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How to be a winning manager.

How to be a winning manager

Laboratory managers are in the spotlight as the health care system attempts to deal effectively with new incentives and challenges brought on by prospective payment.

This is not a time for the weak or timid. Confronted with Diagnosis Related Groups, competitive bidding, growing consumer concern about health care, and reduced inpatient volume, those in charge of the laboratory must find ways to manage even better with fewer resources.

In part, this entails recognizing the vital link between effective cost management--that is, economic survival--and improved management of human resources. The link is forged by traditional supervisory responsibility and strengthened by more visible staff direction and support from lab managers. (Managers must, of course, reassess and redefine the changing goals, roles, and responsibilities of the leadership team, whenever necessary. Traditional supervisory responsibility has served us well, however, and we should insist on maintaining the basic authority and skills required to do the job.)

Productivity and cost-effectiveness are not new areas of concern to the successful laboratory manager. But the rapidly changing economics of health care, including the fact that we now work in a competitive environment, increase the importance of responsibility for these areas.

The aggregation of line-item budgets prepared by department managers remains the most common budget process in hospitals. Such a participatory process enhances the manager's understanding of accounts and levels of expenditure. He or she is thus better able to accept budget restraints. When properly shared with those serving under a manager's leadership, this financial awareness becomes the foundation for future planning.

Leadership is the first vital ingredient of any manager's job. It is needed to develop and sustain a productive, cost-minded, loyal, dedicated, and successful staff. Those of us in management must make a concerted effort to recognize and spur quality performance. We must invest real time in those who help us lead--our supervisors. The return on this investment is increased production, better cost-saving ideas, and improved motivation.

To counter a decline in patient volume and a reduced budget for providing appropriate service, the laboratory must have high-quality and creative leadership. We can profit by Lee Iacocca's experience. His major objective was "to overcome Chrysler's loss of contact with the market, to reestablish harmony between what the engineers designed and what the market wanted, and to restore customer confidence.'1 Iacocca communicated his concerns in detail and made himself visibly involved at multiple levels, from the assembly line on up to top management.

The public's response to his initiatives was truly remarkable, especially in view of intense foreign competition. Chrysler went from annual U.S. sales of 1.2 million cars in 1978 to 2 million in 1984. Iacocca's leadership enabled the company to survive a major crisis and become a strong competitor.

Laboratory managers can follow Iacocca's lead and stand tough. We, too, face a crisis, and this should fire us up. To survive during a crisis, we need to expend greater personal effort. Such a challenge can serve as a motivator, an opportunity for managers to pass along their increased drive and energize the entire laboratory staff.

This requires a plan of action, which brings us to the second most important ingredient that the winning manager must possess-- an ability to look beyond the present, into the future. Foresight helps us set appropriate goals and make accurate plans. Definitions of purpose and mission are critical.2, 3 Remember, if you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there!

Quality and productivity are essential in these difficult times. We must help our staff reach the necessary goals by providing solid information and feedback on the laboratory's current problems and future directions.

At the same time, we must identify and remove those who are not productive. Even though we may be deeply involved in problem solving, we cannot be too busy to deal with poor performers. They have a deleterious effect on those employees who work extremely hard for the organization's survival.

Involving the staff in decisions about directions, values, and goals serves as a real motivator and contributes to professional satisfaction.4 Twenty-three years as a laboratory manager have proved to me that responsibility and accountability, coupled with recognition, are the most effective, cost-free motivators around.

We have bright, capable, intelligent clinical laboratory scientists throughout the nation. They can do with less of our time-consuming direct supervision. Faced with fewer controls and given greater freedom, the majority of these dedicated professionals will become even more productive. To accomplish this, though, we must all get behind the change. The decision to influence others and enlist their cooperation should be backed by a genuine personal commitment by all members of the lab management team, including directors, associate directors, managers, and supervisors.

Let's take another look at Lee Iacocca. He asked everyone at Chrysler to make a sacrifice and led the way by giving up his own salary for one year. That personal commitment did more than any speech could to persuade the current staff to stick it out; it even encouraged others to leave secure jobs elsewhere and join the Chrysler team. Iacocca's actions evoked respect, admiration, and cooperation from almost all his employees. We can accomplish something similar.

We must defend and fight for our professional careers. We entered laboratory medicine because we understood the importance of the work and wanted to be part of it. So we devoted our mental and physical energies to the field. Now, with our profession challenged and our emotions aroused, we must again demonstrate our commitment and enthusiasm. The most effective way to instill enthusiasm in others is to be sincerely enthusiastic ourselves. Leaders who demonstrate enthusiasm often find that it spreads to others, instilling both confidence and a feeling of achievement.

We must focus on positive issues in the field of medical technology. Ban such killer phrases as "the profession is dying,' "the days of wine and roses are over,' "better get out while you can,' and "who cares?' They only serve to demotivate at a time when we need to introduce even higher standards of quality, efficiency, discipline, and productivity.

To stand tough and be a winner, we must also become more assertive. Coordinating activities and integrating physician needs with existing resources require the straightforward dissemination of clear responsive messages. In addition, we should listen to what others have to say, value their ideas, and cultivate a cooperative spirit.

Above all else, a stronger manager accepts responsibility and carries it through. Winning managers exemplify both confidence and commitment. And by the way, they always succeed.

1. Iacocca, L., and Novak, W. "Iacocca: An Autobiography.' New York, Bantam, 1984.

2. Drucker, P.T. "Management: Tasks, Responsibility and Practices.' New York, Harper & Row, 1973.

3. Gardner, J.W. "No Easy Victories.' New York, Harper & Row, 1968.

4. Martin, B.G. Participatory management means trust and teamwork. MLO 12(9): 169-170, September 1980.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Martin, Bettina G.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Sep 1, 1986
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