Saturday, January 05, 2008

Achieving results when working with a 'provider'

My siblings and I are working at the moment with a health care provider who is caring for a patient in whom we have an interest. The specific circumstances are unimportant. This morning I was reflecting on - and sharing - some of what I have learned about working with service providers in a way that produces good results. The following is an excerpt.

In working with provider staff members, I have found that a judicious mix of genial civility, empathy and fear works best. Empathy and genial civility so that [provider staff] feel we are their partners, understanding their perspective and collaborating on a common endeavor, in this case our patient’s well being. Fear so they know there is a steel backbone behind the genial exteriors.

In most organizations,my experience has been that individuals are invariably overcommitted and over worked. The talents and abilities of staff, some of whom are underpaid, are varied. Some view their jobs as a professional calling, for others it is just a means of producing income. Mangers must decide when and when not to cut corners, give a task less than their fully committed attention and tolerate a degree of incompetence. They are also concerned ...with protecting themselves and covering up corner-cutting and incompetence when they need to. Provider staff need to know that we, ourselves, are experienced managers and their full partners in having their profession be a calling. They also need to know that if they do need to cut corners, take short-cuts, tolerate incompetence and cover up, the costs of doing so, in dealing with this particular case, will be most serious. I believe it is possible to create a context where this is fully understood without making the point outright. Outright threats can be counterproductive, of course, evoking resentment, hostility, resistance and sabotage.

Happily, the good news is that most people are fundamentally decent, caring and want to do a good job. They want that to be supported in that commitment, recognized, affirmed and appreciated. Our goal in working with provider staff can be to provide that kind of support, affirmation and recognition, while making it clear that anything less than their very best is unacceptable.

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