Medical group leaders understand the importance of their own professional development — all of them invest some time to grow.
But that time isn’t always specifically focused on growing as a leader: An April 2021 MGMA Stat poll found that less than half of healthcare leaders invested in their own leadership or resiliency training in the previous year — a trend that hopefully will improve with continued post-pandemic recovery in medical groups.
With staffing, rising expenses and countless other challenges facing healthcare administrators and executives, is there any wrong answer for how to invest their time and energy to growing? The findings of a new MGMA Stat poll suggest that there’s no clear, standout initiative among those who are focused on their own leadership development — and that the ways they invest that time and to what end are as varied as the people leading today’s medical groups and health systems.
A Sept. 19, 2023, MGMA Stat poll asked medical group leaders what their top leadership development priority is this year, and the results pointed to no single area that jumped out above the rest. Nearly three in 10 (29%) respondents said communication was their top area of focus. Just behind communication were:
- Coaching/mentoring (26%)
- Team building (25%)
- Change management (16%)
- “Other” (4%).
The poll had 413 applicable responses.
Regular huddles, weekly meetings, whiteboards, town halls, internal newsletters, face-to-face contact and relationship building — as one practice leader told MGMA, “everything begins with good communication.” Among the respondents who selected communication as their top priority for personal improvement, they already have identified areas for improvement:
- Some are focused on ensuring better communication from the C-suite on down through directors and middle management for consistency.
- Others have sought feedback about their communication styles and performance and have taken active steps toward being more transparent, sharing minutes from meetings quicker and more broadly in the organization.
- Some poll respondents pointed to better listening and documentation of ideas as a key for moving forward with initiatives or closing the loop on suggestions.
Whether it’s a byproduct of staffing changes from the Great Resignation or awareness among older administrators who are eyeing retirement in the coming years and have added succession planning to their to-do list, many respondents told MGMA that they are harnessing their energy to build programs that will develop and support a new generation of medical practice leaders.
Poll respondents who noted their priorities in coaching and/or mentoring told MGMA that they have leveraged the expert insights they gleaned from previous coaches and mentors to develop leadership curricula for emerging leaders — assembling books, webinars and more — to help current employees be effective as they are delegated more responsibilities and higher-end tasks.
In many instances, these leaders noted the need to put aside more one-on-one time with developing leaders, as well as group leadership development meetups or roundtables to encourage dialogue around what’s working and how to improve areas of weakness.
- Learn more about creating and sustaining a successful leadership development institute from 2023 Leaders Conference speaker Susan Aloi, PhD, FACMPE.
- The MGMA Member Community is a great resource to connect with other practice leaders who have themselves learned from others and have best practices to share.
Increased levels of turnover among providers and nonclinical support staff in recent years have made it very clear to practice leaders that their organizational culture is always a work in progress, and respondents to this poll reiterated their understanding. “With so much turnover, team building is as much of a priority as hiring,” one respondent told MGMA. “Culture can reset — for better or worse — every time we bring in new team members.” Another practice leader said that getting a better understanding of how best to build teams begins with devoting more time as a leader to understand the existing dynamics of “who I have on my team” amid periods of high turnover and hiring.
Some of the top priorities and goals for improving team building in medical groups cited by respondents were:
- Creating work teams throughout clinics for projects or initiatives rather than relying on the same people who typically head improvement efforts
- Developing formal programs for staff engagement, with closer tracking of employee satisfaction through surveys and more team training opportunities
- Establishing plans for cross-training employees for broader understanding of expectations and a unified vision of organizational goals
- Improving overall well-being and mental health for employees through improved comradery and less friction in the work setting.
Some form of change management is typically happening in medical group management, and practice leaders typically face one major obstacle that boils down to one word: “Why?”
Change management “is a big challenge for me,” one respondent told MGMA. “I read books and try to understand the needs of the staff and doctors to understand and explain why change is necessary.” Part of being successful in those exercises — as well as in coaching and mentoring — is building trust within departments and teams.
Change management was cited by many practice leaders with the expectation that future mergers and acquisitions (M&A) will prompt a need for making efficient and effective improvements across updated teams and departments.
- MGMA members can access a member-benefit Change Management Planning Checklist.
- Read more from MGMA Connection magazine on cultivating psychological safety.
- Discover tips from veteran practice management expert Owen Dahl, MBA, LFACHE, CHBC, LSSMBB, on using Lean methodology to address practice staffing challenges.
Among practice leaders who responded “other,” additional efforts to boost leadership development included understanding unconscious bias, greater understanding of organizational culture and having a firm grasp of upcoming value-based care initiatives to help their physicians and team members understand and buy into initiatives.
Learn more at Leaders 2023
MGMA’s largest event of the year has “Leaders” in its name because it’s designed specifically to engage and educate the people who will shape medical group management and healthcare administration in the years ahead. Here are just a few of the sessions at the 2023 Leaders Conference, Oct. 22-25 in Nashville, that will help you refine your skills and be a successful leader in your organization:
- “The Allyship Advantage: Why Mentorship is Important and Sponsorship is Critical for Women Leaders” — This three-hour workshop on Sunday, Oct. 22, included with your conference registration, features Laurie Baedke, MHA, FACHE, FACMPE, Director of Healthcare Leadership Programs, Creighton University, as she shares best practices in mentoring, sponsoring and coaching to develop high potential leaders on your teams.
- “Leadership Reimagined — Tomorrow’s Success Starts Today” — Healthcare leadership coach Susan Aloi, PhD, FACMPE, recently joined the MGMA Women in Healthcare podcast to share her background growing up around the industry and preview her session with Kristin Baird, MHA, BSN, on Monday, Oct. 23, around what’s works in leadership development today.
- “Developing Strategies for Staff Professional Fulfillment” — Timothy Seay-Morrison, EdD, LCSW, VP & Chief Administrative Officer, Ambulatory Care and Service Lines at Stanford Health Care, and Michael O'Connell, MHA, FACHE, FACMPE, Interim Chief Operating Officer, RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group, California, share lessons and solutions to address medical assistant (MA) and receptionist burnout.
- “Versatile Leadership: Running Towards Discomfort — CarePoint Health’s Gwen Dooley, MPM, MSN, NP, Vice President of Operations, Business Development, and Strategy; and Steve Quach, MD, Chief Executive Officer, present leader self-assessment tools to understand your strengths and weaknesses and outline tactics to build a more versatile leadership style.
- “Beating Burnout for Leaders: Making Mindfulness Meaningful” — This two-part series on Wednesday, Oct. 25, features Jeff Comer, PhD, MHA, FACHE, CEO, Parkview Regional Hospital and Ennis Regional Hospital of Texas, who focuses specifically on the impacts of burnout on healthcare leaders and how to deal with the underlying causes to improve well-being.