Building a Strong Team Around Your Company’s Values & Culture

Blue heads with white gears in them

A strong team is a key driver in marketing your practice to the best candidates

By Tiffany Gutierrez with Ingrid Sparrow, PT

The quality of the care you provide is deeply dependent on the quality of the people you employ.

Taking the time to carefully outline and then frequently review the steps of your outreach, training, and retention programs will reap big rewards in employee retention and satisfaction. It’s also crucially important along this path that you communicate the company’s values, such as integrity, excellence, and accountability.

We often hire for a variety of clinical and administrative positions, from entry to expert level. Our first step is a thorough understanding of the position we’re looking to fill. As Shari Workman, senior recruiter at MultiCare Health System, said, “You won’t find that ‘just-right’ employee unless you know what you are looking for. Define the needed skill set, the personality traits of previous employees who have succeeded in this position, [and] the selling points of this position, and incorporate these into the job posting and recruitment process.” The timeline from advertising to hiring can be surprisingly long, so be patient and don’t settle.

When recruiting new graduate physical therapists (PTs), we look to build relationships starting in their first year of PT school. Through job fairs, hosted dinner events, and internships, students have the opportunity to begin to consider what they’ll value in the job, and we have the opportunity to educate them about our workplace culture and our key values of integrity, excellence, and accountability. We challenge students to look at the full compensation package, mentorship programs, and staff support resources, not just the wage, and we help them realize that each interaction is an interview. We’ve found that it has been most productive to reach out to regional PT schools. Recently, we’ve been reaching out to PT schools in Colorado and Arizona, and we’re assessing the effectiveness of these efforts. National advertising hasn’t generally shown to be as effective as local advertising, but at times it helps—for example, when hiring for a very specific specialty area of care. At times, we have a good candidate, just not at the right time, and we find it worthwhile to track them for a few years. We periodically reach out when we have a job opportunity that fits their needs. Applicant tracking programs are very helpful with this.

Social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed, and Facebook are a great way to spread the word, and some platforms have applicant tracking programs that make it much easier to track and stay in touch with candidates. But perhaps surprisingly, the best social media continues to be current employees. National searches may be needed to fill specialty positions, but because most hires are local, current employees are best able to convey the values and benefits of their workplace.

Depending on the size of your business and the volume of hiring, you may choose to review each resume personally or to use an online application program through which you can download a resume and auto-complete the job application. It’s often helpful to start at the bottom of a resume and read up because this gives you a look at the applicant’s life choices, such as volunteer activities and other interests, which may help match a candidate with your culture. When hiring the right candidate, look to know them as individuals and learn more about their characteristics and values, not just what they’ve done with their life thus far. Top candidates have a phone interview, with the next step being an in-person—and, ideally, on-site—interview in the clinic that’s hiring, giving candidates the red carpet treatment you’d like them to give to your patients.

A necessary but difficult step in the hiring process is background and reference checks. To do this properly, it’s important to know what your state requires for each of your employment settings. For example, hospitals have a higher bar for background checks than do free-standing clinics. Numerous companies, such as SkillSurvey, HireRight, and Alliance 2020, will do this anonymously for a fee. It’s helpful to look for patterns of behavior and read narrative sections. Look for a company whose technology you’re comfortable with and that you trust. Keep in mind that, legally, you can look only at convictions, not at arrests, when hiring, and that the use of credit ratings has been challenged due to found patterns of discrimination. Also, see if your state has a “disqualifying crimes list,” which defines who is ineligible for which positions and for what amount of time.

To assess administrative staff’s skill sets, it may be helpful to look to outside companies such as Skills Test Friday, PACE, or GUIDANCE, which can assess relevant job experience and project success. The employer can identify the needed skill sets and have the company assess how this skill is shown and the relevancy to the employer. “Hiring the right person is critical, and hiring the wrong person can be very expensive,” said Kim Giglio, director of talent acquisition at MultiCare Health System. “Being thorough in the hiring process increases our chances of hiring employees who are both clinically competent and excited to be part of [our company].”

When it comes to pay and benefits, fairness and transparency are the best policies—give respect to get respect. This is made easy if your pay and vacation time are based on years of experience. As appropriate, you may offer higher pay for specialty credentials, hard-to-fill positions, and floating employees. Sign-on or relocation bonuses vary depending on need and budget and are generally tied to specified years of service. Be prepared to review your full benefit package several times, making sure that both parties are on the same page and that the applicant feels valued. This is especially true with your younger employees, who may not see the value of your retirement package. Newer PT grads are generally looking to gain experience, whereas more experienced PTs are often looking to specialize. A generous continuing education (CE) benefit can be a strong recruitment benefit that rewards both the clinic and the employee. And the transition to a new job may be easier if medical and retirement benefits begin shortly after the date of hire, rather than being subject to a long waiting period. New grads may have a strong incentive to work for a not-for-profit, because if they pay toward their loans for 10 years of employment, they may be able to get the remainder forgiven. Hiring is expensive, with studies generally estimating the cost of a hire to be 25% or 1.5 times the salary for which you’re hiring. So, it pays to do this right.

With onboarding, we’ve worked to improve the continuity of our hiring, and we now use a six-page checklist that’s sent to human resources (HR), information technology, marketing, accounting, and the clinic manager after an offer is accepted. Training varies depending on the job position, with the first day of employment for treating staff to become acquainted with HR’s online payroll system, policies and procedures, the current electronic medical record (EMR) system, and the online CE program. Day two is devoted to clinic orientation. New hires then begin a four-week ramp-up to a full patient care load. Initially, each new patient evaluation is followed by 80 minutes in which the PT has time to ask questions and learn to use the EMR system. This process is costly, so the goal is to ensure that the hire is a good fit. With this current laddered system, we now know where a new hire should be at certain time frame. If the initial location isn’t going well, we’ll see if there’s a better fit in the system. Regarding our administrative staff, the most helpful thing for us to realize was that the complexity of these positions continues to increase. We no longer train each staff member to be a generalized patient representative; instead, we now have a larger variety of specialized positions, such as scheduling, eligibility, and authorizations.

Not all new hires are a good fit. With this in mind, it’s prudent to have a 90-day introductory period, with frequent monitoring and communication between the employee and management. If things aren’t going well, it’s good to have guidelines for discussion in place, with the goal of open and honest communication that identifies a path to improvement. If the current position isn’t a good fit, the goal is to agree on a transfer to another clinic or to terminate employment. Although this is difficult, doing this in the first 90 days is the least painful course of action.

Building a team is complex and exciting. The better you know your culture and the positions you’re looking to fill, the higher your success rate will be. Yes, things are changing—print advertising is declining and may disappear; applicants falsify resumes, blow off interviews, and make negative comments about the job. But don’t take these occurrences personally. Using your passion for rehab and communicating your cultural values will draw compatible minds and souls to you. Trust but verify, and take pride in what you create.

Learn More

Get some extra recruiting and hiring tips in “Improve Your Hiring Options” at ppsimpact.org/improve-your-hiring-options


Tiffany Gutierrez

Tiffany Gutierrez is the Human Resources Director at Olympic Sports and Spine (www.osstherapy.com). She can be reached at tiffany@olympicsportsandspine.com. This article was in conversation with Ingrid Sparrow, PT, the co-owner of Sound PT (www.soundpt.com). She can be reached at ingridsparrow@soundpt.com.