Episode 23: Your Greatest Resource: The Human One
In our last episode, we got to visit with Joe Mull, author, speaker and trainer about all things “employee retention.” I enjoyed the conversation, and the fact is, when you think about your practice as a business – and I hope you are by now! – the people are the most expensive, and most important part. You simply can’t deliver really great patient care without your team.
And, sometimes having people in the equation just makes things really complicated! Any time we’re wrangling with a particularly gnarly staffing issue, I’ve been known to say, “This would all be a lot easier if it weren’t for the people!”
All kidding aside, great organizations are made up of great people whose visions are aligned and who treat each other respectfully. In any medical practice, there are natural dichotomies between highly educated, highly compensated people in the business – physicians, advanced practice providers and some executive level administrators vs. less educated entry level workers – receptionists, medical assistants, some nursing and ancillary staff. Some of your staff very likely live paycheck to paycheck. Many of them have chaotic lives with lots of drama, and some of them try to bring that drama to the clinic with them.
I generally have a very low tolerance for drama, and consequently our team doesn’t focus on it, and we don’t have much of it. We’ve had employees in the past who have tried to bring drama to our workplace, and it’s just not part of our culture. They figure out pretty quickly that it won’t be tolerated, and they find a new place to take their drama. Do you have people on your team who bring a lot of drama? Does it serve your group well? If not, time to deal with it. The price they exact from the other members of your team is startingly high. And, following the pandemic, everyone’s patience is worn thin, and a good team member will find another job if they see you continuing to tolerate a bad one.
To get and keep good people, it’s important to value your people. First of all, I recommend you set your pay scales at the high end of market, and then go out there and find the really good talent. And, let them know you expect great results. If you don’t know what the market is for front office people or medical assistants in your area, do some research. Many of the hiring websites have comparative data available and your county or state medical associations may have formal wage surveys they’ve conducted. A note here – in thinking about how much you pay your team, it’s tempting to go cheap. Don’t. If you’re hiring at the low end of market, you might be getting people more cheaply, but chances are good you’ll need to hire more of them to get the same amount of work done as you would if you hired and paid at the upper end of the market.
ALWAYS make payroll on time, and correctly – there is no upside here – everyone expects payroll to be right and timely – remember some of your team live paycheck to paycheck and while you and I might be okay for days or weeks (or months) if our paychecks are delayed, many will not be okay – it’s not their financial reality, and they need that paycheck to buy groceries and pay the rent next week. We worked several years ago with an orthopedic surgeon who had delegated the management of the practice to his wife, who had previously been a teacher. Since she hadn’t ever managed a business, she had a lot to learn, and paid payroll late several times. In her income bracket, she wasn’t worried about a few days’ lag time, but the clinic staff were very upset by that lapse and her seemingly cavalier attitude.
Having the right people in the right seats makes all the difference! Hire excellent people, invest in compensation, excellent benefits, and top-notch training. I highly encourage you to think of your team as a RESOURCE, not an expense. Think of the money spent as an INVESTMENT in your practice. If you can get to that mindset, everything clicks into place – they feel it too.
In thinking about what kind of benefits to offer your team, consider a well-rounded benefits package to be another tool in your retention strategy toolbox. When you consider that most private practices are competing with hospitals and health systems for employees, this becomes even more important. Again, if your team is a resource, and you are investing in them, benefits are just another part of the investment. I am continually surprised that we still run into clinics that do not offer medical insurance as a benefit to their team. My strong recommendation is that you do. This is healthcare, and as employers, we should offer medical insurance as a basic benefit. To that, I would also add dental – many groups don’t, so that’s a way to differentiate your group with coverage that is about one fifth of the cost of medical. Next is to offer a 401(k) plan and encourage employees to save for their retirement. We’ll have an entire upcoming episode devoted to that.
Once you’ve got those bases covered, you’ve got a good start. I’d challenge you to keep going if you really want to set yourself up as an employer of choice in your community. Our company offers Life and Disability insurance for our employees as well, and we just added an annual “Fun” day. Each of our team members “wins” a Fun Day once a year. They are chosen randomly at our team meetings, and each person has the directive to take a day off, go do something they consider fun, and report back to the group at the next team meeting. This day is not deducted from their vacation bank, so it’s an additional benefit to them, with the added bonus that we get to know a bit more about them. One of our team went out to the coast for the day, and another went for a long ride on her motorcycle with her husband. Another got a massage and enjoyed a quiet latte in a coffeehouse – something that rarely happens in her otherwise busy life.
Get creative when thinking about benefits – some of the med spas we know of give free or discounted services to their team, and some clinics go in for fun, team-building trips or retreats. One group we learned from had added a Financial Fitness benefit for their employees who wanted training on financial management basics, or tools to help them in paying down debt or saving for a big trip or a down payment on a house. What a creative thing to offer to their people to show them that their employer cares about them as people and cares that they get to their life and financial goals.
One of the overlooked benefits that good leaders remember is to APPRECIATE your team. We’ll have a whole episode dedicated to how and when to appropriately show appreciation to your team. For now, a good question to ask yourself is: when was the last time you thanked your team? For some, this comes easily and naturally, and for others, it doesn’t, so reminders are necessary. If you’re listening to this and thinking, “It’s been a while,” please give yourself a break, and then remember to say thanks to everyone the next time you’re in the office! Simple gratitude can go a really long way.
A conversation about your human resource would not be complete without some conversation about what to do with team members who aren’t performing. The old adage is true: one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. and, while no one enjoys having the critical conversations necessary to manage the staff who are not working well, the other old adage that’s also true is that you get what you tolerate.
If you tolerate toxicity and poor behavior, you’ll get more of that. As we said earlier, your good employees will see that as the norm, and as acceptable behavior, as it isn’t being counseled or corrected, and eventually, since that doesn’t match how they want to behave, they will choose to leave.
We will talk in an upcoming episode about your administrative dyad partner and suffice to say for now, it is a good idea to seek out an administrative partner who is good at managing human resources issues. If you do not have an administrative dyad partner or a manager on your team who is facile with coaching staff, this may be something you can outsource. One thing is for certain: avoiding the problem will not make it go away!
We will have a separate episode on coaching, counseling, disciplining, and terminating employees and one of the lessons I have learned over the years is that we don’t fire people, they fire themselves; we just fill out the paperwork. If we have done our jobs as leaders, and counseled employees appropriately when their performance was not up to standard, if they continue underperforming, they are in reality choosing to leave.
At some level they know it isn’t working, and they’ll likely be (at least a bit) relieved when they’re set free to pursue something that will be a better fit for them and their skillset. This is never easy, and should never be taken lightly, but it is a necessary part of leadership and management. And, if you have talented leaders and managers as part of your team, they can handle quite a bit of this on your behalf.
Join me for our next episode when we’ll talk about investing in executive leadership for your practice.