Leading Your Way to Staff Success

By Kim Rosendahl, MPT

In these uncertain times created by changes from COVID-19 and changes in reimbursement models, developing and promoting strategies to foster success for each of your staff is vital to the well-being of your clinic.

Each clinic leader can take steps to promote best practices for hiring, to promote staff engagement and retention, and to ensure a work culture that will promote staff success. Steps include hiring employees with specific desirable soft skills, developing and disseminating strong core documents that guide behavior, being willing to lead through active participation with your “tribe,” and learning to assess the needs of each staff member and meet those needs in tangible ways. This article will provide specific examples that one clinic has used to connect with, train, and empower staff to be successful.

Hiring for Success

As a private practice owner, one of your major roles is to hire world-class employees. Before hiring, it is best to understand what type of person you are looking to hire. Our clinic looks for “our kind of people” (OKPs). Finding OKPs is not a subjective feeling that we have when hiring, it is not based on our personal likes and dislikes, but is rather an objective method of interviewing to determine the presence of specific soft skills that will most likely create a successful teammate. Hiring a successful “teammate” is crucial to the clinic culture and success of other teammates. Rather than only looking at a resume or for a specific skillset, look for what they can contribute to your team by diving into their soft skills. Our team believes that positivity, adaptability, a passion for community involvement, and a desire for mentoring relationships are some of the most valuable characteristics to enhance culture and overall success of the employee and the clinic.

During the interview, dive into questions that will enable you to determine whether the applicant has a positive outlook on life. Your applicant’s response to these questions will help you understand which direction he or she gravitates towards. However, it is not only the answers to the questions that matter but the feelings behind the answers that will show you the positivity this person can bring to your team.

It has been said that change is the only thing that can be counted on. Never has that been as true as it is right now. A successful team member will be expected to adapt with advances in technology, changes in payment models and documentation requirements, and different roles in marketing and patient care. The adaptability characteristic of every team member will be vital to have a high level of staff success.

Why is stressing community involvement so important? Being actively involved in the community can create relationships that pay off through attaining new patients. A clinician needs to be intentional about building relationships with people in the community. Spend time getting to know people and let them get to know you. Having a positive attitude toward going above and beyond the call of duty in community involvement activities is a must for any great employee. Some specific examples of community activities include a Halloween Trunk-or-Treat, participating in the County Fair, or hosting exercise-based events that range from 5k races to community fitness challenges. When all your team is passionate about community involvement your success will be clearly recognizable.

Having a desire to participate in a mentoring relationship with veteran therapists in your clinic is a must for staff success. Mentorship fosters feelings of value and safety and helps initiate the employee to the clinic flow. Intentional scheduling of weekly meetings between the new team member and more experienced staff fosters learning of different aspects of clinic culture, education on specific clinical skills, and will allow the new therapist quality time to ask questions. Be consistent with mentoring, allow new team members to adjust and determine areas for self-improvement, and provide a safe environment for them to share ideas and deliver input on how you can help them reach their goals and fulfill their passions. Mentoring should be a continual process to help your staff meet their goals of becoming skilled and confident clinicians.

Defining Your Culture Through Core Behaviors

Once the chosen employee has been hired, the clinic leadership is instrumental in developing a strong and successful staff. Leadership must mentor each employee to know and live out a set of highly impactful core values. For example, a clinic should spend the time to develop a strong purpose, mission, vision, and core values. In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras introduced the idea of core purpose.1 They asserted that a successful organization needs to understand and stay true to its purpose. Our clinic’s purpose is to “Make a Significant Difference in People’s Lives,” including our patients, our families, and our community. Other core values include having fun, helping people, valuing our profession, and being pleased but never satisfied. These core documents are behaviors that every staff member embraces and what makes our culture sought after. During the interview, and frequently at staff meetings, these core values are reviewed and discussed with the goal of keeping the staff successfully aligned with our common purpose. It is a must for all clinic leaders to not only speak but demonstrate the core values in all interactions. If the team strives to passionately live out our purpose and core values, then we know that he or she will be successful in the goal of being a great physical therapist and teammate.

Discovering Strengths

Now that you have hired the employee, taught them how to passionately live the clinic’s core values, and have demonstrated that you live them out daily yourself, it is important that you multiply the strengths of all of your staff. First, determine each staff member’s strengths. StrengthsFinder 2.0 (recently renamed CliftonStrengths) is a great resource to use to help your staff become aware of their strengths.2 After understanding each staff member’s strengths, the clinic leadership should strategize how to multiply the strengths to improve your clinic and the success of each team member. Every staff member wants to feel that they are a vital part of the team; taking specific actions to promote these strengths will bring a great sense of individual purpose and value and while providing a feeling of safety. One such action is to help each staff member find their niche in the practice (i.e., pelvic health, BIG program, pediatrics), which nurtures confidence in their abilities and will allow for growth of their passion and desire for greatness in your clinic and within the community.

Inspiring Leadership and Promoting Inclusion

Key actions of leadership that aid high levels of staff engagement and success are promoting inclusion and encouraging willingness to lead. A motivated staff member is one that feels that their opinion is heard and feels safe to share. Provide opportunity for each team member to speak at meetings, encourage an open-door policy for communication amongst all staff, and foster personal leadership. Clinic leaders should never think that they have all the answers, and they should always give credit to others when credit is due. Acknowledging successes will build confidence and trust. Inspiring leadership and promoting inclusion will nurture success of your staff and your practice.

Investing in Your Staff

Finally, each member of your team will be more successful when they feel valued. Invest in each staff member outside of the clinic. Check in with them occasionally, schedule formal mentoring moments, invest in their learning, and ask them to teach others what they have learned and what they are passionate about. Be generous with your finances by taking the staff out for dinner or other fun group activities. It is necessary to invest time and resources. The goodwill shown towards your staff will directly pay off in what I consider to be the big three results of a great staff success plan: higher staff engagement, better staff retention, and greater staff productivity.

Whether you are a start-up clinic leader or long-term owner/manager, engaging your staff in the specific ways discussed in this article will promote the development of a strong team. This starts with and weighs heavily on hiring the right person to join your team. One who will enhance your current culture and will result in collaborative and maximized efforts to promote the practice while fielding a team that is happy and successful. The success of your business depends on having/creating a highly engaged team and being an intentional leader who invests both in improving the overall culture of your clinic and in the individual achievements of each team member.


1Collins JC. Good to Great. New York, NY: Collins; 2009.

2Rath T. StrengthsFinder 2.0. New York, NY: Gallup Press; 2007.

Kim Rosendahl, MPT, is a PPS member and owner of RehabAuthority in Thief River Falls, MN. He can be reached at krosendahl@rehabauthority.com.

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

Are you a PPS Member?
Please sign in to access site.
Enter Site!