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Building a people-first workplace in healthcare

Insight Article - September 27, 2022

Recruitment & Hiring

Leadership Development

Culture & Engagement

MGMA Staff Members
The key to creating an exceptional healthcare practice lies in prioritizing the needs of your team to perform at their best.

Amy Lafko, the owner and principal of Cairn Consulting Solutions, introduced this strategy in her recent presentation, “People First: Creating Environments that Engage the Best from Your People.” Lafko also will speak at the 2022 Medical Practice Excellence: Leaders Conference this October in Boston.

Hear from healthcare organizational culture expert Amy Lafko on how to engage and inspire staff across the workplace and help them grow.Many practice leaders frequently view their work through a “patient-first” lens, but Lafko cautioned that this can be detrimental: The goal of the people-first strategy isn’t to diminish how your patients are treated; instead, it’s to create an engaging, inspiring workplace that allows employees to grow and thus their teams and organization grow with them.

Lafko emphasized that this cultural change isn’t limited to employee satisfaction surveys or short-lived appreciation programs. Business imperatives remain crucial: practice hours and bonus structures do not need to change – but the way that you think, communicate, and behave regarding your people do.

“There is a way to decrease the fires, regain control and stop the daily chaos. There is a way to have an aligned team that’s engaged and encouraged, accountable for the success of the operations. And that’s going to allow you to scale up, maybe step back, get out of the weeds,” said Lafko. “There is a way to stop this great resignation in your practice. And the way to address these big challenges is by putting your people first.”

Building a people-first workplace

There are four elements to the people-first approach that lead to change.
  1. Think: The foundation of Lafko’s approach. It is the mission statement, the core values, the mindset, and intentions that permeate the practice. To make lasting changes rather than short-lived activities, Lafko suggests two changes:
  • Rethink the employee life cycle: The traditional model of recruiting, onboarding, and retaining employees is missing some crucial pieces, Lafko suggests. “I want you to consider instead of recruiting, attracting and then selecting,” she said. “What if we focused on part of the life cycle being that idea of inspiring people to their best work [and] aligning them to the core purpose so that they can be engaged and then empowered to their best work.”
  • Create intentions: Lafko urges practice leaders to frame daily huddles and monthly meetings around an intention, which can transform a meandering meeting into a productive conversation with meaningful feedback. “List out all those meetings and then … list out what the intention is. And if you’re not clear on what the intention of the meeting is, don’t have it,” Lafko urged. “If you put the intention is ‘status update,’ ‘sharing data,’ stop that one right away. Meetings are about dialogue — meetings are a chance to have feedback, a real conversation, because we don’t have time for that day to day.”
  1. Say: When you communicate, be more explicit and less vague. Consider a job description that states candidates should exhibit “strong customer service skills” — what does that mean, and what should the outcome be? “For certain people, it might mean that no customer complaint gets elevated to the CEO,” Lafko said. “For someone else, it might mean that there’s a certain net promoter score (NPS), or perhaps it’s a number of positive Google reviews.”

Implementing key accountabilities with measurable factors of success can provide the specificity for an employee can work toward; otherwise, they may not understand what direction they should be heading for their performance improvement goals.
  1. Do: Actions speak louder than words, especially during the hiring process and onboarding. Lafko interviewed 250 practices and asked about their onboarding process. At least half of the practices said onboarding lasted a matter of weeks, but the most successful practices take six months to a year.

Practice leaders need to ensure a strong focus on each new-hire as a person, let them meet the team, and get acclimated instead of immediately rushing into training videos and new-hire paperwork. “Stop spending your money on goodbye parties and start spending your money on ‘welcome aboard’ parties. Give people a chance to start to get to know each other,” she says.
  1. Grow: Growth is the outcome of using the previous people-first steps to create an engaging workplace. In this setting, employees can grow in ways that defy convention and push your practice toward greater excellence.

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