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How to build a great culture in your medical practice

This is a guest post by Alex Hattingh, people and culture expert and the Chief People Officer at Employment Hero.  

Workplace culture can make or break a business. There is a volume of research that shows a great work culture can lead to improved employee engagement.

Employee engagement impacts retention, productivity and the way your teams treat your customers, in this case, your patients. A happy staff member will go above and beyond for patients, flag potential issues early and always be looking to innovate and make the practice better.

We’ve all heard about the amazing workplace cultures at places like Google, Netflix and Apple. Having worked at Google, I can confirm that it’s all true. The free food flows, there really are free massages, beers are available on Friday in every office globally, sleep pods are provided and the list of perks goes on! Giants like Google have the budget to provide all of these great perks but if you ask any expert, they will tell you that extravagant perks are not necessary for building a healthy and high-performing work culture. You can create an amazing work culture in your medical practice without a huge budget or culture officer. It all comes down to following 6 simple rules.

Rule 1. Define Your Purpose and Values

Defining your company’s purpose or mission and outlining your values goes a long way towards creating a strong work culture. You need a shared purpose for people to know where you want to go as a medical practice. More importantly, linking your purpose to an individual staff member and the role they fulfil makes a huge impact on employee engagement levels.

Working in the medical field makes creating a company purpose easier since the work you do is inherently impactful. But as you will know, each medical practice has its own identity and can benefit from a specific purpose. As a team, define what your medical practice’s specific purpose is. Employment Hero’s purpose, for example, is to make employment easier and more rewarding for everyone.

Next up are your values. Your values drive the behaviour you want to see in your practice. A good example of a value is teamwork. Once your values have been defined, communicate them. Visual cues work extremely well. Print them out and stick them on a wall as a daily reminder. Allowing your patients to see your purpose and values will also impact how they view your business.

Take note, your values should be able to be thought of and observed as behaviours. Poorly worded values lack meaning. It is also very difficult to tell an employee they are not living your values if you cannot give them a behavioural example as feedback.

Rule 2. Recruit With Care

It is vital that you take the time and effort to hire the right people to fit your team, purpose and culture. Make sure you hire people who align to your values. Also be self-aware of any biases you have. A hiring manager might make decisions based on first impressions, which isn’t always the best strategy. If you are aware of your biases, you can put systems in place to overcome them such as including someone else in the interview process. You can also train yourself not to judge a candidate within the first 10 minutes of an interview. The right people are crucial to your success, they are also the largest expense for your practice

Rule 3. Create An Operating Rhythm and Internal Communication

A consistent cadence of meetings and communication flow is vital. Hold frequent meetings with your team. Your employees care about how the practice is doing and hearing feedback from patients and about their performance will mean a lot to them. A weekly meeting also gives your employees an opportunity to give you feedback, ask questions and talk about any concerns they may have. You can also encourage innovation in this forum where ideas on improving processes or the patient experience can be talked about. If there is no time for a longer meeting, I recommend regular “stand-up meetings” 10 minutes before your practice opens. The Ritz-Carlton has made this a best practice in hospitality where they hold stand-up meetings before each shift starts to share good stories, learn from one another and talk about how to make their client experience the best it can be.

It’s just as important to ensure employees are getting one-on-one time with their supervisors. Gallup research consistently reports the number one reason people leave companies is due to their manager. Employment Hero also recently conducted an Australia-wide employee survey that revealed 59% of employees leave a role due to a toxic work culture. Whereas, 51% of employees are likely to stay in a role longer if they feel appreciated. Schedule the regular catch-ups with your staff can ensure you provide meaningful positive feedback to your employees and give them a forum to air any questions or concerns.

Rule 4. Ask For Feedback

The best way to understand where you can drive engagement and where cultural improvements are needed is to ask. You can use a simple survey through Google Documents to ask an open question about what can be done to improve the culture and employee experience at your practice. Make sure you communicate the results and any action plans put in place. Be transparent about anything you can’t take action on and explain why. For example, if a request is to provide daily lunch, you may communicate that this is too expensive for a small business however you can ensure your kitchen has the right facilities for people to bring their lunch and eat it comfortably.

Rule 5. Generate Rewards & Recognition

Celebrations and rewards are vital to a strong work culture. Recognition reinforces great behaviour and celebrating wins is essential to team building. Instilling recognition and encouraging celebration in your practice will help everyone understand your purpose and the milestones you are making..  A celebration, for example, might be meeting a patient satisfaction score. Individual celebrations such as birthdays and work anniversaries are also great to acknowledge as they add to employee engagement and culture. Any personal celebration such as an engagement or pregnancy is also important to acknowledge. Small things like saying thank you at the end of the day can also make a big difference lead to the creation of a positive environment.  Appreciation goes a long way, especially if someone has had a negative experience with a patient that day. 

Rule 6. Foster Inclusion

Due to the variety of professions in a medical practice, the establishment of inclusion is a really important step toward creating a great culture.  A practice leader, manager, nurse or doctor should observe interactions between the various professions and teams on staff. Take note of any discrepancy, like a doctor not appreciating a nurse’s tasks or creating unnecessary extra work for a receptionist. If you observe something like this, point it out to the person so they become self-aware that they are not treating all people equally. Refer to company values can help in instances like this. Do you remember the first time you were excluded from something?  Like a group lunch back at school. That feeling of exclusion is awful and can be crippling for some people who experience it in the workplace. Ensure that all staff are invited to any work-related events (people can decline if they are unable to attend) and be sure to keep all staff updated with relevant practice announcements and changes.

Overall, a great culture and positive change will start with strong leadership. Communicate what areas need improving and outline what action you intend to take. Most importantly, walk the talk! If people see that you are not behaving the way you expect others to change will never occur.

Ready to transform your medical practice?
Alex Hattingh
Alex Hattingh is the Chief People Officer at Employment Hero and she has over 15 years of experience in people management. Alex derives energy and passion from helping both companies and their employees succeed. Alex’s roles have covered large Fortune 500 companies through to start-ups.