Employees depend on their managers to lead by example, and that takes effort. Even the strongest strategies and best-laid plans for improved efficiency won’t matter if you can’t get your staff on board with your mission.
Here are 7 reasons why lab leaders need to be actively engaged in building a workplace culture that works for everyone.
Workplace culture is driven by mission. Do you know what yours is? If not, it’s time to get clear on exactly what you want your lab to achieve, how you plan to get there, and what you expect from your team along the way.
Spend some time thinking about the core values you want your lab to operate within, then work collaboratively with human resources to develop a clear, succinct message you can share with prospective employees early on in the screening process. If a candidate doesn’t fundamentally agree with or can’t get behind what you’re trying to do, they won’t make a good hire. While you’re at it, familiarize all current staff with the mission as well.
“Every employee that works in your department should be able to recite the mission like their own name,” says Josephine Foranoce, Laboratory Director of Operations at Florida Hospital Altamonte. “If they can’t — and if you don’t know the mission of your organization, how can you live the mission?”
If you don’t enjoy coming to work, neither will your employees. As a lab leader, it's up to you to set the tone when it comes to building a workplace culture that’s challenging, rewarding and fun.
“Culture is really the lens through which we interpret all of our interactions in the organization, and the leadership is the culture,” says Patty Eschliman, Laboratory Manager of the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Neb. “We may or may not realize it, but every interaction that we have throughout the day creates an environment of experiences that everyone around you either fosters or inhibits. Either you manage the culture, or the culture will manage you.”
Improving your workplace culture may be easier than you think. Even small changes like tidying up common spaces to make them more appealing, taking a few minutes to congratulate employees for recent successes, or organizing a charity effort that staff can support go a long way toward creating a sense of common purpose.
Trust is everything in the workplace. When you’re squirrelled away all day in your office with the door closed, you send a message to your staff that you’re unavailable. Or even worse, that you just don’t care.
Earning trust is an ongoing process that involves reaching out, accepting responsibility and being accountable for what happens under your watch. Being present and engaged on a daily basis helps your employees feel confident that they can count on you to follow through on what you say you’ll do, and that you have their backs.
And keep in mind, it’s much easier to maintain trust than it is to re-earn it after it's been lost.
In contemporary lab settings, it’s becoming more and more common to find multiple generations of employees working side-by-side toward a common goal. And while that end-goal presents a unifying mission, their methods and styles of getting there may be totally different. As a supervisor, it’s important to realize that the way you work and communicate may not be what works best for other employees, especially Millennials.
For Christina Nickel, Laboratory Quality Manager at Bryan Health in Lincoln, Neb., a stint serving as an interim manager for a technical staff proved to be a valuable learning experience in this regard.
“I learned from the staff how different their culture had been from what my leadership style is,” she explains. “A lot of the Baby Boomers, and even some of the Gen-Xer’s were of the school that ‘If you ask me to do it, I’m going to do it.’ That’s it. But Millennials, they want to know why, so they can get it done more effectively, more efficiently.”
To be an effective manager, don’t just consider the message itself. Think about the best way to convey it to your audiences to assure they’ll hear it clearly, understand it and take it to heart.
In keeping with the idea of figuring out how to communicate most effectively with different generations of employees on your team, be prepared to recalibrate your own way of thinking by finding ways to accommodate their professional wants and needs; for example, offering non-traditional work schedules and communicating via text messages.
“I’m a Baby Boomer,” Foranoce says. “They’d hand me a schedule saying you have to work at these times, and I did. I never questioned it. Probably the scariest thing I ever did as the lab director was learning to allow employees flexibility with their schedules.”
Foranoce put out a survey asking staff what hours they’d like to work in a perfect-world scenario. The responses she received surprised her.
“Many of them were happy with what they were working, and the ones that weren’t appreciated the fact that we were going to attempt to accommodate them,” she notes. “Not all at once, but as we could, and it made such a difference. I realized when I looked at the group, it was the Millennials who wanted that fluid schedule, and I was ok with that.”
The opportunity to work remotely is another concept employees who are struggling to create an integrated work/life balance may find appealing. And don’t automatically jump to the assumption that Millennial employees looking at their cell phones are just wasting time on social media.
“I read a recent study looking at Internet usage in the lab with people using Wifi on their cell phones and taking up bandwidth,” says Jason Majorowicz, Mayo Clinic’s Quality Management Coordinator. “A gentleman who was being interviewed said, ‘Listen, I have two options. I can shut it down and keep that bandwidth for clinical applications, or I can embrace it and say, this is just how we’re going to work today.’ These employees are blending their homes lives with their work lives, and they’re happy.”
As we know, happy employees are much more valuable than disgruntled ones. Again, it all comes back to trust. If your employees are doing a good job, is it really worth begrudging them a quick text here and there?
Play to your strengths, and help your employees play to theirs by slotting them into roles where they’re most likely to shine, even if it requires a little nudging.
“What you do is find these leadership characteristics in people who are willing to be at the table and have an open discussion, and then that’s the person you put in the room,” says Calvin Guyer, executive coach, speaker and workshop facilitator. “I call them crucible roles; roles that are outside their daily, normal activity that you put them in to gain leadership experience.”
Guyer says the best choices for such roles aren’t always the most obvious candidates.
“It may not be the person with the highest technical capabilities,” he explains. “It may be somebody who has a higher emotional intelligence or a higher likeability. They come to the table and they’re able to participate in a discussion that’s more open and broad.”
Invest in employee engagement and take the professional temperature of your staff by polling them from time to time to make sure they’re getting the opportunities and feedback they need to feel good about their jobs. You may just learn something new about employees’ interests and passions that can help them perform better or provide a greater level of work satisfaction.
If you’re lucky enough to have ambitious Millennials or other staff members who are actively seeking opportunities to grow, certainly do what you can to support and encourage them.
Sing your staff’s praises — loudly — when they meet a goal or do something well, and if it’s within your discretion and means, reward them with some sort of small perk — a free lunch, an afternoon off, or even just a pat-on-the-back public announcement about their achievements builds morale.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Foranoce says. “We’re human beings. This is what drives us, whether you work in the lab or not.”