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Use straight talk to solve 4 common people problems in your office

The key to success as a manager is being up-front with employees. Yet that is what managers are most reluctant to do. They don’t want to sit down with a staff member and say, “You are messing up on this, and I cannot allow it to continue.” That reluctance is a normal human trait. People don’t like confrontation. In fact, one human resources consultant says most of her clients call her in because they don’t want to confront their own employees. She says many times she is even called in to discipline or fire someone whose latest performance review carries statements such as “doing a great job.”

A good manager sees correcting behavior not as confrontation but as a positive action because it gives the staffer an opportunity to turn a bad situation around. People want to know boundaries. When nothing is said about an unacceptable behavior, the unsaid rule is that it is okay.

1 The me-me staff

The first management problem is the staff who do not work as a team; the “me-me” staff who don’t get along. No manager can force staff to like each other. But a good manager can show them how to work together. When people work together for a common purpose, they get along.

To cure the problem, hold a non-threatening meeting. Explain what is going on and ask for solutions, for example: “We have a team here, but it is not as productive as I know we can make it. You do your jobs every day. I don’t, so I want to you to show me what you do, and hopefully, I can come up with a way to make your jobs easier.” Explain that the office needs good workflow so that when one person hands off work to the next, the second person can pick it up as quickly as possible.

Then meet individually with a few of the best employees, ask what their jobs entail, and show them how they can work with one or two other staffers to streamline their work. This will have a trickle-down effect. Once a few people start working together and seeing good results, the others will catch on and do the same.

As to what causes a me-me attitude, often it is that staff don’t get feedback on their work and as a consequence begin to feel insecure about their jobs. They know they could do better, but they just keep the status quo and they do so by maintaining a low profile.

Another cause is isolation. Any manager tends to give the best jobs to the staffers who will do the work quickly and correctly. But in the process, no one else learns how to do those jobs. Spread out the work. Teach the lower echelon how to do the attractive jobs, or have the upper echelon do the teaching.

Also try to prevent the problem from the outset by making team participation part of the evaluation for new hires. To find out if and how well a job applicant works with others, ask questions such as, “What accomplishments are you most proud of that involved working with your peers?” and, “What was the biggest stumbling block that you encountered when working with other staff?”

2 The ‘what should I say’ dilemma

The second management problem is really a manager problem. It is what to say to a staffer when unacceptable behavior occurs.

Particularly difficult is addressing the little things – taking too long for lunch, coming in late or not doing some small part of the job. Attack the issue, not the individual. Say, “When you are late from lunch (or whatever the infraction is), here is what happens. The other staff grumble about it (or whatever the unpleasant result is). How are we going to resolve this?”

Don’t say, “You have to stop this.” Leave it up to the staffer to make the suggestions. And don’t say, “Dr. A. has noted this, so I have to talk with you.” Any employee knows that’s just a way to pass the buck and will lose respect for the manager.

With a new employee, the first time an issue arises, take the approach of “I noticed you were late coming back from lunch. What happened? Is everything OK?” That is coaching. That says, “Can I help you? ” It could be the employee has a child with a disability and actually needs some accommodation.

But if the behavior continues, proceed as with any other employee. Say it like it is, and give the employee a chance to respond without being threatened. That is what discipline is all about. It is a matter of keeping a positive attitude that the behavior will change and showing the staffer how to be a good employee. With that type of attitude, the manager can expect a 95 percent success rate. The other 5 percent are hopeless. For those, cut the losses and fire them.

3 Dr. Pill and the unhappy staffer

The third problem is a common one for medical office managers. It is the doctor with the negative attitude. Staff complain about the doctor and rightly so. The only thing the manager can do in that situation is to empathize and tell the staffer, “I understand.” And if possible, add, “I will try to take care of that.” But tell the staffer Dr. Pill is still the boss and unfortunately, that is sometimes the boss’s nature. Point out that doctors have heavy responsibilities and that people under stress often react that way.

Then tell the other physicians, “I am getting complaints about Dr. A,” and ask them to make the doctor aware of the problem. From there on, stay out of it. Don’t approach the offending physician. Very likely, all the doctor will say is, “I’m the boss,” and then there’s a rift between the doctor and the manager.

However, if the complaint is something serious such as sexual harassment, the manager is required to get involved.

4 Morale low and getting lower

Low morale is the fourth problem. As to what causes it, it typically starts at the top. If the manager is grumpy, upset or snippy, don’t expect staff to enjoy their jobs. Leave the personal problems outside the office. Being a good actor is just one more capability to add to the job of manager.

Playing favorites also lowers morale. So does low pay, which can be defined as less than the other offices in the area are paying. Demanding too much of staff causes it, too.

Low morale is an expensive problem. It makes good employees leave. And it makes bad employees stay because they can’t get work anywhere else.

To raise morale, be pleasant. Be fair. Then meet with staff and say, “Is there something I can do to change the attitude in our office?” Give them a written survey asking them about their attitudes.

And realize that it may take more than one morning to get an answer. Employees are afraid to be honest. They don’t want to get fired.

Whatever staff mention requires follow up of, “This is what has come to light, and this is how we are going to address it” or, “This is something we are not able to address at this point.”

Here are some morale builders

-Take staff to lunch. The time and the cost will pay off in productivity.

-Make sure the benefits the office provides are the benefits the staff want. They may want a particular type of medical plan. If they are young, they may want benefits that affect their children more than a retirement plan. Staff may also want more flexible hours. Tell staff, “I am looking for suggestions for stretching our benefits dollars.” Ask for their opinions on the current benefits and what they want. They will ask for the moon, but settle for something in the middle. Look too for benefits that don’t cost anything. Membership in a credit union gives the staff credit cards, lower interest rates, and easy loan access, but costs the office nothing.

-Recognize staff for good work. The most effective approach is to recognize an entire group; perhaps take the billing department to lunch, because it rewards their work as a team.

It just comes down to people

Good management all comes down to people. It is a matter of remembering that employees are people with feelings. That doesn’t mean the manager has to mollycoddle the staff, but it does mean the manager has to be fair and straight with them. It means letting staff know what they are doing well, showing them how to grow in their jobs, and giving them an opportunity to do so. And it means facing the behavior issues head on.

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