Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I’m saddened, but not surprised, by recent news of severe cuts in staff at the medical practice where I once worked. My rule of thumb has been not to talk about work to friends I still see that I made during my tenure as Director of Human Resources there. I’ve been retired now for five years.

Today I break that rule.

I worked for eight years to help that practice become the “best”. One of the reasons I chose to leave was because my definition varied from others in management. Basically, my belief was simply that we became the best by making the practice better: better staff, better services, better everything possible, focusing on quality of patient care. Others felt becoming best meant growing bigger. My theory of embracing competition and not worrying about younger doctors moving in because being the best would always mean maintaining patients was frowned upon, jeered at, considered old-fashioned and harmful to the practice. The “right” way of thinking, I was informed, was to gobble up other practices and become one giant conglomerate of services so there would only be one place for people to go.

And so buildings were built or acquired. Staff was added. I interviewed until I could no longer tell one candidate from another, could no longer remember who had been hired for what position. That was not why I had wanted to work in Human Resources. I’d wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. I’d wanted to help people learn to make differences in other people’s lives, specifically help this staff learn to provide topnotch services to patients as a coherent team. How could I do that when I couldn’t even keep up with the number of staff needed to service the growing number of doctors and clinicians and technicians and administrative staff needed to keep this huge machine operating? Oh yeah, they did finally provide me with an assistant….and she was absolutely marvelous, kept me sane and did the work of eight people…..but every day I realized I was fighting a battle that was going against my grain. I wasn’t making anything better. I was a glorified recruiter. There was no time for staff development -- my forte. There was no real interest for it, either. Staff was just the cogs that made the wheels turn. It had become a factory. That was what really turned me away. To me staff was the bread and butter, the individuals who became the heart of a practice, who connected with each patient and brought something special to that practice.

This practice is laying off staff now…..and not staff that can’t perform their jobs. What is worse, and makes my stomach turn, is that they are demoting staff, too. Staff who have given their all and performed well are being asked to take pay cuts and do jobs they used to do plus those of the ones that have been let go. I know, they should be grateful they still have jobs. I’d be saying that too, if I didn’t know some of the choices that have been made in past years that led them to this path.

My message? It’s simple. In all walks of life, it’s always quality that’s better than quantity. I’ll take one pair of green Chuck Taylor high-top sneakers that never make my feet hurt and that I wear almost every day over a closet full of fashionable shoes any day.

We can find the best, keep the best, maintain the best. In business and in our personal lives. It’s not that difficult. It comes down to making better choices, to remembering that every choice has a ripple effect and considering how hard that ripple might be lapping back at us in ten minutes, ten months or ten years.

I’m reminded of the words of one of my mentors, a physician who passed away a few years ago. He was once associated with the medical practice now forced to lay off staff. He would often remind his partners, “It’s not about the Bentley parked in the driveway.” I can almost hear him sobbing today.

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