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Is it time you spent a day at the other coalface?

by in GP Practice Management, Staff

For practice managers working all hours to at least attempt to make headway on the to-do list (which seems to be constantly growing), it can be hard to take a step back and truly experience for yourself what your staff and patients are going through.

Yet, ask most successful business leaders (and practices should be treated as businesses) for some key advice on what can be the difference between success and failure, and they’ll often say it’s the ability to truly understand what’s going on inside their organisation. Or, more accurately, being armed with the information that allows the best decisions to be made.

One way to do this is to spend some time at the coalface. When was the last time you spent 30 minutes or an hour working on reception? If you’ve moved into management from nursing, for example, when did you last spend time meeting and treating patients, shadowing your staff?

According to the Institute of Customer Service, the purpose of spending time on your front line should be to engage with staff, to listen to them and to experience your customer service.

So how can you get back to the floor and really get a deep understanding of the pain points and successes of your practice? Here are some top tips:

Do what you can to find as much time as possible: While it’s likely realistic that you’ll only be able to grab an hour or so to do this, the consensus is that the longer you can spend learning on the job, the better.

Start with the right mindset: Back to the floor time only works if you start with the right mentality. Go in with an open mind and do it because you want to genuinely learn the frustrations of your team and the challenges they face.

Don’t do it in isolation: Time on the frontline is just one way of learning. Combine with other mechanisms such as feedback surveys, open forums and focus groups to really get an understanding of what your patients and staff think.

Get your hands dirty: To understand the issues fully, it helps to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty rather than just talk. It will also earn you credibility. If you can look people in the eye and say you’ve done their job, that’s positive.

Don’t warn people: Advance warnings will mean people perform differently and prepare for the time. Wherever possible, just do it!

Prepare: Do you need a uniform? Is a name badge required? Are there skills you need to brush up on? What practice rules and regulations do you need to be aware of? What are you going to look for? While you need to be open-minded about outcomes, it helps to plan in advance to ensure any time is wisely spent.

Make sure you listen and observe: The Institute of Customer Service advises managers to spend more time listening and observing than speaking – it’s the best way to learn!

Be sure to deliver: You must be prepared to do something with the results, both good and bad – and don’t forget to share feedback.

Involve others: Don’t just take it on yourself to do this. Get others involved – receptionists may learn and provide interesting perspectives on your job, for example.

Discuss your findings: Share and discuss your observations with the person you shadowed or whose job you took on. It’ll make them feel valued and hopefully stimulate some more ideas.

Enjoy it: Going back to the floor may remind you of what was good about the earlier part of your career – and remind you that the vast majority of patients are decent people!

Don’t settle for one: Try to experience multiple roles. As a practice manager you need to have a full, holistic view of patient interactions, for example. Try to understand who makes various interactions, how they do it and what format they take. This will help you be very specific when it comes to training.

Back to the floor experiences can be a hugely useful tool for practice managers – and are simple and cost-effective to run. If you haven’t done it before, why not give it a try?

Have you completed a back to the floor day or a job swap in your practice? If so, we would love to hear from you. How did you run them? What were the benefits? What changes happened as a result? Please let us know.

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One Response to “Is it time you spent a day at the other coalface?”
  1. Allison Edgeler Says:

    I joined my practice last year – new to the NHS and I have run several Back to the Floor days since then. It shows support, and I also felt it important to understand how the “front of house” worked, just in case I was ever needed to do it. The exercises gave me opportunity to understand individual and practice challenges, identify training needs and most importantly observe what worked well and what didn’t. The overall outcomes from the sessions have been changes to our processes, and training to increase skills and knowledge. I’ve committed to the team that I will do them again but am finding that following the first batch, if something doesn’t work they will come to me with a solution!

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