In this episode, Alison Pidgeon speaks about how to manage staff in your group practice.
In This Podcast
Alison Pidgeon has taken over the Practice of the Practice podcast for the last five episodes. In this last one, she chats about how to manage staff in a group practice practice. This entails determining what kind of boss you want to be. Alison provides three points to think about in this regard and provides practical examples for each.
Determine What Kind Of Boss You Want To Be
Consider your values around what kind of boss you want to be, for example:
- Not becoming friends with employees
- Maintain clear boundaries
- Don’t play favourites
- Ensuring employees feel comfortable to talk to you
- Meet with staff individually and as a group and ask the following:
- What is working for you?
- What is working for me?
- What is not working for you?
- What are some possible solutions you see to fix this problem?
- What is not working for me?
- What is your goal for this month?
- What is one thing I can do to manage you better?
- Meet with staff individually and as a group and ask the following:
- Ensuring employees feel valued and are paid well
- Employees are contractors so can set their own schedules
- Creating rewards for productivity etc.
Spend time thinking about and researching ‘how to be a boss’. Look at your staff as being your customers.
- How To Grow a Group Practice E-Book
- Marketing and Branding Your Group Practice | PoP 255
- TheraNest: Practice Management Software for Behavioral Health
Meet Alison Pidgeon
Alison is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Pennsylvania. In 18 months she went from starting a solo private practice to building a insurance-based group practice. She now employs 3 clinicians and a virtual assistant. In her spare time she is often seen running after her two small children and her therapy is cooking.
Thanks For Listening!
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File: PoP-255 Marketing and branding your group practice
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Alison Pidgeon: If you have been thinking about starting a group practice, but you’re not sure where to start, download our free e-book at www.practiceofthepractice.com/grouppracticebook.
Welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast takeover with Alison Pidgeon.
Welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast. I am Alison Pidgeon, your host. You might be wondering why you are not hearing Joe Sanok’s voice, the founder of Practice of the Practice. He has allowed me to take over the podcast for five episodes, so I can tell you all about my best tips for starting and running a group practice. I work as a business consultant along with Joe for Practice of the Practice, and I have so much fun helping other people grow their businesses.
So to recap what we have covered so far in this five part series. Day one, we talked about the pros and cons of starting a group practice and how to determine if it’s right for you. Day two was all about the “nuts and bolts,” kind of laying the foundation of a group practice. Day three was all about the hiring process. Day four, the last episode was all about marketing and branding your group practice. And today, we are going to talk about managing your staff, either your employees or your contractors. How to make sure everything is running smoothly. And there are two books that I am going to recommend to you that I think are definitely worthwhile to read if you are going to be running a group practice. So lots of good stuff today and first I wanted to tell you a little bit about my experiences being a boss. So when I worked in community mental health, I had worked my way up to becoming the director of two outpatient clinics and I had 14 staff that were underneath me and that included secretaries and therapists and psychiatrists, and so a variety of different employees. And I didn’t realize until I had gone out into private practice how working in a large organization, there were just certain things that I didn’t need to deal with. So for example if there was really an issue with an employee, I could always call human resources for help or human resources could handle it or I could go to the boss above me and ask him a question. And so when I got into private practice and I started my group, I realized that I was going to be all of those things and that was a little bit intimidating. So not only I did have to hire, and hopefully not, but I have to also fire people. I would have to take care of all of those little things that I sort of took for granted in a larger organization. And it was then I realized that I really needed some kind of system or I needed to kind of read about how other people did those things because obviously I had the experience of being a boss, but in exactly the same way. So when I began looking at this issue, I sort of thought about my values as to how I wanted to be as a boss and I decided on a few different things. The first one was I don’t want staff to be my friend. I want them to respect me and I also want to be their boss. The second thing I decided was I want to set the expectation that my staff can feel comfortable, having to talk to me about anything work related that they have a concern or question about. Communication is a huge thing and we will talk about that more a little bit later. And the third thing I decided was that I wanted my staff to feel their work is valued and I want them to be paid well so they enough time to spend with their families, can practice good self-care and can provide excellent care to our clients. And the last one especially was something that coming from a non-profit, community mental health agency, I saw kind of the culture of work harder, see more clients, we are not making enough money, and the therapist kind of have to be [murderers 00:04:28.27] in order to kind of sacrifice everything for the agency which I really disagreed with because I was one of those therapists who was working very hard for very little money. So that was something that I really wanted to take a different approach and figure out a way how can I pay my therapists fairly so that they can take care of themselves and they can also provide really excellent care. I think the other frustrating thing is that we have all of these education. We have gone to graduate school and yet I never took a class on how to be a boss. And it’s likely that whether or not we are self-employed at some point in our career we are going to be the boss, but we don’t ever get any formal training in it. At best, you maybe have a mentor or someone in a place of employment that kind of teaches you how to be a boss. But I think really spending some time thinking through this and doing some research on it is really important. I want to spend some time explaining to you the three different points that I talked about and how I accomplished those things.
[DETERMINING WHAT KIND OF BOSS YOU WANT TO BE]
[Not becoming friends with employees]
So the first point, again, was I don’t want my staff to be my friend. I want to be their boss and I want to be respected. And how I accomplished that was just making sure there were good boundaries between me and staff. I wasn’t treating them like a friend. I wasn’t inviting them to come hang out in my house on a Friday night. And so I felt like having a clear idea of what those boundaries are. Not that you can’t be friendly or ask them about their personal life, but those lines can get blurry pretty quick. So I think it’s good to think ahead of time what those boundaries are for you, so that you kind of maintain that boss and employee or contractor relationship. Another way I accomplished this was not playing favorites. I felt like that might help my staff to respect me if I treating everybody fairly. So that was something else that was really important for me to demonstrate to them.
[Ensuring employees feel comfortable to talk to you]
For the second point I had outlined that I want to set expectations that staff could feel comfortable talking to me about anything work related. That actually was accomplished by reading a book and the book is called “Playing Big” and the author is Kim Flynn, and the book in its entirety is excellent, but there is a very specific chapter where she talks about how to have meetings with staff and what questions to ask them. So she calls them the seven magic questions. And I am going to go over them here for you briefly. So you would meet with staff both individually and then you also meet as a group. So for example, I do a half an hour meeting with every therapist once a month and then we also do a all practice staff meeting once a month. So I asked these same seven questions in those individual meetings and also in the staff meeting.
So the questions are number one, what is working for you meaning the employee. Question two is what is working for me, meaning me the boss. Question three, what is not working for you, the employee. Question four, what are some possible solutions you see to fix this problem, the employee is supposed to answer that. Number five, what is not working for me, me meaning the boss. Six, what is your goal for this month. And seven, what is one thing I can do to manage you better.
So obviously there are some hard questions in there, but since my staff is so used to having those questions asked, now they feel really comfortable with answering them. Obviously part of those questions is giving me feedback as the boss which I really appreciate, but as the employer, the contractor that can be really intimidating, right, to tell your boss, well, I think you are screwing this up or you know I don’t like it when you did XYZ. But those conversations are so important to have because that’s how you are going to get better as a business and as clinicians who are providing services to clients. So she gives you some pointers in the book about if those questions aren’t going well between you and the employee, kind of how to work around that. Like, a lot of times your employee might say, oh, everything is great and not want to give you any of that like constructive feedback that something maybe wrong or [Inaudible 00:09:08.02] something that they don’t like. And so she kind of gives you some tips about like how to really press them gently so that they do finally answer those questions. And I found that asking these questions has brought about a lot of great discussion. Especially, with potential problems and then solutions for how to fix the problem. Because you don’t want your staff just coming to you and venting, and expecting you to fix everything for them. I like to have that discourse where we’re talking about yes, this is a problem and then hearing others people’s ideas or solutions. Not that I am necessarily going to go with what they say. But they often have really good ideas that I end up implementing. So for example, they told me that when people were coming into the waiting room, they were kind of confused, if they were there for the first time. There weren’t sure if they were in the right place because we don’t have a receptionist kind of sitting in the waiting room to greet them. And so we came up with the idea like, oh, we should just put a sign up in the waiting room that says like there’s no receptionist here, but you are in the right place. Make yourself comfortable. And just like that one small suggestion really helped our whole client experience to be better. And so I was really thankful that they felt comfortable coming to me and letting me know that that was something that was happening. So again, the book is called “Playing Big” by Kim Flynn. I would highly recommend it and that’s where those questions came from.
[Ensuring employees feel valued]
And to move on to the third point that I had made was I want my staff to feel their work is valued. I want them to have enough time to spend with their families and have good self-care so they can also give excellent care to our clients. I didn’t want my contractors to feel like they had to see a million clients, like they might have had to if they had worked in community mental health. So what are the things that helps with that is that they are contractors. So they get to set their own schedule and they get to decide how often they work. But the other part of it is to I want to figure out a way that I could reward them for doing a great job or being really productive or any kind of way that I could sort of let them know they are doing a good job. And this is where another book I read. Really helped to illuminate what to do about this. And that was called “The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace,” and that’s by Ron Friedman, PhD. So definitely highly recommend reading the whole book. And what was really interesting and what are the main takeaways of the book is that employees really like getting smaller rewards more frequently versus just getting one large reward that occurs more infrequently. So for example in a business it might be common that at the end of the year you get a yearly bonus as an employee and obviously that’s pretty infrequent if it only happens once per year. And in the book they explain why that’s not really that valuable to the employee and that research shows that really the employees like having more frequent rewards even if they are smaller, and especially rewards that are like more personal. So besides money, because having a yearly bonus you just sort of start to assume you are going to get it and then that sort of just gets lumped in, with like your salary. And you don’t necessarily think of it as like, oh, yeah, I did a good job and I got that extra money. So one of the ways I figured out how to implement this was I started providing snacks and drinks in our kitchen in our office suite for the therapist when they are working. And that was just kind of a small way that I could say hey, thanks for working here and here’s something in case forgot to pack your lunch one day there’s something to eat. And the therapists like totally loved it. I have got many compliments. One of then texted me and said, thank you so much for the chips and guacamole, and gave me a high five emoji (laugh). So it’s a small thing. It’s doesn’t cost so much money, but they really appreciated. And it makes it cool to have a perk for working for me. The other thing I did was I created a google survey for my staff and I asked them about preferences for rewards, like what’s your favorite color. What’s something you always wanted, but would never buy for yourself? What’s your favorite restaurant? Those types of things, so that I had that information, so throughout the year if I felt like, oh wow, so and so is doing an awesome job, I should really get them a gift to say, thank you, I can just go on to the google survey and see how they answered. And then get them something. So another way that’s helpful as well as I started doing some staff outings which I felt like really helped us to become more cohesive as a team because we often are obviously working separately and sometimes we don’t see each other that often depending on when we are working. So having then a answer like what would be a staff outing that you would find would be really fun is helpful as well because then I can also plan those type of things. So those are just a couple of ideas that I came up with. And again the book is called the “The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace,” by Ron Friedman, PhD. Lots of cool research-based things in there about why employees like working at various places and why they don’t like working in other places. I look at my staff as being my customer. You know, as therapists we often think about our clients being our customer. But as a group practice owner, my staff is really who I want to keep happy because in turn they are going to keep the clients happy. And so that’s why I put some time and effort into thinking about how to keep them happy. So obviously I try to also pay them enough so that they feel like they are being valued, but I think these other perks also go a long way with helping them feel satisfied and happy to come to work every day.
So that about wraps up some ideas for how to manage your staff once you set up your group practice and if you haven’t already, go ahead and download the group practice book that I have written. It’s at www.practiceofthepractice.com/grouppracticebook. Sam, the director of marketing, formatted it and looks really cool. I am really excited to have everybody read it and give me some feedback. It is 34 pages. I just started writing and couldn’t stop. So definitely check it out. I also wanted to say thank you, once again, to Joe Sanok for letting me take over the Practice of the Practice Podcast. It was a lot of fun. I have a new found appreciation for people who podcast because there is a lot of technical stuff that goes into it that I had to learn. It was quite the learning curve and I want to give a shout-out to my husband for helping me because I couldn’t have done it without him. He knows a lot about this kind of stuff than I do. So thanks honey.
I am going to sign off with a quote that says that distance between your dreams and reality is called action. Think about everything you have learned. Listen to this podcast series and figure out where you can take some action in the next few days to start growing or scaling your business. Keep up the great work! Bye.
This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical or other information. If you need a professional, you should find one.
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