Guerra On Healthcare: Keys To Managing Your Medical IT Staff

With an acute health IT workforce shortage, make sure employees have the opportunity to do their best work.
The best managers know that relentlessly pushing for more from employees doesn't work. The best strategy is to create an environment where people can thrive and realize their full potential.

The 1950's image of a factory foreman admonishing cowering workers to increase widget production is long dead and buried. Unfortunately, not every manager is enlightened, and some actually think their job is to bully, hector and dictate rather than inspire, support and defend.

When the market is flush with talent, managers can get away with bad behavior. But in today's healthcare IT market, only the best managers will be able to retain key people.

Great managers develop a team-centric workplace where employees are motivated to carry their share of the load. This works infinitely better than relying on pre-firing "performance improvement plans" or some other HR-generated nonsense.

Maintaining employee engagement and goodwill is also about letting individuals focus where they're most talented. Sometimes this is a process of trial and error, as managers assign different tasks to see which are taken up with the most enthusiasm. Frustration results when managers try to force a square peg into a round hole.

In hospitals, where the organization's mission often motivates employees as much as a paycheck, fostering a positive environment is doubly critical. Even among those somewhat removed from patient care, such as the IT team, focusing on end users--doctors, nurses and patients--is key to bringing out the best in everyone.

I've continually heard how important it is for CIOs to walk the hospital floor so they can get a better sense of how technology is actually being used (or not used). Why walk alone? Bring the IT team along for a clinical stroll. It's an eye opener for many and reinforces the importance of the organization's mission. Such a hands-on approach also shows employees that managers care about their development, and that they're engaged and feel appreciated--the number one key to happy workers.

And happy workers are more productive. Every employee has ability to perform within a certain range. Great managers are able to elicit work at the top of that range, while those who push the hardest produce the poorest results. With today's fast-deepening HIT worker shortage, managers must find creative ways to keep people and move them to the higher end of their personal scale.

Comparing one worker to another is no way to improve the laggard. Each individual must be evaluated against his or her own potential. Worker A may never be able to produce at the level of worker B, but that isn't the issue. Great managers get worker A to function as close to his or her maximum potential as possible, regardless of how far below B's proficiency that might fall.

Remember, the failure of an employee to achieve success rests with both the employee and the organization. Today, healthcare IT shops can't indulge in a rush to divorce.

Anthony Guerra is the founder and editor of, a site dedicated to serving the strategic information needs of healthcare CIOs. He can be reached at [email protected]

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