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What employers are looking for right now.

Headhunters tell me there is a growing shortage of physician executives. That's tile good news. The bad news is that their clients are looking for physician executives with very, specific skills. When candidates ask search people what they're looking for, it often seems as if the headhunters don't now or, more perversely, won't tell. To fill this information vacuum, we not only interviewed some high-profile headhunters, we looked at some open job orders. That's where the real buying information is. When a CEO or search committee inks the contract with a headhunter and hands over a check, the specifications in that contract tire worth reading very carefully. Here are the top dozen characteristics which are invariably mentioned.

More manager/leader, less physician

Chalk it LIP to managed care, but headhunters and employers now think the ideal ratio is 75 percent manager/leader and 25 percent physician. To think like physician isn't the kiss of death. merely a peck - to approach management problems medically is. The best example I heard was the Medical Director whose first act, on assuming his new role, was to poll the physicians on what they'd like to see done rather than asking top management. He was gone in three months.

Technically state-of-the-art

Surprised? I was, until I saw how nearly universally this was mentioned in job specs. Apparently, Bill Gates' Microsoft study of computer competence among forty and fifty-somethings - which reported that only 30 to 50 percent in that age group were competent - has been widely believed. What's wanted isn't just someone who's medically or managerially state-of-the-art, but someone who also has strong computer skills.

Have you noticed how job announcements have mushroomed on the Internet? Could it be that organizations, health care and otherwise, see putting their openings on the web as a way to eliminate all those who haven't the technical skills to access it? It's a strategic decision, not thrift or chance, and the number of organizations using the web for recruiting will continue to increase.

Demonstrated team leadership

Workplace teams aren't a fad despite their rarity. When I talked with CEOs about teams, it was an attitude they were screening for, not years of team experience. Expect interview questions such as the following: 1. How have you managed peer evaluation within a team? How did you get team members to buy into the idea of evaluating each others, performance honestly? 2. What decisions have you helped a team make that ran counter to its individual and collective instincts? 3. How have you convinced a team of medical professionals to work together when they where also competing for scarce resources?

Obviously, anyone who contemplates a top or senior level role will need to be prepared to answer such questions for the recruiter - before he or she meets any organizational representative.

Cross-generational management

Whatever you may think of individual Baby, Busters (called Generation X by the media), can you motivate and manage them without ever-increasing turnover? Retention is to the rest of the 90s what downsizing was to the first half. In fact, more supervisors and middle managers are being told right now that bonuses will depend on retention as much, or more than, increased productivity or cost reduction. This is shocking to executives who've been through the agonies of eliminating redundant workers and now find they must do a 180-degree turn as labor shortages - predicted since 1985 - actually appear.

Expect questions on how you've gotten buy-in from twenty-somethings whose primary goal has been reduced work hours rather than more money. There is growing evidence that organizational reward systems are going to undergo a massive overhaul as top management scrambles to retain the best and brightest of a shrinking labor pool. What's clear is that twenty-somethings are not younger Baby Boomers, but have identifiably different value systems.

Coalition building

Can you show five different entities, e.g., departments, organizations etc., where their common interests lie - and then persuade them to put those commonalities first? It's as important a skill as any I've heard. In fact, recruiters are being told quite bluntly that "there is no role in this organization for anyone who shows signs of being territorial." This is new. Physician candidates were expected to have allegiances in the past - to physicians, to a specialty, etc. No more. As one recruiter told me, "One of the first questions I'm going to ask - and keep coming back to - is whether a candidate believes in a big picture. I've rejected a dozen on just one search whose outlook was too much the physician to be trusted by non-physicians."

Consulting experience

For the next few years, consulting experience seems to be a litmus test of problem-solving and flexible thinking. CEOs are asking for physician executives who've had consulting experience, either as independents or working for a group. Why? What value-added do they think they'll get if a candidate has worked as a consultant? The CEOs are expecting someone who can both diagnose and solve a problem cost effectively in a tight time frame, while maintaining the attitude of an outsider.

if not consulting, Work as an executive temporary may substitute. Manpower, the nation's largest temporary help agency, announced in june that it will now supply executive temporaries to clients. This is momentous because temporary help, sometimes called just-in-time hiring, is the fastest growing industry. The executive temporary category is the fastest growing within the industry. What CEOs like about candidates who've had temporary management Positions is what they like about former consultants@ flexible thinking, problem solving, and relative objectivity.

Great references from below

Back-checking, that practice so hated by candidates, in which someone's references are asked to provide other references not authorized by the candidate, is growing-even in organizations not notable for checking any references. Every headhunters I talked to used back-checking, and the groups they most wanted to interrogate were former subordinates. The better the references from staff, likely to be. Physicians disdaining this practice as a popularity contest - one senses it was also a contest test they felt likely to lose - won't work in the 90s. Expect to be asked for the names of subordinates you didn't get along with, as well as peers and superiors who were less than admiring. Candidates argue the hirers who want an enemies list won't see a balanced picture. It's true, but obviously both screeners and hirers want to hear from multiple sides before they make an offer.

Trend spotting the management fads

By now, even the most manically-devoted follower of Total Quality Management (TQM) and its spawn have begun to back pedal, but what's filled the void? Expect to be asked not what are the media's favorite management fads but what yours are. What will be hot in health care in the year 2000? Surfing the business press on the web is minimal preparation.

Courage in telling the truth

Whether it's telling top management, "No way!" or a subordinate that he's the living embodiment of the "Peter Principle," you're expected to give both examples of how you've done it and how you would do it in a series of hypotheticals. What's new is that, if the truth cost you your job, that's a plus in health care. In other industries, having been fired for a strong stand is still seen as quixotic. in health care, you may move ahead of an equally-qualified candidate who hasn't had that experience. Note: People prepared to die for their principles always negotiate a year's severance before taking the job, which tends to reinforce both leadership and courage.

What if you don't have examples of any, or many, of these demands? You're not sunk. Look for opportunities to exhibit these qualities in the workplace and on boards and committees. One of the peculiarities of the late 90s is that the distinction between having been paid to do something and having done it for free is very blurred. You can market volunteer activities as surely as paid employment.

Expect this list to change in 1997 as the industry changes. However, there will be more additions than deletions, in keeping with overall trends toward higher, not lower, expectations of managers.

Marilyn Moats Kennedy is Managing Partner, Career strategies, Inc., Wilmette, Illinois, and a long-time number of the ACPE faculty. She may be reached at 1150 Wilmette Avenue. Wilmette Illinois 60091, 708/251-1661, fax 708/251-5191.
COPYRIGHT 1996 American College of Physician Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Kennedy, Marilyn Moats
Publication:Physician Executive
Date:Sep 1, 1996
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