MGMA 2017: 5 lessons from top companies to create a high-performing practice

Doctors talking
Medical practices can learn some lessons from successful companies about engaging their employees. (Getty/wmiami)

ANAHEIM, California—High-performing companies have a certain culture, one that physician practices can duplicate in their own workplace.

Why bother? That culture can boost both financial success and the ability to retain employees, said authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, who over the last two decades have surveyed more than 850,000 working adults and worked with numerous top companies.

Those high-performing companies have a trait in common—they create an all-in culture where they appreciate the efforts of the people who work there, said Elton, who spoke here during the Medical Group Management Association annual conference.

Chester Adrian
Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton

Their research shows that successful companies create a positive culture—one where people believe what they do matters (even the dishwasher or janitor) and that they can make a difference, said Gostick.

That culture of buy-in brings results, as companies with a highly engaged workforce have a 14.3% higher operating margin than others, according to Gostick and Elton. Much of it is common sense, but it’s not common practice, said Elton.

Here’s some of the lessons practices can take away from those successful companies:

Create a workplace where everyone feels safe to speak up and challenge traditional ways of doing business. "Great organizations are more agile," said Gostick, certainly an important trait in healthcare. "People in these organizations feel psychologically safe to speak up. They can challenge the status quo, the conventional way of doing things." You’re not looking for people to be disruptive, but want them to offer their innovative ideas.

Make sure leaders provide employees with positive feedback. What ratio of positive to negative feedback is ideal in the workplace? Many people think it’s 1:1, so for every complaint, there’s a compliment. In fact, the ratio is 5:1, so for every time you point out something that’s gone wrong, be sure you’re giving five compliments and pointing out what someone did right, said Gostick.

Be specific about what people are doing well. Instead of a “great job everyone,” reaction, it’s more effective to specifically thank the person in your business office who got your invoices out on time. The keys to giving feedback: do it now, do it often, be specific and be sincere, said Elton.

It isn’t just about the money. Think about the customer service you get at the Four Seasons hotel versus at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The average salary at the DMV is $48,000, while those at the Four Seasons average $40,000 per year. You can’t buy your way to a happy, engaged workforce, said Gostick.

To retain your employees, understand what motivates them. And keep in mind that millennials, who are making up more and more of the workforce, typically stay 1.5 to 2 years on the job. Companies with all-in cultures have a better record of keeping these young workers, such as Microsoft, which cut its millennial turnover in half by having regular meetings with them, asking them how they want to grow and encouraging feedback. What motivates millennials working in healthcare? Having an impact (68%), having time for family (65%) and learning in their job (61%). The least motivating factors? Having variety, autonomy and money (which only 5% said was a motivator).

When it comes to having employees that are engaged, energized and enabled, Gostick and Elton pointed to WestJet, the Canadian airline, which one holiday season ran a promotion where they asked customers what they wanted for Christmas and then delivered those gifts when they reached their destination.

"Their profitability is through the roof," said Elton. "They're the most popular airline in Canada, bar none. Their loyalty is sky high. It's harder to get a job as a baggage handler at WestJet than it is to get into the Harvard School of Business. I'm not joking."

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