Nearly all practices can benefit from improved communication. In this column, I’ll be sharing some tips on forms of group communication. Reaching out to groups within your practice can improve morale, invigorate and encourage problem solving and generally make your work life more pleasant and profitable.
- Reinforce what is important and solidify culture. Any opportunity to communicate with a group is an opportunity to build a common understanding of the goals and challenges facing the practice. Without this holistic understanding, how can you expect staff to show any initiative beyond their narrow job description? Accordingly, be sure to point out how staff’s activities advance your strategic objectives and how the practice is moving towards these goals together.
- Insist on engagement. Leadership can actively and consistently seek feedback from the entire staff in the most welcoming way possible. Staff is generally delighted to be consulted. Recognize any ideas they contribute as broadly as possible to help build cohesion. Along with asking for feedback, it’s critical to demonstrate a positive and receptive attitude to feedback – especially when it’s feedback that reflects critically on the management. This is precisely the information you need to hear most, because it’s likely in your personal blind spot. In the majority of practices we’ve visited, at least a few valuable ideas from staff go unrecognized and untapped. Occasionally, management even has a know-it-all or even a belittling attitude summed up well in a line from the Honeymooners – “I’m the boss and you’re nothing!” The response of “Congratulations, boss over nothing!” reflects how the healthy functioning of the practice relies on the competence and goodwill of all its contributors.
- Encourage accountability and reward commitment. Staff meetings and group memos present an opportunity to acknowledge accomplishments in full view of others. We strongly urge management to take every opportunity to thank staff in group contexts. A heartfelt thank you and even a modest gift, such as a $10 Starbucks gift card, can be surprisingly meaningful to staff that can feel invisible unless they make a mistake.
- Build and reinforce positivity. Since it’s unlikely a demoralized staff is functioning anywhere near its full potential, it’s worthy to reinforce to value of positivity. Alongside regular and high-visibility acknowledgement, it’s important to give employees some space to control their work – thereby enabling them to take initiative and earn praise outside their routine tasks. When management shows enthusiasm for suggestions – by soliciting them often and responding positively – employees respond. Don’t be a practice staffed by people who have never been acknowledged for doing well – it shows. Within the context of a staff meeting, something as simple as, “Special thanks to Melissa for investigating and solving the problem with the fax server. Can you share with us how you solved the problem?” can be surprisingly powerful.
- Maintain focus, momentum, and tracking. Few things are duller than a slow-moving staff meeting or reading something that doesn’t apply to you. While everyone should be encouraged to contribute agenda items well before the time of any meeting, it’s equally important that unnecessary, meandering talk be kept to a minimum. Each department should discuss internally those things that do not directly impact the rest of the practice.
Additionally, consider who is best equipped to moderate your meetings. With luck you have a person whose verbal communication and organizational skills are strong and who can keep any meeting moving through a well-prepared agenda efficiently. Just as important is attending to the critical task of taking minutes which should be distributed shortly after the meeting to confirm what tasks are assigned to what people. A progress report on these various action items is a natural starting point for the next meeting.
Keeping track of where the practice is on these various fronts is contributes to a sense of urgency and progress. Be open to assigning this detailed work to someone on the staff with a little extra bandwidth – an ambitious employee will relish an opportunity to boost their job skills while boosting your practice’s performance.