Some years ago, my firm worked with a truly remarkable practice. On our initial tour of the office, we were greeted by joyful, smiling staff who were absolutely delighted to see their doctor. In turn, the physician seemed to have something meaningful to say to every employee — "How did you do on your mid-term?" or "I saw the A/R numbers for this month and they look great!" Later in our assignment, when the physician wasn't present, a number of employees pulled us aside and enthused that the good doctor was the best thing that had ever happened to the town! This physician wasn't blessed with extraordinary charm or wit, but he personified gratitude for and interest in the well-being of all his staff.
Even after seeing hundreds of practices, this single doctor stands out as an example of how best to build a strong practice around a well-trained, motivated, and happy staff. Despite completing a fellowship at a very prestigious institution, he avoided a costly and common trap born of success — believing that because he knew a lot about medicine, he knew a lot about everything that goes on in his practice. On the contrary, this doctor had genuine respect and appreciation for the specialized knowledge and unseen efforts of everyone that helped him build his booming practice.
Here are some of the keys points we've observed over the years to keeping employees motivated and engaged:
Many jobs in medical practices require a high degree of repetition and, as a consequence, can become very tedious. Cross-training is a great way to keep staff interested while protecting your practice efficiency during staffing shortages. Similarly, ask staff to suggest and develop new additional roles; e.g. the "EHR Expert" or "HIPAA Guru."
2. Encourage and fund offsite training
The Professional Association of Health Care Office Management, Medical Group Management Association, and local colleges provide inexpensive and relevant educational opportunities.
3. Praise publically, correct privately
Hold and participate in regular staff meetings where staff are encouraged to talk about their accomplishments toward practice goals. In the event you need to correct an employee, frame the discussion around that employee's strengths and do so in private.
4. Hire slowly, fire quickly
While the benefit of finding a strong candidate before hiring an employee may be clear, somewhat less clear is the importance of terminating poor performers quickly. Allowing a poor or disruptive employee to linger in his job implies that you don't fully appreciate your stellar employees.
5. Take some time to get to know your staff and their jobs
A little effort can mean a lot to an employee. Many physicians seldom interact with the front office. Making a point to check in will reinforce a team mentality and facilitate communication between administrative and clinical teams, thereby avoiding the front office/back office tension that’s common in many practices.
6. Avoid nepotism and strive to be fair and consistent
While it's natural to feel a greater personal fondness for some people, it's important that you do not demonstrate favoritism. For this reason alone, hiring a spouse or family member can be deadly to morale and motivation. Employees will rarely, if ever, feel free to voice criticism of your family members.