The art of managing people.
By Kim Stamp
As a practice owner, or human resources (HR) manager, it is important to recognize that your most valuable asset is your staff. Oftentimes we spend countless hours strategizing how to grow and manage our practice, while at the same time neglecting the needs of our employees. I have come to believe that managing people is both a creative art form and a key component to any clinic’s success. It’s not enough to have company policies and programs in place. We must recognize that each one of our employees comes to us with a unique personality and a backlog of experiences that will influence the way they work. Taking the time to understand your staff, and individually care for them, will positively impact your practice and contribute to your overall success.
Over the years, I have heard countless disparaging stories from employees about how they were treated at their former places of employment. Within my company alone (five clinics), I can think of at least five good therapists who left their former positions due to HR-related issues. In today’s job market, with more than 30,000 physical therapy jobs that will go unfilled in 2016, it is difficult to understand why a practice owner wouldn’t make the effort to appropriately care for their therapists. Taking good care of our staff will not only help our practices thrive, it will also save us the high cost of employee turnover.
While there are many factors that drive employee turnover, poor communication is at the top of the list. To overcome this, become an expert at communication. An integral part of the process is listening. If an employee feels their concerns are being heard, they will be more likely to work through any issues that arise. In addition, if we as managers purposely get to know our employees we will not only be able to deal with problems effectively, we will also be better equipped to tailor a conversation so that our employee hears what we are saying. For instance, if a person is insecure, they will most likely shut down if we become critical of something they’ve done. But if we first let them know a few of the things they are doing well and then follow up with what we would like them to do differently, they will be more likely to receive what we are saying and make the needed adjustments.
Daniel Pink, in his wonderful book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, points out that people want to believe they are contributing to something meaningful. As owners and managers, it’s on us to communicate what our company values and how each individual employee contributes to the overall company mission. Creating strong company values, and a clear mission statement, are necessary to motivate and engage our staff. If an employee has no idea what the company stands for, or how they fit into the big picture, they will have little to no engagement with their job. As staff begins to understand the practice’s mission and begins to see how they contribute to fulfilling that mission, they will become more engaged with their job.
A recent Gallup study found that more than 70 percent of all employees were disengaged at work. Disengaged employees tend to create drama, dominate an HR manager’s time, and subtly communicate their unhappiness to patients. On the flip side of the coin, engaged employees genuinely care about the company they work for and will regularly go the extra mile. Essentially, an engaged employee will contribute to the overall success of your practice while a disengaged worker will be a detriment.
The next step to effectively managing people is to create a solid performance review process. In our company, we have found it effective to complete a 90-day review on all new employees. This gives a manager the opportunity to correct any problems that have arisen as well as solidify how the new employee fits into the company’s mission. After the 90-day review, taking the time to complete an annual review is a great way to both recognize a valued employee and tweak the performance of an employee who’s falling short.
Having regular employee appreciation celebrations is also important. We all want to feel appreciated, and I have found that our employees respond positively to being provided morning coffee and pastries or a pizza lunch when their clinic has a good month. We also utilize gift cards (which can be considered taxable income) and encouraging notes to let individual employees know that we recognize their hard work. Anything along this line will be meaningful when sincerely presented by an owner or manager. In looking at what motivates employees, Daniel Pink suggests that most people are innately motivated by autonomy. Essentially, his philosophy is that we should hire good people and let them do their job. While it may be tempting to micromanage every aspect of your company, it can often be oppressive and demeaning to your employees.
Finally, when faced with managing a disengaged or negative employee, it’s important to realize the effect that person has on other employees and the patients coming into our clinics. Too often we repetitively train, and retrain, an employee who is falling short rather than letting them go in order to preserve the overall atmosphere within the clinic. As difficult as it is to terminate an employee, we must put the needs of the whole clinic above the negative behavior of one person.
When it comes to managing the people working at your practice, keep in mind that it’s more of a creative art form than a clever program or a set of guidelines that we try to follow. Sharpen your communication skills and work toward helping your employees to fully engage with your goals and values. Do these things and you are on your way to successfully managing your greatest asset!
Kim Stamp is the regional business manager for South Sound Physical & Hand Therapy in Olympia and Tacoma, and the vice president for the Washington State Physical Therapy Managers Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.