Create a Culture of Problem-Solvers
A common complaint of managers is that there seems to be an endless supply of problems presented from team members. Depending on how these problems are presented, they could even be classified as complaining, griping, or (gasp) even whining.
Who wants to listen to whining all day? And how can you move the practice forward when you’re constantly addressing issues that your staff is likely better qualified to fix than you are? How fantastic would it be if you had a culture where people identified problems, came up with solutions or even solved issues on their own? Does that sound like fantasy? It is actually possible, by focusing attention on changing the culture.
Give People Information
In order to contribute meaningfully, people need background information.
This goes beyond memorizing the mission of the practice. People must truly understand the concrete goals and current status of the practice in order to be able to know which direction to move. For instance, if your goal is to have 95% of your clients recommending your practice to their friends, your team would need to know what the current survey percentages are, and the reasons your clients cite that they would or would not refer their friends in order to contribute ideas and work through current problems.
You may need to work with your owner to convey the importance of sharing information, which is possible to do while still protecting their privacy. For example, the practice can show financial information by sharing percentages of budget categories without dollar amounts or a pie chart showing what percent of each dollar in the practice goes to each major category of expense. The information will give your employees the necessary framework to begin their own decision making.
Be Open to New Opinions and Celebrate Ideas
People will only take the time to come forward with carefully considered solutions to problems if they feel they are truly heard.
If your culture has traditionally been a ‘top-down,' memo-driven culture and you suddenly ask your team members in a staff meeting for their opinions, you will hear nothing but crickets chirping. You must consistently be receptive to ideas, even ones that you are immediately opposed to. Take the time to consider the proposal and if there is really no way to implement any part of the idea, compliment the employee on their initiative and explain why the idea won’t work. Whenever you use an employee’s idea, make sure that the entire team knows it. This will encourage others to come forth with their ideas.
Remove Fear by Rewarding Risk
Empowerment is a broadly used term and a considerably vague concept. Simply put, an empowered employee knows the desired outcome of their actions and is able to autonomously make decisions on how to go about achieving that outcome.
A key factor in creating a culture of empowerment is to reward those who take risks and become creative in problem solving with the intent to further the practice goals. Educate your team about the practice and the goals and work on trusting their objectives as they are aligned with those of the practice. Remember that even with the best of intentions, employees may take action that deviates from what the owner or manager would have done. However, you must allow people to make their own decisions and support them if you don’t want to handle all of the problems yourself!
Make It an Expectation
Once your staff is armed with information, begin to set the expectation that they at least consider solutions to problems before bringing them to you. If an employee comes to you with an issue, resist the urge to answer; ask questions instead.
Some powerful questions are:
• “What do you think is the best way to proceed?”
• “What do you think we should do about that?”
• “What would you like me to do with this information?”
• “What outcome do you want to see?”
This keeps your employees from feeling shut down while redirecting them to be part of the solution.
Take the Time
It can take years of hard work to change the culture in a practice. From convincing the owner to do things differently, to changing our own behavior, to allowing others the time to see that things are different, some practices will have a long way to go toward creating an environment that promotes active problem solving at all levels.
Despite this possible challenge, every step toward nurturing this type of behavior will result in better patient care, happier employees, and a more profitable hospital. People will come up with excellent ideas and solutions and take more responsibility for their work, and the impact on the practice will be tremendous. When people are allowed to truly affect the organization, their work becomes much more rewarding, and with the manager not constantly problem solving at an operational level, you are able to spend your time on things that help take your practice to the next level.