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Management Advice From the 2019 Gallup Manager of the Year

Management Advice From the 2019 Gallup Manager of the Year

by Ryan Pendell and Jessica White

Story Highlights

  • Lead by example
  • Be there when employees stumble
  • Consistently challenge your best workers

What makes a great manager? It might not be what you think.

Managers who lead highly engaged teams listen to their employees, support them and explain how their performance connects to organizational success.

Rather than always having great answers, they focus on asking great questions and adapt their approach to the unique personality of each employee. They respect and celebrate the unique contribution of each person. From onboarding to exit, and everything in between, managers are pivotal for employee success or failure.

Last summer we sat down with 2019 Gallup Manager of the Year Pat Kern of Mary Lanning Healthcare to see what it takes to manage a highly engaged team in the healthcare industry. We asked him how he approaches the stages of the employee life cycle. Here's what we learned:

Q: When you're trying to figure out who you want to be on your team, who's going to be successful in a role, what do you focus on most?

A: I take a strong look at an applicant's relationship building skills. We are in a hospital setting, so it is very important that staff can relate to other medical disciplines as well as a wide variety of patient personalities. We utilize Gallup screening tools in our hiring process, which has been very helpful in selecting candidates.

As it turns out, many of my staff rank high in the strengths of Empathy and Harmony as well as Responsibility and [Developer], so they are good at quickly building relationships and taking action to develop a discharge plan. It can be a demanding job, so I really look for people with a strong desire to help others.

Q: When you hire on new people, what do you try to emphasize in the first few months?

A: To really understand what our mission is here. For us, it's developing relationships with patients and families and creating a safe discharge plan from the hospital. I need them to see how they fit into the overall hospital structure, because hospitals are complex places. There's a lot of moving parts and people involved.

Also, I think it's important to look at the team aspect. We aren't Lone Rangers out here. We all depend on other departments and disciplines to provide the best care. It's important we work as a team.

That first month is more job shadowing, but I also like them to work with different people on the team because everyone has a different work style. It's important for new people to find their own unique style. There's not always one right way to do things. They've got to find their own groove, I think.

Q: One reason you were nominated for the Manager of the Year Award was that your team has exceptionally high employee engagement. What does engagement feel like to you? What do you think the secret to engagement is?

A: Everybody has to have a clear purpose: Why we are here, what is our job, how we fit into the whole structure.

I think the manager's job is to model the behavior you want your employees to follow. I've always been a working manager. I take a caseload to see patients every day. And I think that's important because I'm with them on the floor, I see the issues. I don't sit in the office all day. I think staff appreciate that.

I also don't ask people to do what I wouldn't do. I go to the ER referrals, I work my weekend shifts and holidays. The message is that we are all in this together. I'm not different from you guys. We're all doing the same thing here, and we are here for the same purpose.

Q: One challenge managers face is how to have effective performance conversations. If you see an employee who's struggling with meeting expectations, how do you deal with situations like that?

A: You have to face those issues right away. I once had a new employee, and I sensed things weren't going well. I asked her into my office to chat, and I said, "You don't seem happy here at all."

It was a difficult conversation to start, but it turned out really well.

There were a lot of home and personal things going on. She didn't realize the vibes she was giving off in the office. It turned out to be a good conversation and a reality check. It's difficult, but you have to do it as soon as possible. You want to get those issues out in the open sooner rather than later.

Q: One of the biggest trends in today's workforce is the desire for learning and career growth opportunities. How do you think about developing people in the midst of a very busy work environment?

A: It's important to take advantage of any learning opportunities that come up. It's really key. I prefer that people don't specialize in one particular unit or duty. I like to have staff cross-trained in a number of different roles. From a practical standpoint, that helps for coverage issues, but more importantly, it gives people a wider perspective so they can see how everyone's job fits into the bigger picture.

One way to develop people is to have them learn new specialties. If someone has an interest in hospice social work for instance, I want to allow that person to learn that. If they have an interest in a particular area, I really want to foster that.

I also encourage our staff to job shadow with other departments in the hospital. It helps them realize and understand the issues that other departments face, which they may not have been aware of.

Q: Keeping great people is hard in any industry. When you find someone who is really talented, what do you do to keep them in your organization?

A: You always want to keep challenging those people with new responsibilities. I like to get them involved in different areas. The challenge is to find an employee's strengths and to develop their job around what they do best.

We have gone to a strengths-based performance evaluation, and it has been enlightening to sit down with staff and talk about how they could best utilize their strengths at work. Some people would like to do more training and public speaking, while others like data collection or committee work. I find that most staff members are willing to take on more responsibility especially if it relates to their strengths.

Burnout is a big concern of mine.

We've got big issues -- death and dying, homelessness, drug abuse. When you deal with that every day, it can be wearing. It is important to show my support and have staff feel that they have an outlet to talk about these issues.

I am fortunate to have many tenured staff, so they are also able to work with newer staff to help process these issues. If staff have a problem with a particular situation, they can come back to the office and three or four of us can brainstorm ideas. That helps the burnout.

Q: Sometimes, as a manager, you have to let people go. When someone is heading down that track, what's your thought process?

A: I ask, "Are they really a fit for this job and this department?" I always try to get some outside opinions, not just my observation. I ask some of the nursing staff or other managers and put together the puzzle pieces.

I always try to have those conversations beforehand, too, if someone isn't happy.

You have to be continually open in communication about what the expectations are and if they are meeting it. It shouldn't be a surprise, and it should be a process -- not a one-time event.

You have to ask if the employee has clear expectations of the job duties and also if they have the right tools to meet them. Again, do their strengths match up with the job description? If not, it may be best to look for another position that does.

Q: If you had a first-time manager come to you, and you had just a few minutes to give them your best advice, what would you tell them to set them up for success?

A: This sounds corny, but I think about the Golden Rule a lot: Treat people like you would want to be treated.

Just because you're a manager doesn't give you the authority to treat people badly or berate them or make them feel bad. Keep that in mind. How would you like to be managed? What kind of department would you like to work in?

A manager needs to model the behavior that they want from their employees. It's about your demeanor, your moods and your actions. Are they consistent with how you want your employees to act?

People need to feel like they have your support and your backing -- that's one of the keys. I hope my employees would say, "I feel confident because if I get into trouble, I know Pat is going to be there to help me figure out what's going on." I give people the independence to go out and take on a case without my interfering. But they know in the background they can count on me to help them out.

I also would tell new managers not to worry about having all the answers because you never will. I have been in the field over 30 years, and everyday something new comes up. I think it is more important to utilize the expertise of your team members and brainstorm for solutions together. Trust your team and their experience.

About the Gallup Manager of the Year Award

Extraordinary managers are the foundation for an exceptional workplace. To recognize their key role, we ask each organization that applies for the Gallup Exceptional Workplace Award to nominate one manager who consistently affects the overall employee experience and achieves high performance levels, high employee retention, and consistent engagement scores from their team.

Shooting in the dark? Start hitting your engagement goals with Gallup:


Ryan Pendell is a Senior Workplace Science Editor at Gallup.

Jessica White is a Practice Knowledge Manager with Gallup.

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