What grade would your employees give you?

Personal relationships important in management

Michael S. Friedberg, FACHE, CHAM, director of patient access services at Apollo Health Street and author of Staff Competency in Patient Access, offers this nugget of truth about management: "If employees feel you'll do anything for them, they'll do anything for you, regardless of pay scale."

Friedberg, who stresses equity and accountability in managing and motivating staff, says it also is important that staff know their manager will support them, even to senior-level management. He offers this example: A frantic CFO of a hospital he used to work for called him and said, "The president of the hospital was in the ER last night and your registrar registered him as self-pay. Why did that happen? I want her fired." Friedberg called the employee to hear from her what had happened. And she related that as she tried to get his information, the president began to shout belligerently. "Don't you know who I am?" he yelled at her. "I'm not giving you any information."

The registrar didn't know who the man was, and "she did her job," Friedberg says. "She made him self-pay: no information, it's self-pay." He called the CFO back and said, "Here's what happened. If you feel she needs to be fired, you do it. I'm not doing it. It's the wrong thing." The CFO, rightly, backed off.

While relating to your employees is important for morale and accountability, Friedberg says, remember to create enough distance so that you are still able to manage them and discipline them if a situation warrants it.

Putting yourself in your employees' shoes and letting them know you understand their perspective is key, he adds.

"Once [employees] see you're willing to do the work they do or sit down with them and say, 'Show me the work you do,' and try to understand their pain points and use those to improve the process, it really gets you a long way," says Friedberg.

Judy Hebble, BS, CHAM, corporate director, access services of Meridian Health, says the health system holds an annual "Walk in Your Shoes" day in which senior management and nursing come in to shadow workers for the day. It "certainly helps with respect," she says.

Employees do like rules

One of his pet peeves, Friedberg says, is walking into an office and seeing papers littering every surface and signs reading anti-work slogans such as "Nothing sucks as bad as Monday except Tuesday" or "If I worked somewhere else, I'd be happy."

Creating workplace standards is important, Friedberg says. The criteria should be clear and communicated to everyone so if a violation occurs, they understand to expect consequences.

"Phone etiquette, how you talk on the phone, scripting, all of those things are part of the standard," he says, adding that employees, if they have input on developing the standards, really do like them.

This concept is the bedrock of Meridian's annual employee Gallup poll. Twelve key questions comprise the survey and form a pyramid of priorities. At the bottom, the foundation, is this question: Do I have the materials I need to do my job?

Both Hebble and Friedberg emphasize the importance of this seemingly innocuous question. A nurse might consider if she has enough blood pressure cuffs. For registrars, in the first year Meridian had the employee satisfaction survey, the concern was that the copying machines were too far from their desks and that ink was not readily and quickly available.

But when management followed through on the action plan it is required to implement to deal with employees' concerns, there was no change in the next year's results. So, Hebble says, they put teams together to uncover what resources the access department felt it needed. And the team got it right that next year: Employees wanted more information to do their job. In response, management created a web site with links to different insurance programs' web sites, information on how to code things, and the health system's career path policies.

Managers at Meridian are required to maintain certain levels in employee satisfaction results and each year go through a process improvement initiative to improve scores.

One question on the survey, Hebble says — have you gotten praise? — deals with accountability. Another question is: Do you have a best friend at work? That one has been misunderstood, she says. The question is whether you have someone at work you can confide in or blow off steam to when you need. "It's a really important measurement," she says.

(For more information, contact: Michael Friedberg at michael.friedberg@apollohealthstreet.com or (973) 233-7644 or Judy Hebble at JHebble@meridianhealth.com.)