From Goal to Growth

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How staff development drives your business

By Jeff Reeves, MPT

Professional development is much more important than just satisfying the requirements for maintaining or renewing a credential or professional license.

A work environment that invests in employee and staff development creates a culture in which employees are more productive, loyal, and content, and can help your practice be more competitive. There are many reasons to implement a staff development program, but leaders often struggle with where to begin.


When implementing a program or a system, a great first step is to ask, “What are the main goals of this initiative?” Goals to consider for your staff development process may include:

  1. Help team members enjoy their work more
  2. Grow team members skills and maturity
  3. Help team members move forward in their career, capitalize on new opportunities, and earn greater pay
  4. Connect managers to team members to promote a healthy team environment and forge strong relationships
  5. Foster feelings of commitment and loyalty within the team
  6. Facilitate the retention of the team members that we most value
  7. Improve the team members’ performance and therefore that of the department/clinic

The majority of these goals are about helping and serving team members. By putting them first, the organization will become the strongest.


Effective staff development programs often comprise two components:

  1. Biannual one-on-one staff development meetings
  2. Monthly review of incentives

Biannual One-on-One Staff Development Meeting

Twice a year, each manager meets with each of their direct reports to review the organization’s core values, internal and external mission statements, and the employees’ goals and strengths. This should be a two-way conversation that allows the manager to document the following as they relate to the team member:

  • Their Strengths: An effective tool for this is the Gallup StrengthsFinder Assessment. Use this to identify their key strengths and then review those with the team member. This is important in helping understand how the team member most enjoys working, and it also helps the team member know where their strengths fit in with the rest of the team.
  • Their five main personal values.
  • A key topic or issue that the company is contemplating currently.
  • Any interpersonal issues that they are aware of in their department.
  • Their current motivators.
  • A self-analysis of them as a leader.
  • Their plan to impact through leadership over the next six months.
  • Their plan to impact the company culture and engagement over the next six months.

In addition, managers should ask team members:

  • What is their lifestyle/work dream?
  • What impediments affect them thoroughly enjoying their work and how could they have a better time?
  • How do they define the company’s purpose?
  • How do they define their department’s purpose?
  • How aligned are they personally with the above purposes?
  • What are they doing well?
  • What are they not doing well?
  • What do they need to start/stop doing?
  • What are the challenges to them meeting my goals at work?

It is important that they feel heard and that you gain their valuable input on the company. So you may want to also consider asking them:

  • In general, what is the company doing well?
  • In general, what is the company not doing well?
  • In general, what should the company start doing?

From this information, identify with them their most important current goals and develop a plan for each of these goals. After reviewing all this information with the team member, their supervisor also reviews with them, from their Supervisor’s perspective:

  • What is this team member doing well?
  • What is this team member not doing well?
  • What should this team member start doing?

From this, you can create a list of key objectives that the team member agrees are important for them to achieve over the next six months. This long, but valuable process establishes great rapport, and it allows managers to really understand each team member.

Monthly Review of Incentives

Consider finding ways to incentivize full-time employees in a monthly bonus format. Attach these to KPIs that you are willing to measure every month.

In your monthly review of incentives:

  1. Check up on the team member by asking about something non-work related. Start with a caring conversation.
  2. Review each of their KPIs and coach them into improving if appropriate.
  3. Review how they are progressing in their key objectives and add any additional ones as necessary.
  4. Ask if there is anything you can do to help them.

Because you will have invested so much time in each of your team members in the biannual staff development meeting, these monthly reviews can be relatively brief, depending on the position. For some, 30 minutes will suffice. To really create meaningful organizational change through this process, it is helpful to also add some surveys of leadership and organizational culture training at the beginning of the year. This can give you a baseline of employee engagement and allows all leaders to plan out how they will improve those elements within their department over the next 12 months.


With your two-part staff development program, you will do away with the stresses of the performance review. Instead you can enjoy a deeper, staff-based conversation that aims to help them. Throughout the year, each leader is responsible for helping their department thrive by helping their direct reports meet their goals.

This process may seem like a lot of work. However, when taken in bite-sized projects, it is very doable. In outpatient physical therapy, our employees are our most valuable resource. We want to retain staff and help them enjoy their work. We know that when we take care of our team, they will take care of the patients.

Start by meeting with each team member twice a year and focusing on what they are looking for in the employee-employer relationship. Help them achieve their goals and help them to grow. When you do, you will probably find that your company reaches new heights of performance. 

A Quick Guide to More Successful Performance Reviews

While many employers believe that annual reviews are essential to performance improvement, a 2019 Workhuman Analytics & Research study found that 55% of workers believe that annual reviews don’t improve their performance.1 In response, the HR field has moved away from the concept of annual reviews to a more continuous, frequent feedback process that engages employees and supervisors on a more regular basis. This more regular feedback creates a much more engaged staff—the Workhuman study found that workers who check in with their manager at least weekly are five times less likely to be disengaged than workers who never have check-ins with their manager.

Employers looking to maximize their staff’s potential can implement a more regular performance review process by:

  • Starting with data. Data-supported feedback can eliminate subjective or out-of-context feedback that ultimately damages morale.
  • Asking for employee input. Employees have valuable, boots-on- the-ground insights into what’s really happening in the business and can help problem solve, streamline, or make suggestion for other improvements that leaders may not otherwise consider. In addition, 360- reviews, in which employees review managers, can be a valuable tool to ensure that management is effective.
  • Shortening the time between performance discussions. The Society for Human Resource Management notes that many companies are starting to favor 12-week review cycles, which help the company address issues faster and be more agile.2
  • Breaking down formality barriers. Informal feedback loops make it possible for feedback to occur more often and as needed, as opposed to having to wait for documentation or predetermined timeframes for review discussions.
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1Workhuman Analytics & Research Institute. 2019 International Employee Survey Report. Published September 3, 2019.

2O’Connell B. Performance Management Evolves. Society for Human Resource Management. Published June 13, 2020.

Jeff Reeves

Jeff Reeves, MPT, is a Clinic Director with STAR Physical Therapy in Louisiana. He can be reached at

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

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