Can't we all just get along?

December 5, 2018

Medical practitioners follow a standardized protocol to diagnose and treat patients. What if the same system could be applied to diagnose and treat problems within practices?  

At a macro level, we appear to be living in a time of generalized disharmony. And while social media outlets, podcasts, and 24-hour news cycles have provided myriad platforms to openly express our criticisms and complaints, they’ve also created increasingly uncivil arenas for people to castigate one another with little or no consequence. 

Or so it seems. On a micro level, the dissension is contaminating every kind of business. Sadly, the discord we see “out there” is infiltrating the very institution in which we need kindness and compassion the most: healthcare. And this is taking a serious toll on medical practices, through what I call The3 T’s of Dysfunction: Tyranny, Toxicity, and Turnover. 

But it’s not all bad news. Public discourse is evidence of evolving expectations and norms. Perhaps by listening closely to the raised voices we’ll be able to hear the underpinnings of what they have to teach us. Because the upside of an uprise is that it can alert us to very real-and fixable-challenges.

Medical practitioners are used to following a standardized protocol to diagnose and treat patients. What if the same system could be applied to diagnose and treat problems within practices? It can. Here’s a 6-step strategy for how. 

Take a history. As with disease, workplace conflict is usually insidious. We often don’t realize there’s a problem until a critical event occurs, like the unexpected departure of a valued team member or a verbal confrontation in the staff room.  That’s why it’s vital to take a full, objective look at the history of dysfunction within your practice. While time-consuming, completing this assessment involves gathering information from everyone involved. Listen intently and with an unbiased ear-just like you do with your patients-so concerns are clearly understood. Naturally, it’s in the best interest of your practice to have these conversations prophylactically to avoid staff problems in the first place. 

Perform an examination. All accusations and complaints need to be verified. This is accomplished by examining the facts. Often an internal inquiry is all that’s required; one-on-one and group conversations may provide enough details to realize the root of the problem. But sometimes you’ll need to consult with external experts. Similar to referring patients to specialists for customized care, you may have to hire human resource or conflict management professionals to investigate concerns and help manage issues. 

Evaluate the symptoms. To determine the magnitude of internal staff conflict, categorize the challenges, or symptoms, into three categories: financial, emotional, and physical. You’ll likely find that some difficulties, like inefficiency, have tremendous monetary repercussions on your practice, while others, like gossip and backstabbing, are seriously taxing the emotional or physical well-being of your people. And then there are concerns like absenteeism and staff turnover, which affect all three categories. Taking a bird’s eye view of the tangible and intangible costs of disharmony will lead you to a course of action. 

Determine a diagnosis. Review the evidence that’s been gathered. Is attitude the primary problem? Insufficient training? Poor work conditions? Inadequate compensation? Or is it an in-house rebel, rabble-rouser, or rude person? If your practice is bleeding money or in personnel pain, you need to figure out what’s going on before things become even more critical. Every medical practice benefits from personalized guiding principles, especially when there’s trouble in paradise. By developing bespoke principles, you’ll be able to hold problems up to them and see where the disconnect lies. Otherwise you’ll be floundering to figure out what’s wrong. 

Develop a plan. Once the crux of the concerns is established, you’re in the position to develop a treatment plan. If there’s a tyrant on your team, clarify your expectations and help that person find ways to modify his or her behavior. If there’s an undercurrent of toxicity within the troops, it needs to be addressed and reversed. And if turnover is the main challenge, you’ll require solid advice and injections of positivity, pay reviews, perks, and professionalism. Timelines are important, so break your plan into stages to keep tabs on the progress. 

Monitor the results. Action plans need to be evaluated and fine-tuned, which is why it’s imperative that you reassess the tone within your practice regularly. Watch, listen, and ask for honest feedback about how things are going. Opening a can of worms, when done thoughtfully, can empower you and your team to also open conversations about how to best deal with it. By observing, auditing, and tracking the results of your actions, you can consistently adjust your plans to improve the circumstances. 

We spend so much time at work. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just get along? We can. And adapting a familiar medical protocol to diagnosis and treat in-house ailments is an effective first step. 

Sue Jacques is a professionalism expert, keynote speaker, consultant, and author who specializes in medical and corporate civility. A veteran forensic medical death investigator, Jacques now helps people and practices prosper through professionalismwww.SueJacques.com