When I ask physical therapy practice owners about what’s holding them back, there’s one challenge that almost always rises to the very top of the list:
I’m having trouble with my staff.
“Trouble with staff” can mean a lot of things:
- Recruitment and retention problems—a revolving door of hiring and firing
- Low productivity—employees who underperform in their roles
- A pattern of errors and lack of follow through—mistakes get made, things fall through the cracks, and nobody’s taking responsibility
- Interpersonal drama—a staff that doesn’t work well together and have each other’s backs
Often, it’s all of the above.
At the root of every one of these staff issues is a practice culture that lacks trust, empathy, and systems for communication. Like any business built on these underdeveloped roots, no PT practice can truly thrive under these conditions. Patients don’t get the care and quality of experience that keeps them coming back. A practice can’t prosper financially, and can’t widen its reach in the community.
Here at Practice Freedom U, I don’t just spend time working with physical therapy owners. I also work with their teams. The heart of that work involves teaching owners and their employees how to work from the same side of the table, as allies rather than adversaries.
Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about what PT practice teams think and say when owners are out of the room.
4 things PT teams really wish practice owners knew
They want to commit to your practice
It’s in our nature to seek out teams. We like to be part of a pack—and even the most independent among us grow stronger, smarter, and more productive in cooperative alliances. We also want to work in service of important ideas, goals, and causes. People who seek work in physical therapy and other helping professions are even more mission-driven than most.
If you’re seeing a lack of motivation, commitment and follow through in your staff, trust me: it’s not about a lack of desire to work hard, or to commit. But their desire and commitment need to be activated. That takes an overhaul of your communication system: to deliver clarity about what their responsibilities are, how you want the work to be done, and what success means for each and every position in your practice. And to create a structure where authentic, direct, information-rich communication is an ongoing part of practice operations, and a core element of practice culture.
(If you’re looking for some additional incentive to invest in developing a communications system that works for your team, I offer you this: the quality and coherence of your team makes your practice a vastly more valuable one, not only today, but also down the road, when you’re ready to sell.)
It’s the quality of your attention that matters, more than quantity
In my years of experience in working with practice owners to transform their businesses, I’ve seen a clear pattern repeat itself: PT owners are way too involved with the work of their teams.
That might sound odd. How is it possible to be too involved? Isn’t the point to engage with employees? Yes. But in the right ways—ways that foster accountability, initiative, passionate adherence to your standards and your mission.
Too many practice owners spend all day every day fielding questions, reacting to problems, putting out fires, jumping in to correct mistakes they see happening in real-time—essentially trying to be constantly available for everyone—and micromanaging their employees’ work along the way.
What comes from all this constant attention? Your staff is unhappy. Chaos and drama are routine. Your practice still isn’t running the way you need or want it to. And you can barely get a day off. Sound familiar?
It’s not endless time from you that your team needs—it’s more meaningful, strategic attention. Your time management, your approach to delegating, your communication techniques all affect the quality of time you can give staff. A recent study found that time management was one of the top complaints employees have about how their bosses do their jobs. If you’re burned out and overwhelmed, your team isn’t getting the version of you they need to excel at their jobs.
Constructing a game plan for your practice leadership that includes an overhaul of your time management practices can give employees the quality of attention they need—without your having to be everything to everyone all the time.
They need to keep learning
The same recent study that found leaders’ time management a major issue for staff also found this: employees who haven’t received training in more than a year are more likely to experience confusion and anger on the job. Training isn’t a one-and-done endeavor at hiring time. Lack of training a huge issue for both morale and performance. We all want to hire smart, ambitious, highly driven people—and we want them to make a lasting commitment to our businesses.
Professional development for PT teams is the difference-maker here. A 2018 study conducted by LinkedIn found that more than 90% of employees would stay with their current employers longer if they had access to ongoing education and skill building.
They care about YOUR skill-building, not just their own
Why wouldn’t they? Your willingness to invest in your own learning and development stands to affect every part of leadership and practice management—and that has a huge impact on your employees. Effective leadership takes self-reflection and an ongoing willingness to learn.
You’ve heard me say it before: you didn’t learn how to run a business in physical therapy school. But you’re running one now. As you grow, so does your team. 4 Things Your PT Staff Wants You To Know (But Can’t Tell You Themselves)