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Averting the Communication Crisis With Staff Meetings

There was a startling number from a recent online poll of podiatry practices.1 Out of 558 responses, nearly 63 percent of practices do not hold regularly scheduled staff meetings. 

Years ago, I made a client visit to a multi-location practice on the East Coast. Their doctors called me in to help address a decline in staff productivity. I arrived and met with a group of seven office managers for open discussion with one manager present from each office. The concerns expressed by each attendee were unanimous and real. After spending some time together sharing issues and viable solutions to ongoing problems, one manager said, “Wait. Let me understand. You traveled all the way from Seattle to hear our ideas and our issues, which I assume you will share with our doctors who hired you. Is that right?” “Pretty much, yes,” I said. She continued, “I thought so. What I find confusing is why? Why couldn’t our doctors just ask us for our input and save you the trip? We work right alongside them all day every day! We would be happy to talk to them!” 

She made a legitimate point. If doctors and staff could just learn to communicate better, they could resolve internal issues, implement new ideas that bring about progress and improve the overall work environment. This would cultivate a whole new level of efficiency. Although I’d personally be out looking for a new career, the fact remains … what prevented them from communicating on their own?

Not long after that, I received a similar call from another DPM, indicating that the motivation and performance of his staff could also use a bit of a boost. Not unlike my encounter with the aforementioned office managers, I learned quickly that this staff also didn’t have the opportunity to share concerns or confide in their doctor. There was a clear absence of team communication and zero opportunity via a necessary forum, such as staff meetings, to discuss issues as they happen. Instead, the preferred method was to disregard and defer matters, which only turned up the frustration factor. Do you see the pattern here?

After I shared my analysis with the doctor the next day, it was not surprising to hear him admit that he rarely (if ever) made a point of connecting with his staff. He found scheduled meetings to be a waste of time and wondered why staff did not make the effort to come to him with their concerns. I outlined several reasons: 

• they felt intimidated;

• the time was never right (or there was never enough time) to flesh out existing problems; and

• they feared rejection, discouragement and, more simply, being ignored. 

I knew the doctor cared about his staff and made a point of investing in their education by sending them to their annual state meeting. I applauded him and said, “Great! What was their takeaway? What did they learn? How did it benefit the practice?” He drew a blank. To make their attendance worthwhile, I suggested that in the future, he immediately schedule a post-conference staff meeting so they could review the information together and consider some new “change improvement” ideas. He did just that. In fact, he did one better. In order to assure that they would come prepared and participate in the conversation, he wrote the following letter to his staff:

Dear Team, I want to genuinely thank you for all you do for our practice. I am happy that you work with me.

I recently sponsored your attendance at our state meeting to learn new and improved ways of doing things. 

Please find a copy of your program agenda attached. After reviewing it, I challenge each of you to come up with three constructive comments and/or ideas from the meeting you attended and what we could apply from the meeting to improve efficiency and productivity in our office.

We will be scheduling an office meeting to discuss your ideas in the next two weeks. Everyone that turns in three comments or suggestions from the meeting will receive a $25 check (and a sincere nod of appreciation for your participation). Additionally, if any of the ideas you present are implemented, you will receive an additional $25 bonus. Let’s work together to improve productivity in the office!

After reading his letter, I immediately thought back to my “staff” role, one I proudly held for 35 years. He hit on three very important factors that employees find motivating. Specifically, appreciation, recognition and inclusion. These are central to opening the doors of communication and letting staff know they are being heard. 

He got a couple of extra stars from me for also including a bonus cash incentive. Challenge plus reward! SCORE! It reminded me of the support I have always received from my doctor and in large part why I continue to try to pay it forward in our profession. There is no doubt in my mind that his attractive offer will carry a satisfactory message, a purposeful meaning and end with a long-term payoff. 

I share these two stories to illustrate the importance of communication and regular staff meetings. Maintaining and nurturing the symbiotic relationship with one’s staff can go a long way toward facilitating a thriving practice. 

Ms. Homisak is the President of SOS Healthcare Management Solutions in Federal Way, WA.

Reference

  1. Podiatry Management Quick Survey Archive. Podiatry Management. Available at: https://www.podiatrym.com/polls2.cfm?surveyid=321 . Accessed December 30, 2019.
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