Attention: Staff Pharmacists and Managers
Do you ever wonder what Retail Pharmacy would be like if you could only focus on pharmacist or managerial responsibilities instead of tech duties? How much happier, more fulfilled, and less burdened would you be?
If you ever think to yourself how great your pharmacy would be if only you had the right people on your team, read on.
In my first 4 years as a Pharmacy Manager, I went from inheriting the worst store in the district to leading a pharmacy in the top 10% of the company. I wish it didn’t take me so long, but trial by fire is the only way I knew how to get out of those dark times.
Not only was my original team unruly, insubordinate, and unmotivated at work, they would infect new colleagues with negativity and cynicism.
I needed to do something, STAT.
Every Manager’s Nightmare
Welcome to every manager’s nightmare. When you’re the only one that wants to excel, work hard, or care about patients, the weight of sole responsibility will paralyze and crush you.
In my first year, I was always gasping for air, drowning in a sea of my patients’ expectations as my team played innocent bystander.
“I didn’t see the 5 patients standing in line,” one would remark.
“There’s no time to pick up the phones when I’m working on production,” another would say defensively.
It would have been easy to discount these statements and use my white coat authority to lay down the law of customer service.
It would have been easy to threaten them with written coaching, corrective action, and possible termination unless they start answering phones.
Formal authority is the quickest and easiest way to get results, but also the shortest path to creating a forced culture.
What happens when that formal authority is absent? Do good behaviors persist?
Imagine observing lack of productivity or poor service from one of your technicians. You bring it up, throwing in some advice and coaching, thinking it will help motivate them.
In defense, they justify their actions with excuses and then throw a curve ball at you: “How would you do it?” they snap defensively.
Don’t fall for this deathly trap.
The moment you tell someone to do their job, they become dependent on you to crack the whip. They won’t move or produce unless you force them.
Even worse: if you tell someone how to do their job, you then become responsible for the results.
You’ll then hear things like, “I did exactly what you told me, and it didn’t work.”
Some technicians set these traps unknowingly, while others do so to undermine you. You can’t assume, so recognizing when it happens is your primary objective.
Share Observations, Not Assumptions
No one wants to argue with their team. We don’t have the luxury of time to do so. The important thing is that we get work done.
But more important than the work is our technician’s professional development.
The biggest obstacle that stands in the way of effectively training our employees is their emotional resistance. Coaching and feedback goes nowhere if they are too busy defending themselves and justifying behaviors.
Therefore, the only way to communicate your message without setting off emotional alarms is to share factual observations, things that no one can misconstrue or argue with.
For example, if a colleague is slow at production, we can say, “Hey John, I noticed that you are falling behind in workflow when there aren’t any waiters or customers.”
Or, “Out of the 200 prescriptions we filled today, I only saw you fill a dozen baskets or so.”
If we share our assumptions, “Hey John, I noticed you’re slow at production,” then they will most likely shut down and start defending themselves with a barrage of excuses in order to prevent embarrassment.
As long as we keep it factual and objective, they have a way to explain their behavior so we can understand. They also have a way to save face if they (or you) are truly in the wrong.
Set Clear Expectations Tied To Purpose Or Principle
Once you announce the observation, its time to align with expectations. But they can’t be expectations you pull from your back pocket.
No one cares what you want when you’re not present. No one cares what the company wants when upper management is gone.
Your most effective weapon to ensure your technicians truly buy into expectations is to explain the why, the purpose, behind it.
For example, “Every patient should be acknowledged as soon as we see them. It’s important that you look up frequently so that patients who come to the pharmacy immediately feel welcome.”
In addition, “If your primary role is currently production, I need you to also be the main phone person. Helping with the phones while filling prescriptions will help everyone else who is serving a patient face to face.”
The purpose or principle must be something that follows moral authority, i.e. things that are inherently, fundamentally true. Expectations should also be fair and universally accepted.
Ask For Investment
If you’ve done the aforementioned steps well and without being condescending, your technician should be less defensive. They may know that they’re in the wrong and are ready to change behaviors.
But that’s not enough for investment. You need them to make a promise.
Therefore, you need to ask for that promise. For example, “Is looking up frequently to help patients a fair expectation?”
If yes, “Will you promise to do so?”
Simply asking them to vocalize their promise sets up a verbal, contractual agreement. Finally, they just put some skin in the game.
Course Correct Only When They Agree To It
Now that you have their investment (purpose, principle, and a promise), it’s time for you, the leader, to make a promise. In order to show faith in them, you must promise not to micromanage.
Imagine someone watching your every move and mentioning every misstep that you take. You will feel like walking on egg shells, and your productivity will decline.
This is how your technician will feel once you start monitoring behaviors and setting expectations. In order to avoid negatively affecting morale, you must give them boundaries in which they can act independently.
This does not mean that they have free license to do whatever they want. It simply means that there are limitations to when the leader should course correct.
In order for you to avoid micromanagement, they have to stay inside boundaries and agree when it’s okay for you to follow up.
For example, “I promise not to micromanage you. But if 2 patients arrive to the pharmacy without being acknowledged, is it fair for me to bring it up?”
Because you are establishing conditions and giving them the opportunity to amend them, they won’t feel betrayed if you follow through on the agreement.
If they continually do not acknowledge and serve patients after promising to do so, you have every right to coach, critique, and follow through on your promise to course correct.
All you’re doing is keeping your promise because they are not keeping theirs.
On the other hand, it might be tempting to give advice or tweak behaviors to make them more effective. You can’t do this without permission.
As long as customers are being acknowledged and serviced, the only lip service you give should be high fives and high praise.
Otherwise, you must go back and re-establish buy-in from them.
Be Consistent, Be Involved, and Don’t Give Up
You may be thinking to yourself, “This is so much work.” And you’re absolutely right. It is!
We have dozens of fires to put out at the pharmacy, threats of litigation, and relentless projects in addition to normal workflow. And now we’re responsible for babysitting someone else?
Welcome to Pharmacy Leadership. Nothing will change unless you change it. If your pharmacy team does not perform up to standards, you must get involved. Period.
The true test of success is not how well you execute the aforementioned steps, but how consistently you do so. Chances are, perfect results will not happen right away.
New behaviors take time before they become habits. Your team will test you often to see if you’re truly serious and if you will follow through on your promises.
Don’t give them an excuse to fall back on their word. If you say you will talk to them about their performance, do it. If you say you will do it every time they make a mistake, follow through every single time.
Don’t give up on your team, and you will be surprised at the results that follow. The biggest reward is seeing them develop into leaders, witnessing them move forward in their careers, and giving them praise for achievements they obtained with your guidance.
Creating a culture of accountability will be your secret weapon against all adversaries.
Business Tips for The Corporate PharmD[sta_anchor id=”biztips27″ /]
- Recognize the lures and traps your team sets to get you to micromanage
- Share observations, not assumptions, when setting expectations
- Use purpose, principle, and promises to gain investment
- Course correct only when someone makes a serious error or when agreed upon conditions are met
- Give praise and recognition 3 times as often as coaching or constructive criticism