Addressing management issues

Aug. 1, 2009
Promotion changes relationships

Q My boss told me recently that I will soon be promoted
to a supervisory position, which is exciting, but I am not sure how to
deal with my co-workers. I have worked with the same group of people for
quite a few years and consider most of them friends. Some of us get
together on weekends and often discuss personal things. How do I now
become their boss”

A It is always exciting to receive a promotion when you
have worked at a facility for a long time. The upside is you know your
co-workers, and they know you. This is the same scenario, however, that
may cause challenges. The first step in “becoming their boss” is to
realize that is just what you are.

Your role has changed, and you need to embrace the
new role — and make sure that your employees embrace your new role as
well. Begin by meeting one-on-one with each employee. Just as you have
had good relationships with some, you may have challenges with others.
This is the time to let them know that with a role change, your
decisions will not be made on a personal basis. Each decision is
separate and distinct from your friendship, and you are now working on a
different level. Make sure that you have an open-door policy because the
change in structure is sure to lead to some resentment. It is imperative
to treat everyone equally.

—Dianna K. Chestnut, MSA
Chestnut Marketing Consulting
Glenwood Springs, CO

Bottom line: With your promotion, celebrate your success but tamper that with
humility when with your peers. Your one-to-one meetings are not social
occasions, and it is your responsibility to ensure those who report to
you understand your expectations of them. This does not mean that you
disassociate personally from them; just be careful to keep business
conversations about business and personal conversations about personal
information and not to combine the two. As you are faced with managerial
challenges, favoritism must be checked at the door.

Negative comments affect morale

Q One of my employees is a woman who used to work at a
large hospital lab, and it seems she is used to a modern facility and
the best-of-the-best equipment. She often complains that things here at
our small lab are “old fashioned” and “antiquated,” and shares stories
of how the lab in which she used to work was better equipped. Our lab
may not have the latest, greatest equipment, but I am proud to say we
provide superb service to our community with what we do have. This woman
is knowledgeable and skilled, so I would like to keep her around. Her
complaints about this “backward” place affect the other employees as
well. How can I make her understand that I value her contribution as a
lab tech but not her repeated negative comments”

A The direct approach may be best with this employee.
Sit down with her privately and tell her that her comments regarding
your lab are having a negative impact on the staff. Rather than
attacking her or her remarks, help her to understand the way her remarks
make the staff feel. An analogy might be helpful: Ask her how she would
feel if you came into her home and compared her 10-year-old kitchen
appliances with your new, state-of-the-art ones.

Empathize with this employee for the big adjustment
it was for her to move from a large lab to a small lab. Explain that no
one should expect these two labs to be comparable; the differences
should serve to broaden her experience rather than to impose judgment on
one or the other. If she considers her experiences in the large lab to
be the “right way” and those in your small lab to be the “wrong way,”
then she is not accepting the diversity of the laboratory workplace.

One or two conversations with this employee probably
will set her on the right path; if not, make sure the problem is
documented on her performance appraisal. In the end, no employee is so
valuable technically that you can afford to keep them on when they
disrupt the rest of the workforce.

—Marti Bailey, MT(ASCP) CPC
Work Unit Leader, Pathology
Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
Hershey, PA

A From your letter, it seems as if you may have a
“sniper” in your midst. In Dr. Brinkman and Dr. Kirschner’s book Dealing with Difficult People,
there are 10 different classifications of difficult people, and the
authors offer techniques to deal with each one. In a “sniper attack,”
the authors recommend surfacing the attack immediately. If the employee
makes a sarcastic comment about the lab being “antiquated,” innocently
tell her that the comment sounded like a derogatory and insulting
statement. Proceed to ask her if she meant it that way or if that is
what she was trying to say.

Remain neutral, and do not overreact. Each time she makes
a “sniper” comment, it needs to be exposed, because if you do not make the
ugliness of the comment known, she will assume this form of controlling
behavior is acceptable.

It may be necessary to speak with her privately about
these comments, as this behavior is indicative of someone who is frustrated
by a larger issue and is not expressing it appropriately. The only true way
to remove a “sniper” from the crowd is to find the root cause of the

—Francee Preston
Patient Relations Specialist
Medical Practice Services
State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Company
Brentwood, TN

A I would suggest a face-to-face conversation with her to
discuss the situation in a calm manner. Before the meeting, make a list of
points to cover. Focus on the positive points that relate to your lab (e.g.,
good results on proficiency testing, good outcomes on licensure reviews,
reliable equipment, long-term employees, support from administration, good
rapport with hospital personnel and physicians).

Discuss the benefits of a smaller laboratory, such as the
opportunity for better knowledge of patients’ needs and conditions through a
smaller care team, and the ability to work closely with the medical staff
and other personnel, which results in the ability to provide more useful
care information.

Your lab actually may be more challenging than she is willing
to admit and makes her rely more on her skills, and less on others and more highly computerized equipment.

Encourage a more free-flowing discussion to allow her the
chance to present her opinions in a non-confrontational setting. Focus on
her responses, including body language, so you can gauge your responses in a
manner to best communicate your feelings and points to her.

Be prepared to discuss the differences in your lab and
the larger one she last experienced — with the goal of helping her see that
reliable and useful laboratory information can be produced in both
environments. Understand that some people will always think that “bigger is

Her real problem may be that she is intimidated in your
laboratory where she will have to be an all-around tech doing many varied
procedures in contrast to the large lab where she may have been doing one
thing all the time. Your lab actually may be more challenging than she is
willing to admit and makes her rely more on her skills, and less on others
and more highly computerized equipment. Listen for this fear, and consider
providing more training to her or pairing her with one of your experienced
techs. It may also be helpful to her to put her in charge of a lab function,
or a piece of equipment, or add her to a lab committee where she can use her
expertise for the benefit of the facility.

In the final analysis, it is up to her as to how she fits
into your laboratory environment. Explain to her that she has much to offer
to your facility and it to her. Let her know about your concerns relating to
her attitude about your laboratory and that you would like for her to
project a positive feeling to others and help your team make a difference to
patient care. Your interaction with her may take more than one meeting. Be
sure to follow the situation closely, and do not allow her to poison your

—Alton B. Sturtevant, PhD
Laboratory Director
Birmingham, AL

Bottom line: Meet
privately with this individual to inform her of your concerns. Encourage her
to present suggestions and improvements via formal procedures that result in
constructive criticism — not just criticism. Point out that each
laboratory setting is unique, and its quality is dependent on measures other
than size and equipment. If necessary, intervene with appropriate
disciplinary action each time she negatively impacts the staff.

Anne Pontius is a senior medical practice
consultant with State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Company in Brentwood,
TN, and president-elect of CLMA 2007-2009. Send questions to Ms. Pontius
[email protected]