One of the key habits of entrepreneurially minded physicians is developing an engaged workforce. The Gallup Organization has done extensive research on the engagement level of employees in organizations and the overall impact on company results. According to Gallup’s research, engaged employees are more productive, profitable, customer-focused, safer, and less likely to leave. In the average organization, 30% of the employees are engaged, 50% are disengaged, and 20% are actively disengaged. In comparison, in world-class organizations, 63% of employees are engaged, 29% are disengaged, and 8% are actively disengaged.
Engaged employees are those who have a positive attitude, take personal responsibility for their actions, are passionate and committed to the company’s goals, contribute discretionary effort, and are solution oriented. These are the “A” players on the team. Disengaged employees are those who “punch the clock.” They do just enough to keep their jobs and are resistant to change. They don’t give the organization their discretionary effort and tend to react passively to problems. Finally, disengaged employees are those who are poison pills in the organization. They stir up trouble and recruit others to their cause s. They blame other people for their problems and make excuses. They erode a company’s bottom line and bring down the morale of an organization.
Physician leaders, like other organizational leaders, spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with actively disengaged employees. They are the squeaky wheels on the staff. We often are forced to ignore our engaged employees as we clean up the messes of the disengaged and actively disengaged members of our staff. Effective leaders know how to raise the bar and increase the level of engagement of their teams. They know how to actively listen and learn what the root causes of the problems are. They don’t ignore issues, but instead, deal with them head on. Leaders can raise the level of engagement by sharing a compelling vision, coaching their team members, communicating clearly, raising expectations, and insisting on accountability.
In a medical setting, a poorly engaged team can lead to disastrous results. Patient care and safety is obviously first and foremost. Disengaged and actively disengaged employees are apt to “let balls drop” that can lead to safety issues for patients. This could include forgetting to follow up on medications or testing, or even mishandling paperwork or other instructions. Beyond safety issues, disengaged and actively disengaged employees project their poor attitudes to patients. The patients (customers) have plenty of options for healthcare services. Rude treatment by staff can run off patients in a hurry. For better or worse, these staff team members are the front line representatives. The quality of the patient experience will largely be dictated by the treatment from the medical staff. The net effect is that the level of engagement of a practice’s employees has a direct impact on the bottom line.
Interestingly, Gallup’s research found that engaged organizations have 2.6 times the earnings per share growth rate compared to other lower engagement organizations in the same industry. The engagement level of employees has a direct impact on key performance areas including absenteeism, turnover, safety, customer satisfaction, and profitability.
Creating an engaged workforce is easier said than done. First, sometimes we have to “get people off the bus.” This means we have to recognize and deal with actively disengaged people. While some employees may be salvageable, sometimes the best thing to do is to let someone go. A disengaged employee is obviously not happy. We don’t do them favors by keeping them in a miserable job. For salvageable disengaged employees and the generally disengaged, we need to learn how to be better coaches. We do this by observing our employees better, questioning them to learn more about their motivations, truly listening to their responses, and giving candid feedback. Finally, we have to rally them to action. This means that we establish clear expectations and standards, and I prefer to put these in writing. It is critically important to have regular accountability meetings to track progress towards goals and expectations.
It is important to remember that employees do things for their own reasons, and not their leaders. In the end, all motivation is self-motivation. While we can yell, scream, and threaten someone into doing their job better, they are not going to become an engaged worker utilizing that management style. Engaged employees respond best to visionary and coaching leadership styles. The dilemma for physicians is that they are extensively trained on their clinical skills, but not on the entrepreneurial skills of being a great leader. Learning to be a great leader can be accomplished by first embracing it as a real priority. Books and podcasts can be used to grow these leadership skills. Ultimately, it is a process that the physician must undertake in conjunction with his or her team.
Regardless of your practice setting, you will likely be working with people that either work directly for you or with you. There is no reason to allow your practice to be an “average” organization with almost 70% of your employees disengaged. Just imagine the patient satisfaction and enhanced profitability that you could experience if you were able to reverse that and have at least 70% of your employees be engaged. Creating an engaged workforce is a habit that you can start today in reshaping your practice and planning for tomorrow!