Leadership styles impact staff retention, morale

Reduce micro-managing; give more independence

Clinical trial managers have to toe the line between asking more of their staff, which might be greatly reduced during the continued economic downturn, and retaining employees and maintaining morale.

It's not easy to do, notes Wanda Kay North, PhD, MBA, RN, CCRC, CIM, manager of The Center for Clinical Research at St. Joseph's/Candler Health System in Savannah, GA.

"I had some experience managing people in my Air Force military career," North says. "But management is a little different on the civilian side. People can't just quit, and they can't say, 'I'm not going to do this.'"

North has learned how to manage clinical research staff over the past 13 years, after spending a few years working as a study coordinator. Her staff nominated her repeatedly for the St. Joseph's/Candler's Leintz Award for her compassion, care, drive for quality, and willingness to help others, and she won the award two years ago.

Here are North's suggestions for how to retain good employees and keep them content with their jobs:

1. Give employees some independence.

"You really need to be able to give some independence to your staff and trust them to know how to get things done," North says.

Managers might be tempted to take back that independence after one bad experience, but they should avoid this impulse, she adds.

"For me the biggest challenge has been to not just trust the staff but to make sure they know I trust them and know they're doing the best they can do," North says. "You do this by giving staff flexibility and independence where you trust they know what they need to do and will go out and do it."

2. Avoid micromanaging.

Clinical research managers experience considerable stress from having tighter budgets, deadlines, and high performance pressure. But these factors do not justify micromanaging employees.

The manager who micromanages risks hurting staff morale and losing key people.

"Sometimes it's difficult to explain to study coordinators that they have to enroll subjects if they're going to keep their jobs," North says. "It's a fine line between how to push staff and how much to have your thumb on what's going on."

North has struggled with the impulse to micromanage, but she's forced herself to pullback and trust her staff.

"If I hire good people I have to trust them to do their jobs," she says. "The more you pressure staff, the less likely they'll stick around."

3. Respect employees' concerns over certain studies.

Study coordinators need to develop a rapport with subjects, and this often translates into an empathy that can lead coordinators to develop strong feelings about particular studies.

"I've had a coordinator or two who were assigned to a study, and they'd say, 'I am not sure this is a study I'd put a relative in,'" North says. "That made me stop and look at the protocol and make sure I wasn't missing anything."

CR managers can improve staff retention if they help coordinators to take a critical look at proposed protocols to see if these are studies the site might want to do.

"Have them analyze or evaluate them to see what their opinion is about a study you might bring in," North suggests.