The discussions about physician behavioral competencies have evolved over the past few years. Five years ago, the idea that behavioral competencies (emotional intelligence, collaboration, negotiation skills, leadership skills, relationship skills, etc.) were important for physicians was an intriguing idea. Three years ago, organizations started exploring HOW these competencies were important – how do they impact organizational dynamics, the patient experience, or even patient outcomes?
Today, there is a growing consensus – even among physicians – that, just as they do in other professions, these skills have a substantive impact on a physician’s ability to succeed. Today’s care delivery models require the ability to process data, communicate, and collaborate. The need for change means that physicians must be leaders and team players in the effort to create these new care delivery models, which require new levels of adaptability, innovation, negotiation, and business acumen. Simply being a good clinician is no longer enough. Although, it could be argued that these skills contribute to being a good clinician!
More importantly, there is a consensus that we can – and should – apply proven talent management concepts and tools to physicians. It makes sense. If these skills are prerequisites for success, how do we analyze and develop them? The basic concepts are no different than for other professions.
The difference is in the context in the unique role of the physician and how we traditionally think about physicians and how they think about themselves. You CANNOT apply the same basic talent management concepts to physicians as you would a nurse. It wouldn’t work and wouldn’t make sense. You can’t interview a physician the same way you would a nurse. The growing provider shortage and the nature of the physician’s role means the physician hiring process will always be unique. Similarly, every physician comes to the treatment team in a leadership role with little to no actual leadership training or experience – physician leadership training needs to be structured and presented effectively.
A few examples:
The Physician Interview.
You can incorporate basic structured behavioral interviewing questions similar to what you do with executives. The questions, though, need to be structured such that they can flow in a comfortable physician-to-physician dialogue. In addition, know that most physicians are NOT good interviewers. They make all of the classic interviewing errors. A short interviewing training session can go a long way.
More organizations are taking advantage of tools that help you to understand (and help the physician to understand) his or her behavioral strengths and weaknesses. These tools, however, need to be built specifically for physicians and presented in a positive manner. We’ve found that physicians are happy to have the feedback if it’s presented appropriately. Similarly, more organizations are taking advantage of 360 degree assessments for physicians. We use these tools with executives. Why not physicians?
Physician leadership training and coaching.
Most physicians are looking for tools that will help them be more effective leaders – especially as what it means to be a physician leader continues to change. If these resources are efficient, effective, and practical, physicians see the value.
One client’s story:
A fourteen-hospital system has a 500-provider medical group. The group’s leaders recognized that in order to maintain the culture they value, they’d need to hire physicians with a certain approach and with goals that align with the group’s, but they had no idea how to make this happen.
Step 2 was to build these competencies into the hiring process. The physician recruiters are looking for certain attributes, and the interview is now built around a short physician interview guide using physician-specific interview questions that are structured like an executive interview would be. Physician leaders have had training in the basics of behavioral interviewing.
Step 3 was to incorporate a short, physician-specific behavioral assessment for the candidate to take before the onsite interview. It is presented to the candidate as part of the process that lets the organization understand candidate’s work style so they can be positioned for success. The assessment report goes to the interviewers who are able to see areas that the candidate may struggle with, for instance, adaptability or collaboration. The interviewers can focus on these areas when the candidate is onsite. Candidates have responded well to this process. Only a few have expressed dissatisfaction with being forced to take the assessment. When they have two candidates to choose from, this process yields invaluable information. When they only have one, they still know what to focus on and can position the new physician for success or at least have realistic expectations.
Step 4 is currently under way and includes onboarding and ongoing development focused on these very behavioral skills.
Has it worked? Two situations demonstrate the value:
The system is bringing pediatric neurosurgery in-house after years of using a contracted service. There was concern that the new employed surgeon would need to be able to quickly establish credibility, relationships, and take a leadership role. Emotional intelligence would be critical. The process allowed them to identify the candidate (out of 2) most likely to succeed. The new surgeon’s on-the-job performance and leadership skills have been consistent with what was predicted.
In another situation, a specific family practice location had struggled to find a physician who would stay and could make the location successful. The new selection process targeted specific attributes that could change the culture of the team at that location. Leadership potential, an interest in building something, adaptability, patience, and the ability to coach others and think about the success of the clinic as a whole would be critical. The selection process helped the leadership team pick the right primary care physician and she has thrived. She’ll likely end up being a leader in the organization.
Administrators and physician leaders now realize that they can’t leave these selection decisions to chance. No, they aren’t sifting through dozens of candidates for each position – that’s not how these concepts and tools are being used. They are, however, making important decisions that affect patients, organizational success, and physician career success, and now doing it with a more objective, consistent, and effective approach.
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