Most medical practices would agree that there is great deal of operational "waste" in their day-to-day work flow — staff re-work, delays in seeing patients, looking around for missing supplies or reports, and so much more. One of the biggest mistakes a practice can make is not recognizing that staff members should be considered a valuable asset or resource — with brains and skills that can and will lead to improvements in meeting the needs of both patients and the practice.
Too often an employee is assigned a single job, trained in the way things have always been done, and never challenged. Wrong! Staff members who are working in the trenches often have a fresh perspective on how to make operational processes work better. They are willing to learn and try new things if given the chance, especially new employees. Not utilizing staff to their full potential is a waste! When you consider that staffing costs can range up to 25 percent of total operating expenses, your practice should do everything it can to minimize turnover.
Here are a few tips to help your practice hire, retain, and challenge its staff members:
Hire the right person. Hiring the right employee is key. Most importantly you should look for a candidate that possesses a personality that is consistent with the "culture" of your practice. Experts agree that selecting a candidate who has the right attitude can often trump one who has the exact skill set you are looking for. If the candidate is willing to jump in and learn new skills and display energy and enthusiasm, the rest can be taught.
Onboarding. Utilizing onboarding as a spring board to additional training efforts is the next major step in retention and development of new employees. The new staff member, however, will not be successful unless there is a well-defined, fully functional onboarding program. This means detailed training on how things are done at your practice, assigning a mentor who will be easily available for questions and support, and letting the staff member know leadership is open to hearing their ideas.
Develop a learning culture. Here is the key point of this article — build and maintain a learning organizational culture. A learning organization is one that encourages and supports continuous employee learning. It allows for mistakes — yes, try it and sometimes the idea fails but you will learn from mistakes. Your practice environment should not be one that penalizes new ideas and fosters "fear," rather than encouragement to try new and better things.
Challenge staff. Organizations that encourage learning will see increased efficiency, greater patient satisfaction scores, "ownership" and involvement of employees in process improvements, knowledge sharing, reduced turnover, and recognition of the need to improve. Practices that meet regularly and challenge team members to bring ideas and share thoughts will reap the benefits of an engaged and enthusiastic staff. One way to do this is to send staff members to outside conferences, seminars, etc. The key point here is these outside educational activities are not just for physicians but for staff members as well.
I know of one group practice that has seven offices and closes all of them the last Wednesday afternoon of each quarter, assembles all staff and doctors for an overview of what's happening in the practice related to its mission, and shares issues and ideas between departments. The front desk, business office, and clinical staff members meet and share formal learning from outside experts, physicians, or other team members. This is a major financial investment, to say nothing of the loss in revenue. But it is a commitment this practice is willing to make because they believe there will be a measurable return on investment.
I cannot emphasize enough the benefit of recognizing the "brain power" of your educated staff members and what your practice can do to invest and develop its current employees, which will ultimately lead to improved patient care.