Does Your Practice Need A Reality Check?
“Ellen” is a hard worker. She is a dedicated 12-year employee in “Dr. Mike’s” office. She was the first employee he hired, and she has held many positions within the practice. She has assisted the doctor, worked as the receptionist, been “in charge” of marketing, served as scheduling coordinator, office trainer, and the list goes on. Ellen views herself as very versatile and valuable to the practice. She knows the patients, their families, their interests. She loves people, and they love her…except for those people who must work with Ellen.
Her colleagues will tell you that the reason she has held so many different positions within the practice is because she’s excelled at none. Their assessment of her performance is that it is poor to average at best, so she’s a floater and helps out wherever she can. Meanwhile, critical details fall through the cracks. Staff cringe when Ellen comes to help. She means well, but she suffers from serious priority confusion, which is a charitable way of saying that she’s scattered.
For example, practice collections are down, and accounts receivables are creeping upward. Dr. Mike has asked Ellen to follow-up. She promises to do so right after she is done with this month’s handwritten birthday cards to patients. Yes, you read that correctly. Handwritten cards are very important, asserts Ellen. From her perspective, if you do something nice for the patients, like send them a handwritten note, the freeloaders will be more likely to pay. Not. As you might expect, Ellen’s temperament is such that for her, making collection calls is about the most painful “chore” to do. Add to the fact that she has not been trained on how to effectively make these calls, but that’s another article entirely.
The doctor tries to appreciate her dedication and commitment to practice/patient relations, but he doesn’t hold her accountable. He reasons that if she’s busy doing something, she must be doing it for the good of the practice. He doesn’t like to think about the drain on overhead. The rest of the team have stopped asking questions. They no longer gape in disbelief at what Ellen “gets away with.” They reason that if they want to keep their jobs for now, Dr. Mike’s preferential treatment of Ellen must be tolerated. So they settle into a state of “functional stupidity.”
What is functional stupidity? According to Andre Spicer, a professor of organizational behavior at Cass Business School, City University London, it is when otherwise smart people stop using their intelligence at work. He has co-written a study about the functional stupidity of employees, which was published last fall in the Journal of Management Studies.
On the surface it appears that functional stupidity can be a good thing, after all the study reveals that it can reduce conflict. No one is questioning procedures or decisions. Go along to get along. Don’t make waves. In the case of Ellen, the staff have resigned themselves to navigating around her because the doctor has not and apparently will not address the problems. Why? Look no further than the first sentence of this article. Ellen isn’t just a staff member; she is the first employee he hired. And in Dr. Mike’s eyes, she’s practically family.
For his part, Dr. Mike says he has tried to address the issues with Ellen. In the occasional staff meeting, he brings up his concerns about mistakes, important details lost in the shuffle, problems here and there. Naturally, nothing changes. His comments are usually general in nature, along the lines of “We should be doing this better or that more effectively.”
Beyond the obvious reality check that Dr. Mike desperately needs, as well as clearly defined management systems and staff accountability, I would venture to assert that he also needs a healthy dose of conflict. As you might imagine, the situation with Ellen is merely the tip of the iceberg. But Dr. Mike just wants to keep the peace, so he engages in his own form of functional stupidity and glosses over Ellen’s ineptitude and the negative impact it is having on his practice, his team, and his profitability. But the patients love her, so Ellen is allowed to muddle along making busy work for herself and offering little to no real value to the team or the office as a whole.Next week, beyond the illusion, what’s really happening in Dr. Mike’s office?
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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