Thursday, June 21, 2018

Life’s Work: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. How Does this Translate to a Healthcare Practice?

This was an interesting piece to come across in the venerable Harvard Business Review, a magazine that caters to a business audience. Profiling a sports star is a bit out of the box, but the lessons offered are useful in a number of ways for business leaders. Some of Abdul-Jabbar’s insights apply to managers and “captains of industry” in the C-suite, but many of them apply to workers at any level.

One of the most celebrated basketball stars in history failed in his attempts to become a head coach in the NBA after he retired from playing. But he has successfully changed course and become a successful writer, historian, and filmmaker, specializing in telling the stories of unsung heroes in African-American history. The Harvard Business Review interviewed him about his philosophies and practices that have produced success on and off the basketball court. His life lessons include the following:
  • To really excel, it takes both talent and hard work, but a good work ethic trumps natural talent every time. A talented ball player won’t succeed unless he or she practices long and hard.
  • Abdul-Jabbar had a reputation in the NBA as a focused, but not very personable, player, and it followed him when he was trying to break into coaching. He notes that as he has matured, he has learned to be more sociable and outgoing.
  • He found success as a team captain as a leader by example. He stayed in shape and constantly worked on his fundamentals.
  • He earned a right to be heard by his managers and coaches by approaching them with due respect. They would then listen to his suggestions and criticisms.
  • He is often contrasted with his effervescent teammate Magic Johnson. Abdul-Jabbar learned to enjoy the moment from Johnson, and Johnson learned from Abdul-Jabbar to temper his reaction to each victory (or loss) by focusing on the long haul, a season of 80-plus games.
  • Abdul-Jabbar doesn’t see his career as a writer as a “transition,” but more as leveraging something he has always enjoyed. He was good at English and writing, and in recent years he has cashed in on it on the best-seller lists.

These concepts can prove helpful in managing people and in the environment of any business, including a healthcare practice. Abdul-Jabbar's philosophy that hard work trumps talent every time applies to hiring processes, personal self-discipline, and leading a work team. You may hire a very skilled or knowledgeable staff member, but if he or she doesn’t have a strong work ethic, you’ll be disappointed.

As he talked about himself, Abdul-Jabbar recognized his tight focus and imperfect social skills were both assets and liabilities. His focus helped him lead others by example when he might otherwise not have been an effective encourager. And he found that his personality worked well when teamed with someone very different—he and Johnson balanced each other out in some ways.

If your style is focus and hard work, it provides an example for your staff. If you are more open and sociable, you might be more encouraging and helpful. Just make sure you have some focused workers around, too. As one of the all-time great NBA players, Abdul-Jabbar was never quite able to become a head coach as he had hoped. A great player doesn’t necessarily translate into a great coach. By the same token, a great worker on your staff might not make a good candidate for a supervisory or management position. Keep that in mind when you think you might want to promote one of your star performers.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Look to Your Employees for Innovative Ideas

Funny thing about the way physicians are trained and socialized in America: They’re taught to be independent thinkers. And while that may make them excellent clinicians, sometimes it can get in the way of creating and cultivating an organization that thinks, learns, and develops new ideas. Successful businesses—the superstars you read about in magazines—are invariably recognized as innovative organizations. Smart organizations tap into the collective brain power of entire business—from the “C” suite to the lowest-grade, common laborer.

We’ve caught glimpses of this principle inside top-performing medical practices, too. When you
walk through the front door of such practices, you’re not greeted by the general chaos that seems to plague many operations. There is a calm efficiency that is downright palpable. Everyone seems to know his or her job, and they’re discharging their duties with poise and confidence. Underlying many of these operations you’ll find dozens—perhaps hundreds—of little ideas and innovations that have made the practice run smoother. And a good deal of the ideas came from the staff workers—not the physicians or the administrator. The practice leaders were smart enough to recognize that the people who actually do these jobs know a great deal about the problems and challenges they face every day.

The leaders have encouraged, recognized, and rewarded innovation from their staff members,
and it pays off in improved operations, higher staff morale, and a culture that consciously looks
for ways to learn and improve.

Innovation and its inspirations aren’t really as mysterious as they seem. The really great performance-enhancing ideas don’t come from the research lab or the executive suite. They come from the people who daily fight the company’s battles—those who serve the customers. Successful corporations that have developed a culture and reputation for innovative ideas have found ways to harness the creative energies and insights of employees across all functions and ranks. These companies have cultivated “innovation communities”—work groups that tackle projects and problems in place of the traditional strategy to engage a team of expensive consultants. These groups provide the opportunity to give new shape and purpose to knowledge already possessed by those employees. Companies establishing successful innovation communities share key characteristics and strategies:

• Creating the space to innovate. They designate time and organize effective meetings and
communication mechanisms.
• Getting a broad variety of viewpoints. They deliberately cross horizontal boundaries to get
input from all management (and non-management) levels, and they cross vertical boundaries
to break down information “silos” and allow knowledge to spread among even unrelated departments.
• Creating conversation between senior management and participants. They require senior
management to pay attention to what participants are saying.
• Pulling, not pushing, participants to join. They recognize that they can’t force anyone to share
the knowledge they have.
• Keeping development costs low by tapping unused talent. Participants usually continue to perform their regular roles even while working on the innovation project.
• Recognizing collateral benefits that sometimes equal or exceed the innovations themselves.
Developing a “learning-organization” culture yields benefits that improve morale and company
• Recognizing that measurement is key. A company can sustain an innovation community
only if it can produce demonstrable value.

Successful companies keep track of how many innovative ideas make it from the communities’
drawing boards to actual implementation—and measure the results.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Are Performance Reviews Losing Steam?

The annual or semi-annual rite of passage called, “the performance review” has fallen into disfavor among personnel managers in recent years. Dreaded by managers and employees alike, several studies suggest that such evaluations aren’t very effective in improving performance, even as they cause inordinate amounts of stress around the company.

One company dropped its traditional review process for its 450 employees in favor of weekly one-on-one meetings during which supervisors discuss performance goals with each employee. The dialogue invites the employee to evaluate himself or herself using an online app, and the self-analysis serves as a springboard for discussion with the supervisor. Instead of basing pay on an annual review score, employees receive equal raises annually. However, groups within the company receive performance bonuses that include stock options.

Some experts warn that simply doing away with formal reviews creates risk for companies—particularly when they need to dismiss an underperformer. An employer can find itself defending
a wrongful-discharge lawsuit if it can’t show a pattern of poor job performance. But companies that have transitioned away from traditional reviews successfully have maintained some kind of deliberate feedback mechanism. The feedback is usually delivered in a dialogue approach—as opposed to the traditional top-down method. Rather than looking at performance annually or semi-annually, feedback becomes part of an ongoing discussion throughout the year.

Finally, companies happy with their transitions from traditional reviews have removed—or
diminished—the connection between performance feedback and pay raises. Employees demonstrate greater willingness to participate openly and honestly in feedback dialogue when they don’t fret over whether a bad score will affect their paychecks.

Most of the time, we’re offering advice to practice leaders to start doing meaningful performance reviews. Groups of all sizes notoriously neglect giving structured feedback to employees. But nearly everyone hates performance reviews. Managers and doctors don’t like to give them, and staffers don’t like to receive them. Everyone feels uncomfortable. Human resources experts increasingly criticize the typical annual (or semi-annual) performance review plan used by many employers today. Research indicates that companies seldom get the results they seek—and clumsy bosses often don’t handle well the awkwardness associated with delivering employee report cards. But that doesn’t mean you should abandon the concept. Failure to give any honest, actionable feedback is actually worse than stumbling through an annual review process. By “actionable,” we mean criticism or praise that the employee can use to improve or sustain performance. Thoughtful critics of annual reviews are often proponents of more frequent, ongoing dialogue that keeps every well they do their jobs. 
  • Where do they excel? 
  • What needs tweaking? 
  • Where are they missing the boat altogether?

For the manager or owner, this has huge implications. It’s much more than the occasional pat on the back or “attaboy” and “attagirl.” Labor laws and today’s litigious workforce require businesses to maintain thorough documentation that will support management decisions if ever challenged in a Department of Labor complaint or wrongful-discharge lawsuit. If you need to discipline or dismiss an underperformer, you had better be able to show a pattern of unsatisfactory job performance and a record of your failed attempts to correct him or her. 

So if it sounds inviting to you to do away with those annual reviews (those evaluations
you never get around to anyway), be prepared to adopt a new system to provide and record performance feedback. Failing to do that increases your risk exposure.