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    Stephen A. Dickens
    Stephen A. Dickens, JD, M.A.Ed, FACMPE
    Human resources tasks consume the average medical practice executive. Unfortunately, much of that time is spent telling folks what to do, the mechanics of how to do it, and the cascade effect if they fail to do so. Although it is important for employees and physicians alike to know their performance expectations, there is often a key element missing — the behavioral or engagement aspect. While the job description tells people what to do, the code of conduct tells them how to govern their working relationships. Many groups and hospitals are now incorporating codes of conduct into employee agreements and human resource manuals to mitigate the disciplinary process.

    To help strengthen your teamwork and improve your culture, consider the key elements of a code of conduct:
    • Appropriate conduct: Define the expectations. They are the guiding principles of the organization. They should be simple and direct. They can include clear communication, participation at meetings and professionalism.
    • Inappropriate conduct: Define what not to do. Specific examples are best here. These behaviors are so abhorrent that they result in discipline up to and including immediate termination from the practice. Comments that do not rise to the level of bullying or harassment can be included as well as failure to complete work or communicate with coworkers in an appropriate manner or time period.
    • Disciplinary guidelines: When an employee violates one of the organization’s principles, what happens? Not only is it important to define expectations but also consequences. The code addresses who takes the lead on discipline. For physicians, it should be another physician. The practice executive should deal with all non-physicians, including advanced practice practitioners.

    Most every manager has had the experience of counseling an employee who could not get along with others or who was not a cultural fit. He or she may have executed their job from a technical perspective but generally created conflict in doing so. Have many times have you heard someone say, “He/she is a good doctor or a good nurse, but …?” Well, professional skills without the interpersonal ones do not make a good employee. They make for a constant headache. This also generally results in running off the best employees. At the very least, they may resent you for not dealing with the problem. They may also decide there is no need for them to give their all, either.

    Developing a code of conduct allows the manager to tackle though conversations when the employee has performed the task but the behavior needs improvement. If we spent a little more time talking about the rules of engagement with one another, it would significantly reduce office drama and the need for discipline. Your good employees will thank you.

    Want a deeper dive into best practices for hiring and retaining the best employees? Head to Boston for MGMA 18 | The Annual Conference. The author's pre-conference session, "Chemistry Tests: Steps for Mistake-free Hiring and Retention," will take place on Sept. 30 at 9 a.m. 
    Stephen A. Dickens

    Written By

    Stephen A. Dickens, JD, M.A.Ed, FACMPE

    Stephen A. Dickens is an attorney and vice president of medical practice services at SVMIC. In this role, he advises physicians and their staff on organizational issues, including governance, operations, strategic planning, leadership, patient experience and human resources. He is a published author and frequent speaker at state and national conferences on these topics. Before joining SVMIC in 2008, he worked with physicians in various roles, including 15 years in medical practice, hospital and home care executive positions. 

    Dickens is a past chair of MGMA and was the first solo chair of MGMA-ACMPE. He is a past president of the MGMA Financial Management Society, Tennessee MGMA and Tennessee Association for Home Care. He is a certified medical practice executive and a Fellow in the American College of Medical Practice Executives. In addition, he has previously earned Fellowship in the American College of Healthcare Executives and certification as a home and hospice care executive by the National Association for Home Care. 

    He is the 2015 recipient of the Martha Johnson Distinguished Service Award from the Tennessee Medical Group Management Association, honoring his contributions to the organization and the medical practice profession. He was named Tennessee’s Home Care Administrator of the Year and received the President’s Award for service to the industry from the Tennessee Association for Home Care.

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