Workforce Focus

By Tim Connor, Rodeo! Performance Group, Inc.

This is the third article aimed at helping medical practices to hire the right staff into the organization. In the first two we identified the benefits of the having right people, and discussed habits and attitudes. In this final article we’ll discover how to sleuth out attitudes during the interview process.

What’s Important to Us?

Before you can start interviewing for attitudes, you have to know what’s important to the practice. What does that mean? As the practice runs day to day and year to year, there are certain things you want to characterize the organization. They can include any number of attributes: teamwork, a pleasant atmosphere, diligence, attention to details, dependability, or even caring. And these attributes are important because they set the tone for the practice in its daily operation.

For instance: teamwork in staff and physicians might be important because it makes the load easier for everyone, eliminating friction and hurt feelings and giving a sense of pride to the organization. A pleasant atmosphere and a caring character among all staff makes a hectic business much easier to handle. It also tends to put patients at ease, reducing complaints and making coming to work a joy rather than a dread for staff and physicians. Diligence in a practice has both business and atmosphere benefits. Diligent staff know that things will be done timely and well, and come to depend on one another in a way that is unknown in sloppy practices. That same characteristic provides quicker reimbursement and fewer returned bills; and as a practice gains the reputation for diligence liability drops and referrals rise.

But don’t make this a laundry list. You should limit these key characteristics to only four or five, and focus your hiring efforts around supporting those critical few.

Why Are These Key Characteristics So Important?

Actually, these key characteristics we’ve been discussing are the values of the practice. You’ve probably heard a lot about values over the past decade, it’s been a buzz word in leadership and organization seminars and has tended to become meaningless. But values have a very important function: each is the fulcrum around which practice decisions are made.

How is that, you ask? As you know, any staff member has dozens, or even hundreds of decisions to make in a day. If you’re managing a practice, you’d like as many of those decisions as possible to be made independently by the staffer or colleague. However (and it’s a big however!) you want the decisions to be the right decisions. One of the major headaches in leading any group of people is found in worrying about wrong decisions and their possible results. Clear values take away much of that worry, because they act as signposts to employees as they consider the alternatives of a decision. Can you see the ramifications of such a situation? Clear values act as a “silent supervisor” to give staff confidence and direction in decision-making, without having to refer to the manager or partner.

Walk Through the Decisions

A valuable part of this exercise of identifying key values includes discussing what critical decisions are likely in each of the divisions within the practice. Taking the necessary hour or so for this dialogue will greatly clarify which of many values are the most important, and that same conversation will often uncover “land mines” that can be communicated to staff to avoid liabilities.

To get back to our original focus, we are seeking to identify and make clear those few practice characteristics that we consider most important to its operation. And we are communicating those to staff 1) so that good decisions will be made, and 2) to build the practice into one that matches our vision.

Now we have to figure out how to find those same values in applicants desiring to work with us.

Digging for Attitudes

When an applicant writes a resume or comes in for an interview, openness is not the first thing on his or her mind. Resumes are like wordy “tombstones”, in that they recount all important events making up an applicant’s life to this point. Of course education is listed, as are certifications and skills, and often nowadays results – all of which are important for you to know. But you won’t find an applicant listing things like “grumpy in the mornings”, “get along poorly with others”, “hate to take call”, or “tend toward hysteria in critical situations”. For that matter, neither will you often come across good attitudes such as willingness to work hard, calm in crises, or able to unravel intricate problems. These are just not traits that people tend to volunteer. But you’ve got find them!

To do this you will first go back to the qualities you consider important – the values that you have identified. Then you need to consider situations where those values will be demonstrated. This will take some thought, because the circumstances will likely include clinical situations for clinical staff or doctors, business situations for office staff, and relationship situations for all. These will be worded into questions that require the applicant to give you actual examples from his or her past life of such a situation and how they acted in it. Care must be taken to keep the questions neutral so that the value you are looking for is not obvious -obviously! But the beauty of this approach is that the answer can’t be made up – an applicant has to give you a real situation. Of course, you have to be tough and wait for him to think of the past circumstance that will illustrate what you’ve asked for, and that’s not always easy. But if you are patient and give the time to remember, you will get honest answers that will help.

One very conscientious hospitalist who was a Rodeo! client took the questions developed based on her practice values, and used them to hire fourteen new physicians. Those physicians fit well enough that within 18 months she had the pre-eminent hospitalist practice in her city, garnering the confidence and referrals of over 50 regular practices serving three hospitals.

Does it work? You bet it does!