Great practice leaders create other great practice leaders by providing a work environment that helps employees be the best they can be. Customers receive the best care possible from practices whose employees perform at their peak because they are happy and fulfilled in their jobs.
As a practice grows and develops, employees should as well. Growing and developing an efficient and top-performing staff begins by rallying around a common practice culture of shared core beliefs based on the greater good. When everyone in the practice is operating from this place of shared passion, it becomes possible to communicate this inspiration to the outside world and build a thriving practice.
Defining and Growing Practice Culture
Most leaders do not realize that practice culture is really the practice's brand to the outside world. Practice brand is not the practice logo or the photos on the practice website. The practice brand is an extension of practice culture and is what patients experience when they receive services. It exists in customers' memories and is spread by word of mouth and referrals.
So, how does a practice create this culture and successfully weave it into the patient experience to effectively communicate its brand to the outside world? Here are some guidelines:
Believe in the greater good. Many great companies continue to thrive in a difficult economy because their leaders communicate a belief in the greater good and consider it a priority over making a profit. Obviously, a practice must be profitable to stay in business. But practice leaders who follow their core beliefs in why they do what they do— changing and transforming patients' lives and how they feel—will usually discover that the profits will follow.
Consider the “why.” The journey of producing a strong culture (and brand) begins when physicians consistently communicate to employees and patients the why of what they do. In turn, employees will communicate this message to patients. This is how brands are born. Aligning leadership strategies with Simon Sinek's philosophy of “starting with the why” is helpful in defining practice culture and weaving it into patient experience. According to Sinek, author of “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” most employees know what they do and how they do it, but very few understand why they do it. It's up to the leaders of the practice to answer that question for employees by conveying their vision and core principles to all employees and reinforcing these beliefs at every opportunity.
Cultivate trust. In the business world, it is not uncommon to hear about “brand loyalty.” This is nothing more than consumers trusting a company. Trust is born out of shared values and beliefs. When patients trust a practice, they are willing to follow the professional recommendations of the practice. They are also more willing to commit to the practice when things go off course a little bit. The way to gain trust begins with understanding the why of the practice's existence.
Demonstrate authenticity. The message a practice conveys to its patients and staff must be authentic. Otherwise, there can be little trust. But how, exactly, do physicianowners create authenticity and trust within their companies? Can they announce to their employees and patients that they are now authentic and therefore trustworthy? The obvious answer is, no. Authenticity comes from consistently doing what one believes in.
Work amidst like-minded people. Authenticity is also a natural outcome for practice leaders who surround themselves with people who have complimentary values. This begins by hiring staff members with common beliefs. To identify or reconnect with these beliefs, physician owners might consider the answers to these questions: Why did I start this practice? Why should anyone come and work for me? Why should a patient be loyal to my practice and refer friends and family?
Operate from a shared passion. A unique and memorable experience is available to customers when an organization or company provides services from a place of shared passion. That is why Starbucks, Patagonia, Apple, BMW, Harley Davidson, and even the US Marine Corps are highly successful. Operating from a place of shared passion requires starting from the “why.” This often takes a lot of courage and a strong vision because sometimes the concepts that best reflect the “why” are hard to measure—e.g., fulfillment, happiness, trust, culture, authenticity, and transparency. Sometimes this path may even require turning down money in the short term to stay focused on the core beliefs of the company.
Embrace transparency. Transparency is a quality that helps develop internal and external trust and has been identified as a vital business component in developing loyal leaders and consumers. Make sure employees know what is going on with the practice and where it plans to go in the future. Be open to feedback. Transparent practices have open-door policies that boost staff buy-in and promote honesty and openness with consumers. When a practice's motives are aligned with the greater good, relative transparency is possible because it has nothing to hide.
Paving the Way
Creating a practice environment based on shared passion helps create a culture that is conducive to building a foundation of both satisfied employees and loyal consumers. Growing and developing a practice and its leaders will happen organically when you use these guidelines as a roadmap for success.
Janine Ervin is a management consultant with the Allergan Practice Consulting Group, a specialty pharmaceutical company based in Irvine, CA.