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Setting a climate for motivating your staff.

Team spirit is what gives certain laboratories the edge over their competition. Here's how to set the thermostat for involvement.

ONE OF THE CHALLENGES for laboratory managers of the 1990s is to hire and retain quality staff. The better the quality of your team, the better your lab will look and function.

Teamwork breeds extraordinary performance. Through team building, good managers can invoke peak output from the same people who underperform as individuals.

Most laboratories have an employee-retention problem. The trick is not to mourn the lack of qualified medical technologists in the job pool, but to motivate the ones already on board. This article presents practical ideas that laboratory managers can use in the day-to-day leading and coaching of their teams.

* What is a team? A team is a collection of individuals who are guided by a common purpose and who strive for the same results. Since each member makes a unique contribution, a team has tremendous potential. With a good team, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Building a team provides the opportunity to bring out the best in others while solving day-to-day problems. Teamwork requires many important qualities including trust, cooperation, communication, and creativity. As the leader, you are responsible for managing and directing these qualities to accomplish specific goals.

* Motivation. Motivation must come from within. A good manager, however, can create a climate and atmosphere that is conducive to self-motivation. Team spirit is what gives certain laboratories an edge over their competitors. Involvement is the key to motivating people in a workplace setting.

Following are nine instant motivators that you can use to excite your people and make them eager to go the extra mile. Incorporate them into a checklist so you can keep track of whether you use them each month, the action you take in each case, and your plans for the following month.

Say what's expected. Don't keep expectations a secret or assume employees know what they are. Every laboratory and other place of business needs a mission statement, and every person needs goals. Goals and standards should be put in writing. Would you get surprises if you asked your employees to tell you what they think their jobs entail and what they are expected to do?

Keep them informed. Make certain that your people know what is going on in the laboratory and that they are informed about both successes and failures. Communicate with them about new clients, ventures, tests, instrumentation, and projects. Inform them of everything from changes in employee benefits to changes in the institution's mission or goals. The more knowledge employees have, the better they can identify with an organization and the more integrated they feel.

A short, 3- to 6-minute, stand-up meeting when something changes or when new information of interest arrives keeps employees tuned in and turned on. In short, make certain your employees have not only all of the information they need to perform their current jobs, but enough to look ahead and anticipate future opportunities for the laboratory as a whole.

Relinquish control. Control is a powerful motivator. People respond in amazing ways when they are given control over the work they do. If asked, most employees can provide several suggestions on how to improve workflow. The more control you give employees over their own areas, the more ownership they will feel, the more interest they will have, and the harder they will try to do a good job.

Offer responsibility. Doing small, piecemeal jobs doesn't motivate people; having start-to-finish responsibility for a project does. The more complete an assignment is, the more the assignee will strive to see that it is done right.

Demonstrate passion. You cannot motivate a team to feel good about their work if you, as their leader, don't. Similarly, team members won't feel ownership or go the extra mile if you don't. You must set an example by demonstrating passion about your work and displaying confidence in the team to do a good job; it is contagious.

Provide feedback. Be sure to tell employees how they are doing in as timely manner--not 6 months after the fact. There are no stronger modifiers of behavior than positive and negative reinforcement.

Offer rewards. While money can be a strong motivator, it is by no means the only reward worth working for. Consider awards, credit, public acknowledgement, increased responsibility, status, titles, work space, etc. A special parking place close to the door, designated for the employee of the month, might be all that's needed, and it costs nothing. Keep in mind to praise your employees in public and discipline them in private.

Encourage growth. Encourage employees to develop personally and professionally. Suggest books, audiotapes, videotapes, seminars, workshops, courses, and journal articles they can read to eliminate weaknesses and fine-tune strengths.

Be approachable. Make certain that your people feel comfortable coming to you with problems. A breakdown in communication can be a death sentence to a team. Even the best manager can't correct a problem he or she doesn't know exists. If each of your employees were asked if you are approachable, how many would answer yes?

Remember: Good managers rarely become overexcited or fly off the handle. They don't let a few problems poison their entire outlook. This is not to say that managers must always be friendly and pleasant, but they must always show consideration for employees' feelings.

The form in Figure 2 offers a convenient way to evaluate your team's performance and improve your skills as a leader.

* Team-building tips. As I've traveled around the country as a consultant TABULAR DATA OMITTED and giving seminars, I have picked up many helpful tips from lab managers who share my belief in the importance of team building. Following are 37 of my favorites:

* The mission, philosophy, and goals of the organization must be understood by all.

* Write out goals. If you can't put them on paper, they're too vague to achieve.

* Hire people who are smarter than you; doing so demonstrates you're wiser.

* Evaluate employees based on results, not on how busy they seem.

* The best way to determine what motivates people is to ask them.

* Creativity flows in the direction of rewards. Recognize thinkers.

* Manage and lead by example.

* If you are not innovating, you are decaying.

* Focus training on specific skills.

* Maintain an environment that is action-oriented.

* View the minds of your people as resources.

* All individuals act out of self-interest. Combine objectives.

* View people as individuals, not collectively as "staff."

* Manage as though you have no authority. Lead by the quality of your ideas.

* Find the squeaky wheels and don't hurry to oil them. One might reveal a great idea.

* When relating, seek understanding, not necessarily agreement.

* Encourage employees to bring you solutions along with problems.

* Make change commonplace in your organization.

* Have an active rather than a reactive style.

* Integrate individual efforts into the whole.

* Challenge people to be the best they can.

* Honor the lines of authority in your organization.

* Greet people by name.

* Look employees in the eye.

* Build independence and interdependence in your team.

* Have everyone keep "to do" lists.

* Take care of your key people.

* Challenge all policies and procedures regularly. Ask, "Why are we doing this the way we are?"

* Reward people's initiatives, not mere activity.

* Every position must have performance standards.

* Build self-esteem. The more competent people feel, the more they are able to contribute.

* Don't promote people who have only earned a salary increase.

* Life and the lab are full of enough necessary frustration; remove all that is unnecessary.

* Allow intelligent mistakes.

* Encourage self-responsibility.

* Build on people's strengths; don't focus on weaknesses.

* The first sign of decay is the inability to attract and retain competent people. Keep your company a challenging, rewarding place to work.

These ideas should help you create a climate that will inspire your people to motivate themselves. This, in turn, will increase the likelihood that they will stay on and continue to do good work.

Suggested reading

Frings CS. Increasing Productivity Through Effective Time Management |seminar manual~. Birmingham, Ala: C.S. Frings & Associates; 1992.

Frings CS. Managing Time Creatively |cassette tape~. Birmingham, Ala: C.S. Frings & Associates; 1989.

Mallory C. Team-Building. Shawnee Mission, Kan: National Press Publications; 1991.

Yeomans WN. 1000 Things You Never Learned in Business School. New York, NY: Mentor Executive Library; 1985.

Christopher S. Frings, Ph.D., is a consultant and speaker on the subject of laboratory management. The president of Chris Frings & Associates in Birmingham, Ala., he also is adjunct clinical professor in the department of pathology and the School of Health Related Professions at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Frings, Christopher S.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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