Senior Healthcare Leaders: Are You Truly Helping Your Front-line Managers?

MGMA 2015 close-upEarlier this month I had the privilege of attending the MGMA (Medical Group Management Association) national convention in Nashville where I presented Engaging & Inspiring Your Healthcare Teams. I am a member of MGMA and, as I expected, had a terrific time and met many capable and dedicated healthcare leaders.

And while it was inspiring and informative at multiple levels, I noticed something interesting about the content.

It was heavily related to solving the problems senior healthcare leaders need solved.

MGMA is the national association for medical practice professionals. The majority of the more than 33,000 members work in outpatient settings, in roles like practice manager and practice administrator, and they supervise front-line healthcare teams.

So I found it interesting that the number of sessions that focused on the many challenges related to that role – supervising frontline teams – paled in comparison to the number of sessions on more systematic operational and organizational challenges.

Obviously frontline leaders face both “people” challenges and operational ones. Obviously frontline leaders play a critical role in tackling both.

But it certainly seemed like the sessions heavily favored the outcomes senior leaders rely on their frontline managers to achieve, outcomes related to volume, revenue, and operational performance.

I attended some terrific sessions on provider productivity, systems integration, and coding compliance. I saw quite a few charts, graphs, and spreadsheets.

I did not see nearly as many sessions on the many challenges frontline leaders themselves face every day: motivating teams, managing conflict, earning the respect of their physicians, developing employees, improving the culture, or enhancing teamwork, for example.

It’s frustrating to admit, but this is a sad reality in healthcare. Frontline managers are too often a forgotten population. They’re expected to lead their (numerous) sites, keep teams performing at a high level, and deftly navigate the interpersonal and performance management challenges that regularly appear in any workplace, yet we consistently fail to give them the training, tools, and support they need to do so successfully.

In the months ahead, I challenge you to keep this in mind if you supervise frontline healthcare leaders. What are you doing to ensure these leaders have the knowledge and “soft skills” necessary to get their teams firing on all cylinders? Do they know how to nurture engagement while addressing conflict, gossip, lack of effort, etc? Are your conversations focused exclusively on the operational problems you need them to solve and organizational goals and metrics to which you are accountable?

Take time to examine the ways in which your organization welcomes, prepares, and continually supports front-line leaders. Are there ongoing training and development opportunities aimed at developing their management and leadership skills? Are there systems or supportive personnel in place to explore these kinds of real-world issues with front-line leaders as needed?

At a minimum, make time during your regular meetings with managers to explore, discuss, and strategize around the people management and team challenges they face every day. As they become stronger leaders who can more comfortably tackle such challenges, the performance of their teams will improve, impacting the organization in multiple areas like patient satisfaction scores, turnover, and retention.

I’m certain those metrics are organizational priorities at every level.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think? Share your thoughts, reactions, and insights in the comments box below!

Joe Mull, M.Ed. is President of Ally Training & Development, which teaches healthcare leaders how to be better bosses. He is the author of Cure for the Common Leader: What Physicians & Managers Must Do to Engage & Inspire Healthcare Teams. He is a hockey fan and a “dog person.”

You can sign up for his regular Help for Healthcare Leaders email newsletter here.

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