You’ve promoted one of your bright, organized clerical workers to the position of medical practice manager. At the time of hire, you were confident in her ability to transfer her skills to the manager position and keep things running smoothly. But as the months have progressed, it’s clear she’s floundering a bit in her current role.
What you really want is someone at the helm who can effectively organize and oversee medical office workflows and processes while also helping staff and providers improve performance and meet hospital or health system goals.
Does this mean it’s time to part ways with your smart and capable but inexperienced practice manager?
Not so fast. Before you seek a replacement, consider this:
Practice managers come to the role with a broad range of educational backgrounds, experience, and competency levels. Some have a bachelor’s degree in business management; others have shown excellence in prior clerical or clinical roles but have no formal management training. Regardless of the disparity in backgrounds, healthcare systems can improve individual practice site performance by strengthening their practice managers’ competencies through development and management training.
In other words, if your practice managers don’t have the knowledge and tools they need to succeed, you can change that. And you can start by helping them gain a better understanding of the five functions of management: planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling (or managing performance).
In our work with medical practices throughout the nation, we’ve found that practice sites with the highest performance tend to have highly skilled managers who know how to apply these five functions of management in a provider practice setting. Developing a management structure centered on the five functions of management can help your practice managers be more consistent in the way they implement initiatives, evaluate performance, and guide their teams.
Here’s a quick overview of the five functions of management and a few ways you can cultivate these management skills in your medical practice managers.
Depending on your organization’s structure, your medical practice managers may or may not be involved in devising strategies and goals for the entire health system. However, even if they don’t have much input at the organizational level, practice managers should still develop goals, objectives, policies, procedures, and detailed action plans for their individual sites that support the organization’s larger objectives. To help your practice managers succeed in this function:
- Make sure your medical practice managers have a strong grasp on the organization’s strategic plan and how it will affect their individual practice sites.
- Help them understand how each unique practice site fits into the bigger picture and how their team can help the organization meet its goals.
- Ask them to develop a site-specific action plan with tactics, accountabilities, and timelines that align with the organization’s vision and drive their practice toward meeting specified targets. If necessary, provide training on action plan development.
The organizing function includes dividing tasks and delegating responsibilities. It’s the medical practice manager’s job to make sure staff and providers have the right tools at the appropriate times so work processes can flow without a hitch. This means, of course, that practice management must be confident in understanding how the work is accomplished in the first place. To support your practice managers in this area:
- Make certain they recognize that the most important work involves tasks that meet the needs, wants, and priorities of the patients served.
- Provide training and ongoing education to ensure they have a strong understanding of the practice workflows and how the work is accomplished at each step.
- Explain how to analyze workloads and how to use their observations to improve work processes where possible.
- Clarify that the real work of a practice manager should be implementing strategy, not putting out fires or acting as caretakers.
Staffing is about much more than making sure there is a warm body in every scheduled position. Medical practice managers must choose the right person to perform the right task with the right tool or tools. This requires hiring effectively, orienting the new team members, and providing ongoing training that supports team members’ ability to do their assigned work. It also requires employee development and career planning that will help retain strong performers in the organization. To assist your practice managers in understanding their staffing responsibilities:
- Develop your practice managers first so they can confidently develop their own staff.
- Teach them to continually consider whether staff members are positioned in the right roles to support the providers’ delivery of efficient and effective care.
- Provide education to help them recognize whether staff is organized to support provider productivity and patient satisfaction. Clarify that they can adjust workspace and divide responsibilities to improve efficiency and provide better support for providers and patients.
The best medical practice managers effectively communicate responsibilities and expectations to ensure that the whole team stays on the path and successfully carries out planned objectives. When functioning in the directing (or leading) role, practice managers will find themselves acting as a coach, teacher, and guide. The best managers create a practice site climate that breeds success. This takes day-to-day attention to processes, people, and the medical office environment. To support your practice managers in leading effectively:
- Provide training on effective communication (written, verbal, nonverbal, visual, formal, and informal), and educate them about barriers to communication that can create mistrust or disenchantment in the workplace.
- Educate them on how to listen and respond appropriately to staff members’ concerns, questions, and input.
- Give them the support and training they need to create a culture of accountability, respect, and trust in the practice.
- Remind them that they must be consistently visible to support team members in their individual roles.
Also referred to as managing performance, controlling is tied directly to outcomes, coaching, and performance appraisal. Practice managers should continually review quantitative and qualitative data that compares actual performance with expected performance. Understanding these forms of feedback, analyzing the data in a timely manner, and adjusting processes, people, and tools guides the site toward meeting the strategic goals of the organization. When a variance in performance falls short of expectations, practice managers must cycle back to the planning process to get back on track. To empower your practice managers in this function:
- Make sure they have access to timely reports that provide actionable data for individual practice sites.
- Train practice management to interpret reports so they can understand the sources of strong and weak performance in their practice sites.
- Encourage them to use the reporting data as they develop action plans designed to improve practice performance, and provide training to help them use the data to best advantage.
There are no shortcuts to competence in a medical practice manager. Nurturing agility and know-how at the practice level takes time and dedication. But ensuring that practice managers have a clear understanding of the five functions of management—and how those functions are best applied in medical practice settings—can provide the direction and consistency needed for sustainable practice growth.
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