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Urgent message: Academic research shows that the most effective way to lead is to provide personalized, actionable “on the job” direction and feedback effectually “teaching” employees as they work.

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Chief Executive Officer of Velocity Urgent Care and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care.

Operating an urgent care center can be a challenge for even the most experienced manager. Although we frequently compare urgent care to “retail,” it differs drastically from “conventional” service businesses due to all the regulatory and financial nuances of “healthcare” and the specialized training required of team members. However, there is one thing that remains consist with other businesses: interaction with staff.

Without capable, trained and engaged staff, an urgent care center would have no capability to provide treatment for patients. It’s they who move patients through the center quickly, provide the type of service that results in positive word-of-mouth, and treat the presenting medical condition.

According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR) (Link: ), the way in which managers interact with their employees on a daily basis can make or break a business. Being a better manager starts with spending one-on-one time with employees to help them succeed. This has been compared to being a “teacher,” spending time in the trenches, and passing on pointers and anecdotes relevant to what the employee is doing now.

According to HBR, here are how some of the world’s best leaders do it:

Timing Is Everything

Unlike staff, leaders have the ability to choose when their interactions with employees take place. In the urgent care setting, choosing the right time can make or break a session. After all, teams are likely to be highly focused while the center is open and accepting walk-in patients. No one wants to try and sit through an educational meeting at the end of a long shift; a center typically can’t make the financial sacrifice to close for a day; and it’s impossible for an employee to focus on a one-on-one while a patient is waiting.

So, if you can’t force interactions after a shift and don’t want to risk distracting employees during a shift, when can you foster a relationship with employees? As it turns out, removing folks from the center environment to have a “structured meeting” may not be the most effective means of teaching or discussing issues in the current workflow anyway. Instead, the HBR suggests finding “teachable moments” while on the job.

But didn’t we just say not to distract employees? Yes. Owner/operators of urgent care clinics should be out on the floor with their staff. Observe employees in their “natural habitat” and encourage conversation throughout. Ask them to show you things that don’t work, point out things that do, and offer suggestions on how to improve. Giving employees a chance to interact where their work takes place promotes more productive communication. Doing so in a one-on-one setting improves the communication even further.

Meanwhile, you can offer advice on how to improve current processes and the customer experience, as well as how to save money. Just be careful not to over-do it and ensure you leave your team plenty of freedom to operate, as they are the ones doing things every day.

Invaluable Lessons, Impeccable Delivery

Healthcare owner/operators should constantly be delivering lessons to their employees. Whether teaching professional conduct, honing technical skills, or instructing on the finer points of patient interaction, these lessons are vital to the organization. If executed properly, they can be highly impactful for both the manager and the employee.

A key point of emphasis in the healthcare setting is professionalism. Leaders have the opportunity to provide actionable, appropriate lessons to their employees at every encounter. Perhaps this means reviewing recent patient surveys and using them as case studies. Or, it may mean discussing a provider’s bedside manner on the spot (once the patient is no longer within earshot). Regardless, coaching professionalism is something that will make the organization run more smoothly and help the employee’s long-term career trajectory.

However, many employees are hesitant to interact with their manager yet alone take lessons directly from them in a one-to-one manner. So, delivery of the instruction becomes even more important. We’ve already touched on the fact that urgent care is a hectic environment to try and accomplish productive teaching. This may mean owner/operators need to get creative. Most importantly, interactions should be personal and customized to each employee. This makes them more meaningful and more relevant to the desired outcome.

One powerful way to do so is by asking questions. Rather than giving advice, ask employees for feedback. Have them put themselves in your shoes and ask how they would improve. Managers will quickly see opportunities for an actionable lesson on the company or a facet of professionalism open up.

Interacting with employees should be a daily, never-ending process. Good managers should never be done teaching and learning from the people who make the company run. This is especially true in urgent care clinics. By taking time to interact with employees on a personal, one-on-one level, owner/operators can create strong foundations for the clinic and help employees foster their own growth. Doing so at the right time, with proper delivery and actionable tips, makes these interactions most effective

Want to Become an Effective Urgent Care Leader?

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc

President of Experity Consulting and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine