How I turned a major management weakness into my greatest asset - Part 1.
When we started our urgent care business 15 years ago we had just 7 employees (including my husband, Stephen, and me). Those employees were critically important to our success or failure.
Let me first paint the picture of what personal life was like at this time, which may help explain (justify??) the crazy reaction I had to an event that happened with an employee one day. We had one child, 18 months old, when we opened our business and had 3 more within 2 1/4 years. Yes, that’s right. We had 3 children in diapers and car seats at the same time. 4 children within 5 years. It was BUSY, especially when you consider my husband was working 80 to 100 hours a week. I worked a fairly regular but shortened workday, was home with the kids every evening, night and weekend. I was attached to my phone and frequently worked for several hours once the kids went to bed. Yes, I was in a constant state of exhaustion.
Quickly, within the first few months of launching, our business was busier than we expected and we hired a few more employees. Every single person was busy and very necessary. If someone was out sick it had a big impact on productivity, and stress levels! With 84 hours of weekly operation (12 hours per day), we were also together a LOT...so our employees felt like and were treated like family. While this is good, it’s also can be a double edged sword...and the source of bumbles or mistakes.
Over the next couple of years our business continued to grow in volume, but we maintained the same number of employees. We had found a model and rhythm that worked really well — a lean operation with very hard workers and great patient volume yielded excellent financial results. We were very good to our employees, even establishing a retirement plan before paying my husband a salary!! (Perhaps another business mistake we made...but you never go wrong being good to employees - thanks for that pearl of wisdom Dad).
I have a compelling story to illustrate just how intensely committed to the success of our (then) small business our employees were. Not in the earliest years, but a little later when we expanded to two medical providers on each day, there was a day when one of those medical providers was very sick with a stomach bug but came to work anyway and wore a mask for patient care. There is no way we could have handled the volume of patients with just one provider. There’s an expression in emergency medicine that people aren’t allowed to call in sick, they call in dead. (Perhaps you can see my rolling eyes here, because in today’s day of self care that’s a ridiculous adage). Anyway, in between patients, the sick provider would lay down on the floor in the office to rest. Half way through the shift, during a lull in the “rush” of patients, the provider was very weak. He lay down on an exam stretcher, his co-worker started an IV of fluids, and gave him anti-nausea medication. After an hour, the provider got back up, and finished another 6 hours of work, taking care of patients. Now that’s dedication!
One day, I had a private personal matter to attend to, so I closed my office door for a phone call. You would think that this was a benign act...yet, something must have been up with our one front desk employee because she got all wound up about this and told another administrative staff person that she was afraid that I was going to fire her, so she was leaving before I had the chance. WHAT??!!!??? She stood up, and left. Just left. I was so confused. We’re family...we talk things out. Don’t we? So what did I do? Wait for it....
I chased her down, of course. When she didn’t answer repeated calls I made to her cell phone, I tried driving to her house to talk with her. She wasn’t there. I drove by all the places I thought she might be. Couldn’t find her. Oh. My. Goodness, what was I thinking? It was like I was a jilted girlfriend and just HAD to know what I had done wrong to have my boyfriend up and leave me. Ridiculous looking back on it.
Fast forward to another example of my management failure as a result of becoming too attached to employees. One of our medical providers put himself up on top of a pedestal, apparently promoted himself making statements that he was an owner, and decided reprimanding other employees was within his purview. (Nope, not true). One day he took ME to task when I assigned a project to him and that was a final straw. But did I take action swiftly and decisively? No. It was only after another valuable employee announced he was leaving, as a result of the toxic, nearly cancerous behavior of this individual, did we step up the way we should have long before, and ask this employee to leave.
One day, an employee came to me complaining about their circumstances. They said “I want a raise”. I said, “We just had evaluations and pay increases a few months ago. What has changed that would warrant another increase?” The employee replied, “I can’t make ends meet at home, and I need a raise.” Here again, is a line between caring for employees, and making good business decisions.
Stay tuned for the lessons and conclusion to this blog in Part II.