Solve people puzzle’ to cope with change

If you don’t connect, you’ve lost’

For health care managers going through organizational change and staffing challenges, one of the keys to survival is "building your people puzzle," says Sheryl Nicholson, president of Strategic Survival in Brandon, FL.

In an environment that requires doing more with less, it’s crucial to connect all the pieces of the puzzle, adds Nicholson, who describes herself as a "people-productivity" expert. "We can no longer leave one piece on the table and say, personality conflict.’ We have to move that [person] to a different part of the puzzle. If you don’t connect, you’ve lost, and the organization loses because you don’t get the full value of that puzzle piece."

Managers, or "coaches" in Nicholson’s terminology, often are told they’re supposed to motivate staff, which she says is impossible. "You cannot motivate people — they motivate themselves. So it’s your responsibility to create a self-motivating environment."

To do that, Nicholson says, managers must do an assessment of their employees, determining whether they fit a "D," "S," "I," or "C" pattern. She explains the patterns as follows:

"D" is for "driver." These people are motivated by change, challenge, and control. If you want to implement something different, give it to them. They like quick, short conversations, are very direct, and move quickly. This is the physician who asks for a patient’s record and says, "Why wasn’t it here two minutes ago?"

"S" is for "steady" and "supportive." These are the natural caregivers, who move more slowly through life and hate change. "S" types are often nurses or social workers. They show up every day, never call in sick, and are sometimes put in management positions because they’re so stable and consistent.

"I" is for "influencers." These are the employees who thrive on recognition and praise and have to be near people to influence or be influenced by. An "I" is the person you don’t ask on Monday, "How was your weekend?" for fear of hearing more than you want to know. They’re important to the puzzle because they have a naturally positive attitude.

"C" is for "cautious" and "conservative." These are the employees who’d rather write a memo than talk to you. They’re probably thinking the whole time you’re talking.

Taught to flex style

Nicholson teaches her clients "chameleon living," or how to "flex" their style to better connect with other parts of the people puzzle. The bad news about those with the "D" pattern is that they think everyone should adapt to them.

An "S" typically takes it personally when an authority figure arrives in a foul mood, but that response is not the appropriate one, Nicholson points out. "Modify your behavior so that it’s like water off a duck’s back." If, for example, a physician says, I need this at 2,’ don’t give a long, involved answer about everything else you have to do, she advises. "All the "D" wants to hear is a short, quick response."

When there’s a "misfit" in the department, that individual often is blamed, she says, but it’s usually the manager’s fault. "The coach hasn’t gone deep enough to determine what that person’s gifts are. They’ve taken, for example, someone who’s a good communicator, naturally positive, and put that person in the back working with files."

A question she often puts to the managers in her audiences, Nicholson says, is, "When was the last time you interviewed your staff?" She says she interviews her own staff twice a year to find out what they’re excited about and what challenges have occurred. "We just assume our people know how to do the job," she adds. "We throw new things at them and ask stupid questions like, Are you OK with this?’ They say, Yes, boss,’ and we go away. A good coach checks in."

To help build your own people puzzle and enhance your survival skills, Nicholson recommends belonging to at least three associations:

• a "who’s who" of the health care industry, which provides strong role models for professional growth;

• an organization of your peers, which enables you to keep up with trends and find a job if yours ends;

• a community organization, which allows you to fulfill your humanitarian obligations.

One of the messages she shares with her clients is not to panic when change occurs in their organizations, Nicholson says. "People get fearful, wondering what will happen with their job." Instead, she recommends looking for the latent "gifts" that sometimes appear when there is a crisis.

"One of my philosophies is that if you breathe air, you bring a gift to the life party," Nicholson adds. "Become a gift investigator. Get excited about every opportunity when a person crosses your path. See that life party as a whole room full of gifts, and you get to unwrap them," she says. "If I hadn’t learned to do that, I would have hated to be on the road so much."

(Editor’s note: Sheryl Nicholson contributed to the books Chocolate for the Woman’s Soul, Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul, and Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul. She has written two self-published books, Working Women Are Working Wonders and Listen Up, Don’t Talk Down. Nicholson spoke recently at the annual education conference and exposition of the Florida Association of Healthcare Access Management.)