation.
  1. Maintain open lines of communication so that you can offer support and address issues before they become large scale problems.
  1. Keep the dialogue going. Don’t assume that you have all the information you need if you’ve asked people once whether they’re happy. Circumstances inside and outside of the workplace change over time, and feelings can evolve accordingly.

Remember, relationships are built on a series of little moments that create big impact over time. Sending someone home from work early to attend their child’s school performance is not an earth-shattering event on its own. But it is an affirmation that someone’s personal needs are important and to be honored. Taken as a whole, many small actions can strengthen someone’s foundation or they can tear them down. Be someone who builds others up rather than tears them down.  Little things matter in a big way.

In my opinion, open and honest communication with your employees is a cornerstone for employee retention. By communicating regularly with your employees, you will understand what motivates them and the challenges they need to overcome in order to do their best at your practice. This knowledge will help you reward your most talented staff in ways that are meaningful to them, which can change over time, depending on what is happening in both their personal and professional lives. Your efforts will be rewarded in the form of a highly engaged, productive and, yes, happy group of employees.

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