"Your employees are your greatest asset" has been a management mantra for years. But mantras only work if you embrace them. Do you genuinely consider your employees to be valuable business assets? Or is there a nagging feeling in the back of your mind that at least some of your staff members are more of a burden than a benefit? If you identify more with the second statement, you don't need a spiritual transformation, just a shift in thinking.
Consider this: your doctors and staff create the wealth in your practice. They generate revenue, manage client relations, interact with vendors and represent the practice in your community. They are the cheerful voice on the phone, the skilled clinician and the calm presence in the exam room. Regardless of who owns the business, to the outside world, the employees ARE the practice.
Employees as Assets
If you genuinely believe your employees are assets, you value each one as an individual. Before hiring, you thoroughly vet the candidate to ensure they are a good fit with the practice and your current staff. By adding the new hire's skills and aspirations to your practice, everyone moves forward another step. You are excited by not only what they bring to you and the practice, but also how they will grow and what you can do to help. You invest time and money on continuing education. You work with each person to choose training and growth opportunities that not only benefit the practice, but also develop the value of the person as a whole. Practice leaders who embrace this philosophy encourage continual learning, both on the job and in non-work-related areas, because well rounded individuals who are allowed to pursue their passions make better employees.
Treating employees as assets means doing what you can to challenge them and acknowledge their efforts. People want to work for businesses that value them, where they are part of something important and where their efforts make a difference. When your staff raves about working for you, you may have people waiting in line for an opening at the practice. If your employees love working for you and with you, open positions may be few and far between.
Employees as Expenses
Is this a better description of how you view your staff? No doubt employee expenses such as salaries/wages, payroll taxes and benefits represent the largest expense on every practice's financial statements. Summit frequently encourages our clients to reduce staff expenses as a percent of gross fees in order to achieve or maintain practice profitability, but to do this by growing practice revenue, not by cutting back on staff.
If you take the approach that employees are expenses, as a good businessperson, you may do everything you can to minimize that expense. This means keeping wages as low as possible through low starting salaries, minimal or non-existent raises, choosing not to fill empty positions, and offering minimal training. Some practice owners believe staff members are interchangeable and relatively easy to replace. We've had practices tell us that they only have to pay more than the local fast food chain to find a new receptionist. Most of us have worked in a job where we were not valued and where we were only biding our time until we could move on. A strategy of seeing employees only as expenses might work in the short term to improve profits. But over time, expect an unhappy staff and high turnover, major expenses themselves.
Employees as Liabilities
Employees may be liabilities if they act as barriers to progress or lack the necessary training (or willingness) to perform their jobs or maintain your practice's standard of care. Training is the simplest of these situations to address. If an employee doesn't have the skills to work in your practice, identify mentors (possibly yourself), send her to a class, or provide in-house training. Also, establish a deadline by which the training must be complete. It's easy to postpone training when the practice is busy, so follow up periodically to verify progress. If your practice trains employees by throwing them into the mix and hoping they catch on quickly, you may be creating a future liability. What they don't know could hurt the patient, another team member or the practice itself somewhere down the road. If that has ever happened in your practice, you will then view training as the less expensive alternative.
On the other hand, if you consider someone to be a true liability, if you don't trust him to do his job professionally, appropriately or with the best interests of the practice, the client and the animal in mind, this person has no place in your hospital. Too often, we hear that an employee has been causing problems for years, has been counseled and/or retrained, but still comes to work and causes problems. If that's true in your practice, cut your losses and let that employee go. Keeping him on sends a message to the rest of your staff that poor performance will be tolerated.
So, how are employees viewed in your practice, not only by the owners but by other employees as well? Are they assets, expenses, or liabilities? At the end of the day, your employees walk out the door to go home. What are you doing to ensure they look forward to coming back tomorrow?