Everyone wants to work in an organization with excited and committed employees. Yet how do we create a workplace culture that generates that sort of energy during social distancing? Fortunately, many principles for building an organization with committed employees remain the same. Let’s examine the current issues and then sort out some remedies.
Table of contents
- A growing problem for practice owners
- Why did they choose your group in the first place?
- First, focus on what elicits commitment
- Second, create the right kind of workplace culture
- Third, the building blocks for an inspiring culture
- In conclusion
A growing problem for practice owners
On August 6, 2020, Derek Thompson wrote in the Atlantic: “The Workforce Is About to Change Dramatically: Three predictions for what the future might look like.” His first two predictions highlight a severe problem for practice owners. He predicts that:
1. The “Telepresence” Revolution Will Reshape the U.S. Workforce
2. Remote Work Will Increase Free-Agent Entrepreneurship
Then he says,
Working from home, our connection to the office weakens. . . .By degrees, the remote experiment can weaken the bonds between workers within companies and strengthen the connections between some workers and professional networks outside the company.
Candidly, while this may benefit some employees, it is not exciting news for a practice owner. In truth, the prospect of a permanent embrace of teletherapy, which I discuss here, and more tools for the free-agent solo practitioner, which I discuss here, weaken the reasons to join and contribute to an organization. So what can owners and managers do?
Before I lay out some remedies, let’s remember why employees join an organization in the first place.
Why did they choose your group in the first place?
One of the primary reasons for joining a practice is to learn about the business of therapy. Graduate schools provide little if any information about how the mental health system works as a business. Moreover, many have no interest at all in the business aspects of practice. Anything to do with business is a nuisance.
As experience accumulates, therapists may develop the attitude that anyone can do the business parts of practice. This confidence especially thrives in poorly run practices.
A second reason staff joined your practice was to take advantage of the support services available through the organization. Most well-run organizations have a robust system for managing the business details, making the therapists’ job more enjoyable.
However, as practice management tools have matured, therapists seeking to practice independently can do so quite easily and inexpensively. I’m afraid that even this website may contribute to increasing the ease of starting up a practice. (Sorry about that.)
A third reason staff joined was to stave off loneliness. I continue to believe that community is essential to clinical practice. And yet as the pandemic has taken hold, the sense of organizational community has taken a hit. No doubt, some employees are wondering why they continue to stay a part of the organization.
The final reason that staff joined was for the referrals. And while the need for referrals continues, the level of referral demand reduces over time. Experienced therapists inevitably:
- develop connections with referrers
- get comfortable with marketing, and
- have many former clients who serve as a referral network.
So what can we do to develop an organization with committed employees who are eager to stay and contribute?
First, focus on what elicits commitment
I contend that the same things motivate employees across all professions, aspects of a job that elicit commitment. Specifically, all want a career that has these aspects [qualities] to it:
- Growth opportunities, both personally and professionally
- A sense of meaning and purpose for what they do
- Feeling known, supported, and appreciated by their managers and colleagues, and
- Enough novelty to stretch everyone and make the job enjoyable.
Understanding how these commitment-eliciting aspects of a job operate for each of your employees is critical.
When employees feel that they are growing, have meaningful tasks, feel known and appreciated, and have enough challenges, they are committed to their work, and their employer. In other words, employees get committed when they enjoy the role they have in the organization.
Out of these aspects that elicit commitment come other beneficial consequences. Employees feeling engaged are likely to enjoy and respect their colleagues. And lastly, they are likely to get pumped up by contributing to an organizational mission.
However, as we all know, excitement is difficult to sustain. So how can owners and managers keep the enthusiasm alive over long periods?
Tailoring what elicits commitment
One method for creating an organization with committed employees is personal. Focus on finding creative and unique ways to elicit commitment within the organization.
For each employee, we should be able to list out:
- Where is this employee’s growing edge?
- What is bringing meaning and purpose for this employee?
- What methods work best for revealing that I know who the employee is and how to support and appreciate them?
- Which of my employees is getting restless, and what might calm them?
Of course, finding this path for the employee takes both the manager and the employee’s effort. And sadly, some employees, for many possible reasons, are not very invested in helping with the process. When that is the case, then we need to not become over-responsible for the results. We need to work as teammates, or we will not find the way.
When we are successful at finding the unique ways for each employee to grow, experience meaning and appreciation, and find new challenges, then they will possess genuine enthusiasm about coming to work.
But when we mutually fail to locate the path that works for the employee, the employee may soon leave. All our interactions with employees should focus on eliciting commitment from each employee.
Second, create the right kind of workplace culture
The second method for generating and sustaining employee excitement is to build the right sort of workplace culture. No person is engaged all the time. So how do owners and managers create the conditions that inspire employees? In a phrase–it is all about the workplace culture.
Workplace culture is the environment that you create for your employees. . . . It is the mix of your organization’s leadership, values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors, and attitudes that contribute to your workplace’s emotional and relational environment.Sidekicker, June 30, 2020.
Workplace culture reflects how the values of growth, meaning, supportiveness, and novelty become embedded in the institution. Everything we do with employees is in the service of accomplishing one of these values.
Third, the building blocks for an inspiring culture
So, in our context, how does one create a culture that produces committed employees? The rest of this article outlines some concrete steps for accomplishing a workplace culture that inspires employees.
First building block: Build solid team connections
Secure team connections begin with the right attitude toward your employees. We should view each employee as a constituent to be wooed, just like a referral person. As an owner or manager, the organization is your permanent residence. But for many employees, the organization is temporary. They have volunteered to join in your organization and can choose to leave as they like. So while they are with you, treat them like the guest that they are.
When I began managing people, I did not understand how much my job was to invest emotional energy in my staff. I naively thought I could merely give instruction, and that would suffice. Eventually, I came to understand that my manager’s job was to be in their lives. It was a real relationship with all that that means.
Once the attitude and energy are right, then we can work at several other parts. As I have said in many places, the community stands on the shoulders of the relationships. My favorite way to build solid relationships is through our regular meetings. Importantly, the gatherings need to be fun and supportive for the participants. For more on this subject, see: How to use meetings to build your workplace culture.
Additionally, there are activities that we can and should do together that build comradery, a sense of togetherness. For example, we would always do marketing events with pairs of staff together. Preparing and then participating in a marketing event naturally drew people together. The process itself was helpful.
During the pandemic, all these approaches require more creativity. We cannot do meetings as we used to. But we can use Zoom time to connect. For example:
- Take turns sharing our story. For instance, we could ask people to take turns on topics like:
- What formative events led to your choice to become a therapist?
- What has been one of the most satisfying client moments, and why?
- Tell us about one of the most influential/inspiring/heroic mentors in your life?
- We may not be able to share a meal, but we could order food for each household member timed to arrive during the meeting time.
- We could agree that by the next meeting we will watch the same movie to be discussed next meeting.
Get creative. Involve your staff in finding ways to have fun with each other. We can still build community in our times together.
Second building block: Become an excellent manager
I have written about what I mean by becoming an excellent manager. (See: Five key attributes of excellent managers.) So for our purposes here, let me list the qualities I see as paramount:
- Prompt responsiveness
- Kindness + Directness = Respect
- Balancing risk-averse with thrill-seeking
Becoming an excellent manager requires no pandemic modification. Just the creativity to figure out new methods for accomplishing the same ends.
Third building block: Create excellent business systems
Our goal here is to create systems for doing all the things for clinicians that they do not like to do:
- Billing and collecting
- Managing insurance company relationships
- Website development, social media, etc.
I am a big fan of hiring support staff to do many of these tasks. The more support staff do for your clinicians, the more loyal your clinicians become to your organization.
Second, having a professional support staff improves the quality of the client experience. Sometimes I think clients become as attached to the support staff as to their therapist. Clients have no greater appreciation than for the one who solves an insurance issue with kindness and respect.
Fourth building block: Fix all MODDs
A MODD is anything that “Makes Our Day Difficult.” The items on this list can be from the smallest things (printer ink, marketing materials, business cards, etc.) to the most significant (scheduling rooms, HVAC working correctly, a computer that works well, etc.)
I picked up the term “MODD” from reading a book called “Rangers Lead the Way: The Army Rangers’ Guide to Leading Your Organization Through Chaos.” Written by a former Ranger, he uses his training to explain how to manage the chaos when bullets are literally flying. Of course, on the battlefield, the MODDs might be wet socks or malfunctioning equipment. But more than anything, the fixing-MODDs-attitude is what we need to instill in our organization.
And guess who is the biggest MODD of all. Me!! As the leader, I am the most likely to be the bottleneck or killjoy that makes life difficult for others. As managers, we need to become excellent at delegating, training, and empowering others to do as much as can be handed off.
I have written more about additional management skills in this post: 7 management principles that excellent, but untrained, managers know
Creating an organization filled with committed employees is done in these ways:
- Focus on the job aspects that elicit commitment: growth, meaning, supportiveness, and novelty.
- Work with each employee to find specific ways to accomplish these employee desires within your organization.
- Create a workplace culture where:
- employees feel wooed,
- employees notice your emotional investment in them,
- solid teams are built via your investment in each employee, and
- meetings are fun and supportive, and the staff enjoys working on everyday activities.
- Become an excellent manager.
- Create high-quality business systems that ease therapists’ burdens.
- Fix anything that Makes Our Day Difficult, including yourself.
These are all possible to achieve even during the challenging times of a pandemic.