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Tell them how it is

by in GP Practice Management, Opinion

It’s so worrying that I keep reading threads on the Practice Index forum about how difficult life is made for a practice manager by doctors and their staff. While there’s no ideal way to run a practice, there are approaches you can try to develop which may help you. One maxim is ‘Always have an answer ready, no matter what the question’. However, let me tell you a story. It’s a true story and it’s not about a GP surgery; it’s about a particular management style and how one person achieved her aims. It’s about telling everybody how it is.

Bark or disembark!

Let me introduce you to Julie. Julie is an ex-army sergeant with a powerful voice. She works on a British cruise ship with over 1,500 passengers and 600 staff. Her job is similar to that of a hotel manager; she looks after the ship’s passengers. She makes regular announcements to the passengers, telling them what to do at each port and when they finally disembark. She literally ‘barks’ her announcements in clear, unambiguous, positive language.

Giving clear not shaky instructions

When visiting a port, there are organised excursions and passengers need to leave in the order of their timed trips. Julie’s aim is to avoid queues on gangways and at passport controls and her announcements increase in volume when things don’t go to plan. So, when instructions aren’t followed and gangways are blocked, Julie fires her warning shots. She monitors the situation closely and anticipates problems.

Is everyone ‘on board’?

On one occasion, the deadline for returning to the ship had passed and some passengers hadn’t appeared. They were ten minutes late. The tide was falling and the ship needed to leave. As they finally arrived on the cruise ship, there was a stern announcement to all those on board, emphasising the need to keep to the set times for returning to the ship. ‘Don’t do it again’ was the clear message. In my view, the announcement was hilarious, but it made a strong point about compliance. Julie was on the ball; she was always improving efficiency on the ship.

Are you on their ‘case’?

When it came to the final disembarkation, Julie gave clear instructions about hand luggage and luggage labels. Passengers were asked to vacate their cabins after breakfast and wait in the lounges for disembarkation. They could leave their hand luggage in specific secure locations but needed to collect it by a stated time. There are always passengers who ignore instructions. But Julie was on their ‘case’. (Sorry about the pun!) In her latest announcement, she tongue-lashed all those who didn’t obey her rules. ‘What did I tell you?’ she said. ‘You won’t be able to get your luggage after you’ve left the ship. You won’t be allowed back on!’ Reminders are always useful.

Following orders

The ship ran with supreme efficiency. I asked the captain what he thought of Julie’s announcements and his answer was, ‘We’re all afraid of her.’ I have to say, the announcements did have an element of humour; there was always a smile in her voice. Julie’s announcements were assertive without being aggressive, and that’s always important. Everyone on the ship loved Julie.

So, when your practice staff are lacking direction and feeling uncertain, do you think you could become more like Julie?

  • Give everyone the facts; tell them exactly how it is.
  • Make regular announcements (but you don’t need to shout!).
  • Use clear, unambiguous and positive language.
  • Keep monitoring the situation so that you can anticipate problems.
  • Improving efficiency is the key to a successful practice.
  • Provide handy reminders.
  • Be assertive, but never aggressive.
  • Always maintain a sense of humour.
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Robert Campbell

Robert Campbell

Former GP Practice Manager with over 25 years experience working in Upton, near Pontefract, Seacroft in Leeds, Tingley in Wakefield, Heckmondwike and more recently Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire. www.gpsurgerymanager.co.uk

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