Episode 41: Amplifying Voices in the Medical Clinic – A Spotlight on “Invisible Work”
Welcome back to another episode of Medical Money Matters, where we dive deep into the financial and operational aspects of medical practices. Today we have a topic that doesn’t just resonate with your wallet, but also with your heart and with your team’s morale.
The practice of medicine isn’t just about the physicians and clinicians who provide care. It’s a collective effort, and today we’re talking about how to make sure every voice in your clinic is heard, especially those who do the “invisible work.”
If you’ve been at this for a while, you might think you know your team inside out. But do you really? Often, the people doing the most fundamental tasks that keep the clinic running smoothly are overlooked. We’re talking about the call center staff who answer incoming calls and make appointments, the custodial staff who ensure a clean environment, the IT guys who keep your systems up and running, and the administrative assistants managing referrals and prior auths like a pro.
These roles may seem peripheral, but they are integral to your practice’s functioning. Ignoring their contribution not only leads to low morale but also impacts the bottom line of the clinic. Why? Because these are the people who ensure that the machinery is well-oiled and functioning. This “invisible work” often goes unrecognized but is vital to the overall operation. So, how do we bring this invisible work into the limelight?
Let’s talk about some strategies for recognizing “Invisible Work.” The first step is to have open channels of communication. And no, I’m not talking about an open-door policy that’s just a formality. Really open those doors, both metaphorically and literally. Implement regular catch-up meetings or suggestion boxes that allow team members to speak their minds openly. Practice MBWA – Management By Walking Around. Take a little time and walk through the clinic when it’s operating at full tilt. See if you can notice if folks are frazzled or frustrated. If so, stop and ask why. Ask what they need in the moment if their job is frustrating them. And then help them to figure it out. Implement solutions. Make this a regular practice, so your team can see that you care about patients, AND you care about them too.
Set up a system of regular acknowledgments and rewards. Some groups we’ve worked with have a “Star of the Month” or “Unsung Hero” award, so they can shine a bright light on these folks. The key is regularity. This not only uplifts the individual but also serves as a teaching moment for the whole team to recognize different kinds of contributions.
One of our clients has a weekly report out at their Ops Meeting of a wide range of key performance metrics. It is a deep list, and it also serves to shine a light on some of the work that would otherwise be invisible. It is a noontime meeting, and they encourage all of the physician owners to hop on the Zoom if they’re available so that the team knows that the doctors are listening. There are always lots of positive comments when a metric shows a great deal of improvement, and the Medical Director makes a point of pausing to thank the team members who made it happen. This kind of public praise and thanks goes a long way.
An individual is more likely to go the extra mile if they see a future for themselves in the clinic. So, let’s talk about how we talk about career growth. Skill and career pathway mapping can be an excellent tool when we’re in conversations with our team. Consider where each team member might fit best and what skills they would need to acquire to get there. Set up conversations with each of them to design their future. See what they’re interested in… watch and listen to see what lights them up. Maybe you have a Medical Assistant who wants to be on track to be a Physician Assistant or even go to medical school. Perhaps there’s a file clerk who likes spreadsheets and really dreams of becoming a finance manager. This personalized approach ensures they don’t feel like just another cog in the wheel, and it gets you a motivated and energized workforce.
That brings us to leadership training. If you’re in a management role, you should encourage staff who might otherwise be marginalized voices to take leadership training programs. This empowers them and also helps in retention. And while they may not see that potential for themselves, sometimes if someone else sees something in us, we are more apt to take action and move along that path. Just having someone else believe in us can be a huge motivator! I know I had several people throughout my career who believed in me, and it propelled me forward. Imagine the difference you could make in the lives of your team members with some encouragement and mentoring.
No conversations about encouragement and mentoring would be complete without a mention of the power of active listening. I can’t stress this enough! As a leader and a mentor in your practice, you need to have an active feedback loop. Acknowledge the team’s efforts, give constructive feedback, and most importantly, implement the changes they suggest if they add value. AND, if they suggest something and you don’t implement it (or don’t implement it right away), talk about the why of that, so that they know their suggestion was heard. Nothing is more disempowering and demoralizing than to be asked for your suggestions, but not ever see any of them implemented.
So how can medical group leaders leave everyone feeling seen and heard? First is transparent decision-making. Being transparent about decisions that affect staff plays a big role. Make them a part of the decision-making process, wherever possible. With this, it’s great to let them know if you are gathering input and YOU will decide, or if you are gathering consensus and the group will decide. That way it’s clear before you begin.
Second is to leverage technology. In this age, technology can be your best friend. Utilize internal social platforms or even simple group chats to keep everyone in the loop. Share successes, stories, and even birthdays to build a close-knit community. Our team sends around birthday memes, which are always good for a laugh, and bring us closer together.
Next, I encourage you to explore the power of social and team-building activities. This can range from a simple Friday evening gathering to periodic team outings. Our group begins each monthly Team Huddle with a quick round robin on a fun question, like: what’s your favorite board game or what’s your all time favorite movie. These get us started off with something fun and let us get to know our coworkers a little better too. Always insightful!
Last but not least, strive to create an environment of psychological safety. This means that people should feel safe to express their ideas without the fear of being judged or penalized. This is an area to bring in your manager or administrator and your partners too. Ask what constitutes psychological safety for others and seek to understand. Your psychological safety and mine may be very different, and they may have very different inputs and constructs. Don’t assume your group already operates this way – ask. And if you get anything other than a resounding and immediate “yes,” ask some more questions.
A medical practice thrives when everyone is seen and heard. As I always say, the practice of medicine should be both financially viable and joyful and a big part of that joy comes from a well-acknowledged and harmonious team.
Thanks for joining me today – be sure to Follow or Subscribe to get future episodes delivered automatically. Join me for our next episode, where we’ll discuss the quagmire of professional references and how to get them when hiring and how to give them on former employees.