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Management practices with a foreign flavor.

Those of us who have always worked in the United States tend to have a parochial view of our operations versus those in other countries. We believe our systems are the best. And in many ways this is true. But what comparisons do we use to arrive at this conclusion? How do we really know what management practices exist in laboratories outside the United States? Are there things others do that we could benefit from'? What practices do we have that might help them?

These are the questions that have been of great interest to me as I talk with citizens of other nations. I have been fortunate to have an opportunity to learn about different laboratory management practices through my travels and from students at San Francisco State University's graduate program in clinical sciences. Over the years, I have taught many students from Asia, the Mideast, Russia, Africa, Australia, and Latin America, to name a few. This has been a rewarding and educational experience.

The culture and politics of the different countries usually dictate the management approach. Importation of their philosophies or exportation of our system would not work unless changes were made in basic ideologies. For example, Japan's quality circle approach to problem solving is a management tool that our laboratories should adapt. It would enhance the team approach to problem solving and offer a challenging work atmosphere.

On the other hand, England's socialized system would frustrate us because of the beauracratic delays on purchases and the limited financial resources. Also they are not prone to have women at the top management levels.

Here are two specific examples of foreign laboratory operations that offer a distinct contrast with our system.

One student from Taiwan spent two years as chief technologist in a Mideast hospital whose laboratory staff of 40 medical technologists represented such countries as Egypt, Jordan, the Philippines, and Taiwan. These countries, as well as the host country, are male dominant and philosophically conservative. Women are not held in high professional esteem. So when our new chief technologist started her job, she had a difficult time dealing with the predominantly male staff. They did not think women were capable of managing a laboratory and therefore virtually ignored her directions.

By demonstrating her competence, however, in troubleshooting instruments and technical problem solving, skills they did not have, she gained their respect. From then on, she was able to use her leadership skills to combat the lack of promotional opportunities and maintain morale and productivity. The management philosophy did not change, but she was able to adapt by using her technical and people skills.

Looking at laboratory management in China, we find a system far different from ours. Because of the political philosophy, the role of supervisor or manager is greatly diminished. There is no such thing as employee recruitment, selection, or counseling. Employees are assigned to laboratories based upon the available workforce, not on laboratory need or skill levels. Turnover is very low, so laboratories are usually overstaffed, productivity is low, and apathy is high, All employees work six days a week with no holidays and little or no vacation time. If the employees do not like the supervisor, a replacement will be found. In China the "workers are boss," and managers work to please them. And there are no management consultants!

Supervisors have no authority to fire unqualified staff members or reward outstanding performance. All employees are considered equal and must be treated that way. They all receive the same small salary, so motivational techniques and employee initiatives are unknown.

When introduced to our man agement techniques, Chinese students are aware that not a II would work in their country, but they are hopeful that they can introduce some changes in laboratory operations if and when they return to China.

These are two management styles that we would consider impossible to work under. But we also have examples of less than ideal systems here. An undergraduate student worked in the office of a local hospital prior to entering the medical technology clinical program. She was welcomed and treated courteously by the office staff. She was surprised, however, at the cold environment of the general laboratory. The technologists seldom talked to each other, no one ever smiled, and they looked bored and tired. She felt they were performing their duties mechanically. When she finally met the lab manager, she knew why. He was cold and unhappy and conveyed this attitude to the entire staff.

On weekends, however, the atmosphere was much different. The same employees who on weekdays were gloomy and uncommunicative, became lively, talkative, friendly, and productive. The lab manager didn't work weekends!

So there is good and bad wherever you go. We can appreciate our laboratory management system, but we should not get so smug and complacent that we ignore problem areas and poor management skills. We should also take the time to learn how other countries manage their laboratories to see how we might improve our operations or avoid future mistakes. n
COPYRIGHT 1989 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Barros, Annamarie
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Article Type:column
Date:Aug 1, 1989
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