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10 Steps to Achieve Harmony Amid Discord
Conflict between departments can disrupt practice efficiency and cause hard feelings. Here's how to make peace.
By Corinne Z. Wohl, MHSA, COE
Managing conflict between departments in your practice can make you feel like King Sisyphus, who in Greek mythology was condemned to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down before he reached the top. No matter what he did, Sisyphus could not get to the top of the hill.
If you can relate to Sisyphus' plight, it may be time to approach the problem in a fresh way to bring harmony — or at least cooperation — between those conflicting forces.
Perhaps you've noticed discord between two departments in your practice that used to work so well together. Established procedures don't flow as smoothly as they used to or should. Small irritants between the departments morph into big issues. Interoffice e-mail sniping becomes a more common complaint and the frustration among employees about others “not doing their job” grows. The following 10 steps can help you reconnect departments that have become split.
1. Size Up the Conflict
The first step is to evaluate at what level within your practice the conflict exists, and then pinpoint the source or causes. Ask these questions:
• Where are the weak links? Do they reside at the doctor, administrator, department manager or staff level?
• Is this just pot-stirring or do you have a deep-seated problem that requires more than a staff memo reminding all to follow policies and stay focused?
• Do you have a department manager who opposes change, or an inexperienced manager who needs development or guidance to avoid chafing coworkers?
• Is a manager leading employees down the wrong emotional path, or are identifiable blockades preventing people from getting their jobs done properly or efficiently?
• Does one person in the department bring everyone else down so that the result feels like a disease that spreads?
• Are there two people pitted against each other with enthusiastic followers, or is this a true department-versusdepartment challenge?
Once you determine the sources, you can move forward with somewhat more confidence and focus on repairing the split. It's not as easy as it sounds since we are talking about human behavior, but you can use a number of definitive ways to approach these difficult challenges.
2. Regular, Mandatory Staff Meetings
Require that all staff attend. Meetings should be monthly in practices with 20 or fewer lay staff and quarterly for larger practices. At these meetings, review your practice mission and goals on a regular basis, especially as they relate to patient care and customer service.
3. Include Physician Leadership
In goal setting and clarification of department goals and expectations, the physicians must participate. A clear path that your practice administrator can follow and lead others toward is critical. Otherwise the path ahead is fraught with undermining policies and favoritism.
4. Weekly Manager Meetings
This is the place to share information and engage in group problem-solving. Meetings where the administrator or managing partner does all the talking will not accomplish much. Interactivity and a true understanding of what happens in each department is key to common goal-setting. This will aid the department managers in knowing how to support each other as well as the practice as a whole.
5. Meet With Individual Employees
This will help you to understand their personal observations, provide perspective at the basic level and help you determine where the problems lie and how to solve them.
6. E-mail Should Help, Not Hurt
E-mails need to be productive. Developing meaningful electronic correspondence among staff members takes time, but it is essential. Blaming and demeaning e-mails are non-productive and destructive.
Educating staff about proper e-mail etiquette and monitoring e-mails consistently is an important strategy. Teach staff to abstain from e-mail when a face-to-face discussion would be more appropriate.
7. Hold Interdepartmental Meetings
Another option would be to have committee meetings with representatives from each area. The goal is to review the areas of concern and help set the expectations and guidelines that will lead to meeting the goals.
8. Walk in Their Shoes
Quite often, assumptions about the details of why one department does something one way or wants something another way are incorrect. Assign employees to spend time in another department to learn how what they do impacts the job of another coworker or a patient. I have used this technique often with 100% positive results. You can be sure the person who has learned “the real reason” something is done or requested will share her new knowledge with coworkers.
Another idea is to set up a matching program. That is, match a front-desk clerk with a tech, and have them be “buddies” for a month or two getting to know each other's area of the practice.
Provide educational sessions for each department so there is a common understanding and mutual goal setting.
9. Eliminate Annoyances
Little annoyances can become bigger ones. Identify and eliminate nuisance items that make employees irritable and prevent them from doing their jobs as efficiently as possible. For example, replace broken chairs, malfunctioning printers and scanners, and slow PCs. You send the wrong message if you want staff members to be more productive but don't provide them the best tools to do so.
10. Recognize and Appreciate
Your confidence that departments feel the broad support from administration and physician leadership is one of the most important aspects for the success of the practice. Recognition and appreciation for diligent work goes far and helps prevent the negative cycles of dissatisfaction, complaining and blame that individuals and departments can fall into, which ultimately spreads to others.
Managing employee relations is a key element of human resources because it is central to a productive, well-functioning ophthalmic practice. Managing the relationships between departments is just as important. Once you begin to manage departmental conflict proactively by staying tuned in to the tenor of each day, you will be prepared to redirect and solve the issues as they arise.
With effort, you can avoid the fate of Sisyphus, or at least make the stone you are rolling smaller and the slope of the hill flatter. OM
|Corinne Z. Wohl, MHSA, COE, is administrator of Delaware Ophthalmology Consultants in Wilmington. She has more than 25 years of hospital and physician practice management experience. She may be reached via e-mail at cwohl@DelawareEyes.com.|
Ophthamology Management, Volume: 16 , Issue: August 2012, page(s): 62 63