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6 July 2017

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Positivity in practice management

It is essential for practice managers to know how to get the most out of staff by turning negatives into positives, writes Keith Taylor

Dealing with conflict and having to deliver bad news are some of the least enjoyable aspects of managing a team. But the way you deal with negative situations is what sets you apart as an effective practice manager. 

These negative experiences could be anything from resolving conflicts between staff members, having to reduce services because of budget cuts, delivering unfavourable news because of changes in the NHS or discussing underachievement in performance review meetings. 

These are just some of the challenges you might face when running a busy GP practice.

An opportunity

In many cases, these situations present an opportunity for you to develop your management style by turning negatives into positives. In doing this, you’ll find the morale of your team is boosted, employee communication is improved, and the overall success of the practice will be affected. 

It might seem impossible to stay upbeat when you’re dealing with poor staff performance or having to compromise on services offered because of budget cuts. However, being able to quickly identify emerging issues and turn them into positive experiences is all part of being a good manager. 

Even before any conflicts or problems surface, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure that you’re creating a positive workplace for your employees.

Don’t wait until official reviews to offer advice about improving performance 

If you’ve identified a staff member who is underperforming or isn’t following procedure, waiting until their next performance review won’t help the situation. In fact, your employees will come to dread these meetings with you.

Coaching in the workplace should be a continuous process, and it often falls to you as practice manager to take control of this. If you’ve recognised that an employee isn’t performing to the standard you expect, you should be having a conversation with them straight away to find out why they are struggling and offering additional support.

Instead of dragging them into your office to tell them how you expect things to be, show them some understanding and take steps to move forward together – this is a more positive way to approach the situation. It may be that coming up with a solution like additional training or job shadowing might easily resolve the problem. 

Conversely, approaching your employees outside of performance reviews with opportunities that would benefit their career aspirations shows that you understand their role in the practice and are listening to their own ideas for progression. 

Debriefing employees regularly as part of an ongoing commitment to supporting their performance will set you apart as a manager who values your relationship with your employees. 

You’ll also find that building this relationship through continuous coaching will make it easier to broach difficult conversations about performance should the need ever arise.

Create an action plan

Telling an employee they’re not performing and to fix it is never going to be an effective way of managing their development. When you’re conducting performance reviews, ensure that you’re giving staff progressive steps to ensure that they have something to work towards. 

Setting achievable targets shows an understanding of your employees’ own plans for progression and addresses any concerns they have over their performance by giving them something to work towards. 

Instead of being discouraged by a lack of improvement, staff can track their progression to see the improvements they have made and continue to build on that foundation.

As well as the benefits to employees, having targets that are easily measurable will allow you to track performance and trends to identify any areas for improvement before they become a concern.

Achieving key performance indicators can also boost morale by giving employees an increased sense of achievement. Combining this with incentives or prizes for top-performing team members can make a significant difference to the way they view performance meetings by creating a more positive environment.

Foster mentoring relationships and support teams

Sometimes you might not have the resources to offer continuous coaching to your employees yourself. Being a practice manager means you have to be on top of all aspects of the surgery, which can be time consuming, especially when crises arise. 

Creating a mentoring scheme that spans seniority, department, gender and every other facet of your practice can turn negatives into positives by offering employees an additional level of support, while tapping directly into any emerging issues. 

Having employees that can shoulder some of this responsibility will not only help to ease your workload, but can support other team members who might not be comfortable coming to you with their problems. 

Establishing a system of advice and real-world applications to address strengths and weaknesses in each department means that instead of delivering bad news, you can offer your employees practical solutions to address these changes. 

This also means that you can ask mentors to approach situations practically and with tact.  

Communicating with your employees in this way helps to remove the negativity from the situation and turns the experience into a networking tool. 

Improve communication across your practice

One of the simplest approaches to negative situations is to prevent them altogether by improving communication across your practice. 

It is almost impossible to manage a workplace without encountering some form of conflict, but enhancing communication with and among your employees will help to avoid unnecessary friction. 

Communication issues, such as senior members of staff failing to disseminate information correctly, can cause employees to feel undervalued as well as leading to a lack of understanding about the role they are performing. 

It can also lead to rumours and inaccurate information being spread around the practice, which can affect both morale and productivity.

As well as the usual team meetings, consider offering questionnaires or comment sheets to your employees so that you can take any negative opinions they have on their role or the practice and acknowledge them with an explanation or solution. 

Having the ability to identify where there might be gaps in your communication will help to ensure that everyone in the practice is getting the same information and has the same understanding, while allowing them to offer feedback openly. Giving employees the tools to communicate openly builds trust and means that the negative reaction you may be expecting can actually be turned into a beneficial one.

Hold meetings that are positive in tone

Some managers find that holding meetings for employees isn’t very productive as they can quickly turn into a breeding ground for complaints and negativity, but this isn’t a reason to stop conducting them. 

Staff meetings are still an important tool for communicating with employees en masse and can be a useful method of gathering feedback on how the practice is running from the viewpoint of different departments. In most cases, clinical and admin staff will have a better understanding of the day-to-day issues in the practice and it is important that you gather this information to maintain or improve service levels.

If your staff meeting has taken a turn for the negative it can be difficult to pull it back, but remaining authoritative and in control of the conversation can help you to quickly steer away from issues that are off topic or irrelevant to the subject of the meeting.

At the same time, it is important that your employees feel their opinions and contributions are

Instead of ignoring any comments that don’t tie in with your meeting’s agenda, encourage these members of staff to come and see you another time to raise their concerns. 

Giving your staff a forum to directly address issues that affect their role in the practice will help to ease negativity in their day-to-day work by knowing their feedback has been acknowledged.

Detect morale issues

A practice experiencing low employee morale will also see a reduction in productivity. If your staff aren’t motivated to be productive, it will affect the overall efficiency of your practice. 

While this might seem like a difficult area to address, particularly with increasing financial pressure on general practice, there are some easy solutions that can improve morale in the long term if implemented correctly. Suggestions for these might include participating in fun charity events, running new healthcare initiatives, holding competitions, or creating non-work-related events in the practice. Having a full calendar of events will make sure employees have something to look forward to, while participating in competitions and events will help to improve relationships within the teams across your practice. 

You spend a significant proportion of your lifetime at work. If employees enjoy what they do and have the support to succeed, they tend to excel and deliver exceptional results.

Improve profitability

If your employees are experiencing negativity or conflict in the workplace it can hinder productivity and accuracy, and in turn will start to affect the overall profitability of your practice. Improving productivity is the most important factor to address when turning negatives into positives as it directly influences the practice’s bottom line. 

There are many factors that can contribute to productivity issues, including lack of morale, miscommunication and an absence of managerial support. 

If you’ve taken the time to recognise the issues discussed above and have implemented solutions but are still facing productivity issues, it might be time to review the changes to ensure they’re working. The best way to do this is to spend time with your employees and take on board their feedback to provide practical solutions to anything that is hindering productivity. 

As a practice manager working with the support of your GP partners, you have a duty of care to your employees to create a positive workplace where they feel supported.

Obviously, bad things happen in business and a successful practice is no exception. 

While some situations can’t be avoided, a few small changes such as those outlined above will allow you to turn negatives into positives.