Classic quotes are fun and useful because the gurus who said them figured out how to succinctly express management ideas that can sometimes be obscure in practice.
One of our favorites deals with a brutal truth of managing employees: Peter Drucker’s advice to “accept that we have to treat almost anybody as a volunteer.”
You’ve got the title and you sign the paychecks. In theory, that gives you a lot of leverage. You can insist on having everything your way, at least for a little while. Eventually, though, a dissatisfied employee can put on his or her walking shoes and go work somewhere else.
This freedom to hit the road goes double for people in high demand. (Like, say, physicians in practically any specialty, or talented administrators or billers.) If you’re finding your practice is experiencing a lot of turnover in key roles, it can be very costly for your business. And even before they leave, unhappy employees can harm your practice with low productivity, negativity, and, in extreme cases, even sabotage.
So how can thinking of employees as “volunteers” help you improve morale and retain key people longer? Here are a few things to consider:
- The idea that employees are “volunteers” means more than just “they can leave.” Modern employees want to be inspired by their work. They want workplaces that align with their values — just as they would if donating their time. This doesn’t mean you should retool your practice culture to match the preferences of every new hire. What’s more important is to know your culture and be clear about it when hiring. That will help you avoid a costly revolving door of employees whose expectations weren’t met. And what if you suspect parts of your culture or your work standards could use an upgrade? The upside of better morale and lower turnover is a good reason to consider making needed changes.
- Money is important. Make sure you’re not notably underpaying. Make sure your compensation plans are clear. (And make sure it’s easy for employees whose compensation is affected by metrics to get the data they need to know how they’re doing.) Also keep in mind that money is far from the only consideration. It’s often not even the most important. Many employees in medicine place a high value on being part of a mission that engages them. People also want to feel appreciated and respected, and to grow and be challenged. They want to feel a sense of ownership and independence in their jobs (but with support as needed). Remember that throwing money at the problem of employee retention only goes so far.
- Fairness is key, and employees must be able to count on it. Make sure your policies and, especially, day to day actions allow employees to feel confident the playing field is level. (Conversely, avoid traps like nepotism that make employees feel the system is rigged.)
- Innovation and process improvement can help your practice serve patients better and be more efficient. And, they can help your practice attract the kind of people who want to work in a dynamic environment. That can create a sort of ‘virtuous circle’ that perpetuates improvement and attracts talent to want to join and stay. But the opposite is true, too. It’s hard to attract volunteers to sign on for the long-term if you’re not committed to building an organization that is primed to endure.