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A six-question oral survey can help the manager and improve morale

The people closest to the work are the ones who have the best suggestions for improving it.

You can take advantage of staff ideas by getting their recommendations in an informal survey.

Not only will it generate usable ideas for the manager, but it may help morale because when people are asked for their opinions, they become committed to the organization. There’s a sense of, “They trust me enough to solicit my ideas.”

Keep the discussion positive. Don’t open with, “Let’s solve some of our problems” but with, “Let’s talk about what would make this an even better place to work.” That keeps the meeting from becoming a spew of demands for things like longer breaks and more time off.

To make sure the quiet staffers get heard, tell everybody to write down two ideas for each question and then ask what each person has written.

Here are the questions:

#1. What can you do to enhance your role in patient service?

And to keep the remarks positive, ask too, “What is it that makes our patients think we are the best?”

Expect some standard ideas such as answering the phones promptly and pleasantly, but also expect some surprises because staff often sees aspects of patient service that the office doesn’t. The front desk, for example, may have suggestions for making the reception area more comfortable.

#2. If you were footing the bill, what would you do to achieve a better bottom line?

People are much more conservative when spending their own money. Looking at it from that standpoint, they start to expand their thinking.

Staff are likely to come up with simple but effective money savers such as ending certain subscriptions or buying supplies in bulk to get a price break.

#3. What procedures would you do away with?

Every office has its sacred operational cows in procedures, paperwork, and meetings. There are also redundancies. Perhaps one person fills out forms by hand and then someone else enters the information into the system.

As a business grows and evolves, tasks and procedures come to be tired and outdated and need to be updated or even eliminated. And staff are the ones who know what those items are.

Then turn the picture around: “If you had $10,000 to improve operations, what would you spend it on?”

#4. Are you getting enough information and instruction on your job?

In one office, staff said they weren’t getting clear instructions on work assignments, so they drew up a list of the directions they wanted and asked their bosses to follow it. It included factors such as when the project is due, who the contact is, and whether the boss wants progress reports on the work.

#5. What would make this a better place to work?

Break down the discussion into how to enhance office efficiency, teamwork, and morale.

Efficiency: Suppose staff have complained about overtime. Ask, “How can we reduce overtime and still get the work done?” Expect good ideas. Someone with technological skills might recommend a computer enhancement. Someone else might suggest it would be cheaper to outsource a task than pay overtime.

Teamwork: Staff might want to learn more about each other personally or about what each department does. Or they may want to hear other staff give an overview of their jobs and responsibilities.

Morale: Ask what would make everybody feel even better about being part of the organization. The answers will show what makes staff feel good about the work they do.

If somebody says a pay increase would do the job, acknowledge the comment but move on: “We would all be pleased with a raise, but for the purpose of this conversation, let’s talk about other ways to improve morale.”

#6. What is working well and how can we make it better?

Ask staff to make a list of all the things that make their jobs easier or help them be successful and then ask, “How can we make these items even better?”

Management doesn’t always know the details of what’s working well for particular positions. Sometimes staff will mention features they like—maybe a membership in a fitness club—that the office thought nobody cared about and is planning to get rid of. Or maybe there’s an automated telephone system that doesn’t provide clients with clear instructions.

The only way to know for sure is ask.

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