Guest post by Brenda S. Campbell
One of the most challenging aspects of practice management is managing the people within the business. It can feel overwhelming to manage employee attitude, behavior and performance, especially if confrontation doesn’t come naturally.
I have had the privilege of working for an amazing pediatrician for the last fifteen years. He’s been in practice for decades and has taught me so much about practice management, especially the “people” part.
He has helped me understand that it is possible to manage any employee behavior and expectations using a simple strategy.
When confronted with unsatisfactory employee behavior and performance, it is important to focus on three questions:
You send a message to the rest of the staff no matter how you handle the issue.
What’s the message you want to send?
If you choose to overlook the behavior, the message to your staff is that it is okay to continue this behavior and that it is acceptable.
If you address a behavior, it sends a message to everyone that the behavior is NOT okay and will not be tolerated. Often times, even though they may not say it, the staff appreciate that you address negative behavior.
For example, we had a telephone triage nurse who had a lot of experience, worked for us for several years and was solid in the advice she would give.
Her customer service skills, however, were lacking. I had to make a decision about the message I wanted to send to the rest of the staff.
What you allow is what will continue. Are you going to allow it to continue?
Make the decision to address the behavior and do it. Don’t put it off. Ask, “May I give you some feedback?” Let them know the problem with their behavior, set expectations and move on. They’ll either choose to correct their behavior or they won’t.
We’ve found that employees generally receive feedback in one of two ways. Some are completely unaware that their behavior was being perceived in a negative manner and are quick to ask how they can fix it.
The others become defensive and refuse to take ownership of the behavior often blaming external factors.
With our triage nurse, I knew that I needed to address her customer service problem, particularly her tone which could be perceived as condescending and snarky at times.
Her response fell in the defensive category and she said “somehow I get all the nasty parents on the phone.” I explained to her that she was the common denominator in each complaint and that her tone was the problem.
“Ma’am” is not necessarily respectful if delivered in a sarcastic manner. It was her behavior that made the parents become, in her eyes, “nasty”.
Are you better off with them or without them? Is it time to let them go?
If, after you’ve given the feedback and they have not changed their behavior, it’s time to make the decision about the employee’s future.
As you may have guessed, it didn’t take long for another parent to complain about the triage nurse and, at that point, we decided that even though we’d be down a phone triage nurse in a busy sick season, it wasn’t worth allowing negative behavior to continue thereby sending the wrong message to the staff.
We have found that when it comes to working with someone who behaves poorly or working short-staffed most employees would rather work a little harder until we find someone who is a good fit for our practice.
It’s certainly easier in the short term to ignore problematic employee behavior but it’s always costly in the end.
Allowing negative employee behavior to continue can hurt your employee morale, productivity and retention as well as cause you to lose patients. When we reflect on the occasions where we’ve had to let someone go after asking these three questions, we have yet to regret a single one.
Brenda Campbell is a practice administrator for The Pediatric Center at Frederick. You can check out her practice by clicking, here. She is a member of AAP’s subcommittee Pediatric Practice Management Alliance (PPMA). This article originally appeared in SOAPM’s Quarterly Newsletter.