If you were to ask me what I honestly believe the most desperately needed role in healthcare today is, I think most people would be surprised. I love doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants and pharmacists…but none of those are it. I love physical therapists, and radiologists and technicians, but while important, those aren’t the greatest need. While medical experts of all sorts are always going to be essential in any health system, I truly believe the crying need of the day is great managers. The fact is that management makes or breaks an organization.
By managers, I’m referring to people managers. I’m referring to those individuals who oversee and take responsibility for the work of others. I’m referring to those who have largely stepped back from the front line themselves, and now must get results by and through the effectiveness of their team. These are those people in any organization who make the daily work by staff members terrific, tolerable, or terrible. They set the mood. Bad managers are the most common reason why good people leave the organization, and often the reason why bad people stay. Great managers have highly effective teams, low turnover, engaged employees, and good results. For all these reasons, and many more, it is my strong conviction that the crying need in our healthcare organizations today is great managers.
Every department in a health system needs great management for the whole organizations to succeed. Take, for example, the IT department. Try running an effective hospital without a well-managed technology team! Bad management in IT will impact almost every other area of the organization. Or take the food service, or accounts payable, or shipping/receiving. They all need great management to deliver extraordinary service to the institution. And of course, the direct healthcare providers themselves need great managers too so that these teams are properly supported, trained, developed and motivated to succeed.
But the problem in healthcare with management is that the skills required to be a great healthcare provider are NOT the same skills needed to be a great manager of people. Not every great athlete would make a great coach. Not every great nurse or pharmacist would make a great manager. Your top IT guru, your go-to gal or guy to solve that tech problem, may be horrible if promoted into a position to manage others. Management is a new career. Management requires the development of a set of skills and tools which those working on the front line may not have or need. We sometimes refer to these as soft skills, and they include things like motivation, delegation and emotional intelligence. And becoming a great manager takes time. Lots of time.
Healthcare organizations need to invest far more resources into the development of great managers if they really want to see their company succeed. They need leaders to exemplify and model great management for everyone in the hospital or health system to see. This means the C-suite themselves need to model management better. I’ve worked for organizations where those at the top are virtually never seen by anyone in the company at all. They are too busy for the people-side of management. And that toxic attitude trickles down to every layer of management beneath them. Healthcare organizations need help identifying what great management looks like, developing effective mentorship programs, and holding those accountable who somehow obtained positions of leadership without the necessary skills or desire to learn them.
What are you and I doing to help develop great managers in our health systems? This is a burning question on my own mind, and I want to do more than I have done in the past to both be a better manager and leader, and help others become better as well. Better management will result in better teams and ultimately better patient care. So before you spend those millions of dollars on the latest and greatest MRI machine for your hospital, maybe think about budgeting for a better management development program instead.