In the business world, there’s an expression, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In other words, a company selling the right product at the right time in the right place is not as strong as one with a less perfect strategy but a strong company culture. Culture not only defines how a company behaves but how it responds to change.
In health care, everything around us is changing. We practitioners are faced with tighter margins and more regulatory obstacles than we’ve ever known. Formulating a strategy for maintaining a strong presence in your market will always be important, but what are the elements of practice culture that can synergize with strategy for a successful future? Here are some common themes from practices that have weathered many storms in the past.
1. Focus. Patient care is and should be at the center of everything we do. Both internal and external communications of your practice should reflect that. When you roll out a new policy about employee dress code, explain it in the context of how it affects patients. When hiring new staff members, ask yourself how a candidate will interact with patients. Ask each employee to have an eye exam in your office, so they see the patient’s perspective. When employees come to you with ideas or complaints, ask them to view their idea through the lens of how it affects patients. This approach will very quickly rub off on staff who will understand where your practice’s motivations lie, and it will appropriately build great loyalty from people who share these values.
2. Gratitude. Another old saying is, “If you treat your employees like customers, they will treat your customers like royalty.” Our practice has a firstname.lastname@example.org email address where anyone, including patients, can submit words of praise and thanks regarding their experience and our staff members’ actions. Each week, these emails are copied into a single document that is sent out from our director of operations to our entire staff. It’s a great way to end the week on a positive note, and everyone reads these emails, often looking for their own name. But don’t wait until Friday to thank your staff. Every single action on every single day deserves measured gratitude, and earnest, verbal delivery takes no time and has a big impact. Millennials especially are motivated by thoughtful and immediate recognition.
3. Positivity. Looking at the news in the world around us, it’s easy to adopt a negative attitude about our future, but those individuals — and those businesses — who maintain a positive outlook are better prepared to deal with change. When coaching staff, focus not on what they might have done wrong but on what they can do better for patients. The sign in your staff kitchen should not say, “Don’t leave dirty dishes here!” Instead it should say, “Thank you for keeping this room clean!” When counseling patients, focus on positive aspects of their treatment and expected outcome to maintain their attention and loyalty. Positivity breeds positivity.
4. Celebration. Our practice has almost weekly small and simple celebrations in our lunchroom for National Coffee Day, World Sweater Day and other made-up holidays. You guessed it, we bring in specialty coffee for the staff, invite them to wear a sweater and give a prize for the most noteworthy among them. Generally, these celebrations involve some food or a gift card, movie tickets or some other item that expresses how we value our staff.
Our staff genuinely appreciates these events, and during them they enjoy fellowship with the doctors and each other. We regularly hear them comment about how much they appreciate their company for the “little things” that we do.
5. Branding. If you’re practice is named after the founding doctor, consider transitioning to a name that is more memorable and not so personal. Although many practices have kept the founder’s name when successfully transitioning to a new generation, there is inherently a disadvantage for newer doctors Memorable but less personal names carry greater weight with the public and have an easier time hiring. Once you adopt it, use that brand everywhere. Ask your staff to repeat it often with patients and include it in all your brochures and forms. If you are picking a new name, consider descriptive words, like Acuity Eye Care, that are memorable and not easily confused with other practices that have more generic names, like Eye Associates of Anytown.
Practices that focus on culture for its own sake recruit loyal employees who align with those ideals and buy into the mission of patient service. Whatever comes in the future, they can adapt because everyone in the practice shares the same motivations. Isn’t that worth working for?
Disclosure: Hovanesian reports no relevant financial disclosures.