The mandated changes required of physicians and managers in recent months have been particularly testing for many practices. Strong leadership and staff engagement will be the difference in determining how successfully practices can morph as patient and regulatory demands increase. Strength-based management tactics are proving to be effective in creating organizational cultures that are more likely to achieve results. Ahead are several specific reasons why managers should consider a strength-based approach to staff management along with tips to successfully incorporate this approach into a practice.

Evidence Supporting Strength-based Management

Many studies support the strength-based management concept of identifying individual talents and strengths and assigning people to positions that maximize those strengths. In 2005, Don Clifton and M. Buckingham published research showing that strength-based leadership results in higher productivity and better customer satisfaction. Additionally, the Corporate Leadership Council reported in 2005 that a focus on the strengths of employees in a business environment can increase employee performance by 36 percent. Also, in 2001, Harter, et al. claimed that customer retention and employee engagement are higher in companies that emphasize strength-based leadership

The Gallup Institute has developed a strengths-based philosophy and published books such as Now Discover Your Strengths and Strengths-Based Leadership. Based on their research, Gallup reported in 2013 that people who focus on their strengths are, “three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, and six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs.” Gallup’s data show that simply learning their strengths makes employees 7.8 percent more productive, and teams that focus on strengths every day have 12.5 percent greater productivity.

Certainly, those that provide training based on this methodology will have a bias to this approach. However, it intuitively makes sense that people who are working in jobs that highlight their talents and allow for growth in strength areas will have greater success and be more motivated on the job. Managers who leverage staff members’ talents to achieve practice goals can help their teams be engaged, innovative, and responsive to the ever-changing healthcare environment.

Expect Increased Engagement

The expectation in incorporating a management style that focuses on talents and building strengths is that staff members become more engaged and actively participate in finding solutions. There are three categories of employees: engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged. Practice leaders should assess their current practice with an eye on determining the strengths-based makeup of staff.

  • Engaged employees are ready to work, have a good attitude, and believe in what they are doing. They are committed to providing excellent care to patients, typically have fewer unplanned absences, and are the first to volunteer for special projects or assignments.
  • Disengaged employees are usually engaged but have periods of disengagement that manifest in poor performance. Disengaged employees may not feel well, may be upset with a manager or coworker, or could also be upset about an issue at home. Managers describe these staff members as those who come to work but “their hearts are not in it.” These staff members may go through a time where they seem uninterested in making the practice better, or they may have outstanding complaints against the practice that need to be resolved. Leaders who quickly identify a disengaged employee and know the employee’s talents can help them re-engage in the practice.
  • Actively disengaged employees no longer believe in the practice, the physicians, and/or management. At some point in their relationship with the practice these employees have become disinterested or uncooperative in the practice’s guidelines and policies. Sometimes these employees will realize that they do not want to be a member of the organization any longer, and they actively seek employment elsewhere. If they do not move to another organization, they may wreak havoc. They can diminish the morale of engaged employees and cause great damage to the practice.

How to Promote Engagement

Astute leaders can promote employee engagement in the practice by actively doing the following:

  • Focus on strengths. Continuously analyze employees’ engagement levels. Coach individuals based on what was done right and remind people of their talents and how to incorporate them into the practice. Managers who help employees focus on their strengths are often able help make disengaged employee engaged.
  • Observe areas of greatness. Managers can help employees identify natural talents by observing areas of greatness. Managers and physicians can find talent that exists within their practices and encourage employees to grow in these areas through positive feedback and education.
  • Listen for passion. A simple remark like, “I really do love scribing for the physicians,” should catch a manager’s attention. By providing training, refining protocols, and collaborating as a team, these staff members can translate their passions into true strengths.
  • Encourage talent identification. If a practice does not have a culture that focuses on strengths, it will take time to re-program the environment. However, practices that want a strengths-based environment should begin by having several managers and physicians focus specifically on what the team does well. Over time, the focal point of the practice will be positive, allowing employees to be engaged in activities that bring out their talents.
  • Celebrate “heroes” and “role models.” By shining a spotlight on strengths, managers can help staff members realize when they are being heroes to patients and role models for other staff. In smaller practices, staff members may feel like there is no room to move up or grow professionally. Yet, if they are recognized as a role model or hero because of great skills, staff members will remain engaged and have a positive influence on the practice.
  • Respect discomfort. If a staff member truly dislikes or is highly uncomfortable in an assignment, take note. Staff members who are not performing from a position of strength will feel unsuccessful. If they are not using their talents, they will easily become disengaged. If they stay disengaged long enough, they may become actively disengaged. Help identify the “right-fit” position(s) for each employee in the practice. If none exist and the employee is truly not a match in talent or culture, the manager may need to be courageous and terminate the relationship.

Long-Term Success

Physicians and managers can help position their practices for long-term success by focusing on employee strengths. When a leader and the staff approach adversity or new challenges from a source of strength, employees will engage and successfully meet the challenge. By allowing employees to do what they do best on a daily basis, managers can help employees enjoy work, even in difficult times.

Maureen Waddle joined BSM Consulting in 2008. Her expertise includes leadership recruitment and development, strategic planning and implementation, new business-line analysis and development, customer service, staff training, referral network development, managing the business of elective surgery, internal and external marketing plans, financial assessment and benchmarking, and operational efficiency.

Elizabeth Holloway is a senior consultant for BSM Consulting and is based in Trinity, FL. Ms. Holloway provides support to BSM and corporate clients in all aspects of clinical operations, staff training and development, and human resources. Prior to joining BSM, Ms. Holloway served as the chief operations officer for a large multispecialty ophthalmic practice.