Posts Tagged leaders


Guest Author Bob Cooper: The Leader As Talent Scout

Have you ever regretted a hiring decision?

You thought the individual would be a self-starter, but you found yourself having to give constant direction. Perhaps you needed someone with excellent customer service skills, and received complaints about the individual’s attitude and behavior.

One explanation for this dilemma can be found in the book “Now Discover Your Strengths” by Buckingham and Clifton. The authors differentiate between knowledge, skills, and talents. Talents are innate, whereas skills and knowledge can be acquired through learning and practice. You don’t teach someone to be a self-starter, no more than you teach someone to have a talent for empathy. This is why even after providing training on assertiveness skills, or how to provide excellent customer service, we don’t see much improvement or any at all.

I learned this lesson many years ago from a mentor named Bill.  Bill was Vice President of Distribution and an excellent talent scout.  During an off-site management retreat, Bill introduced his new warehouse supervisor. Bill explained that what he needed for this position was someone who has excellent communication skills, is decisive, and assumes accountability. Bill explained that he found the new warehouse supervisor in his health club. He had observed over several months how this individual communicated with others, the respect he was shown, and how he thought about resolving problems. Some of you might be thinking – “He found a manager while working out?”  The point Bill was making is that he knew that he can provide the knowledge and skills required to be a warehouse supervisor, but he needed the talent to lead. I remember the day Bill asked me to move from the position of Quality Circle Facilitator (a staff position) to Customer Service Manager (with 30 direct reports). I said “Bill, I don’t know this operation, and I have never held a management position – why did you select me?” He looked me in the eye and said “Bob, people believe in you, and will follow you. You will learn the departmental functions, I can’t teach what you have.”

The point in sharing these stories from Bill is this – you must think about your hiring and promotional decisions very carefully. If you focus primarily on knowledge and skills which can be taught, and overlook an individuals talent, you can find yourself regretting the decision.

How do you find talent?

One strategy is to use behavioral-based interviews to assess whether or not this person has the talent you need. For example, if you require someone who is decisive, you might tailor your questions toward asking the candidate to discuss difficult decisions they had to make, and how they went about it. You might need to follow-up by asking for specifics.  If empathy is an important talent, you might ask the individual to describe specific situations where a customer was very upset, and how they handled the situation. Pay close attention to how they describe the situation, and whether you get a sense that they fully connect with the importance of empathy. Although this is not an exact science, it puts the focus of your interview on the most important area – talent. We often make the mistake of looking at a resume and being overly impressed with the individual’s accomplishments. The real question is – how did they go about getting the job done? Are they consensus builders? Do they build strong teams? How did they overcome obstacles? Did they develop a successor? With an internal candidate, don’t make the mistake of promoting someone who has good technical skills and poor interpersonal skills, with the hope that they will learn to deal more effectively with others. Identify the talents needed for the role, and determine if this individual “owns” this or not. Don’t try to train them to be strategic, or nice, or anything else. They are who they are, and that’s OK. Select individuals who demonstrate on an ongoing basis the talents needed for success.

You might not find your next manager in a health club, but leaders should always pay attention to an individual’s talents.

Our role as leaders is to build on people’s strengths, not placing too much attention on improving weaknesses. Place individuals in jobs that allow them to leverage their strengths. If someone loves dealing with customers, and has a natural ability to do so, don’t put them in the back office. If someone doesn’t deal well with others, don’t force them into a position where they need to build consensus, and then be disappointed when it doesn’t happen.

I encourage you to use peer-interviewing as a strategy to find a good fit for a position. The person being hired will need to work well with colleagues, so why not engage the colleagues in the selection process. Teach your staff to also be talent scouts.

An organization is only as good as its people. Being a good talent scout is a competitive advantage. You build customer and staff loyalty, reduce turnover and the associated recruitment expenses, and build a winning team for the future.

Always be on the look out for talent, it’s always around you.

For a complete listing of our services, please visit us at

Bob Cooper
RL Cooper Associates
(845) 639-1741
Innovations in Organizational Management

Posted in: Leadership

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The Best of Manage My Practice – November, 2011 Edition

In between polishing off leftover turkey and stuffing, we’re looking back over some of our most popular posts from the month in case you might’ve missed them the first go round. Thankfully Presenting, The Best of Manage My Practice, November 2011!

We’ve started this monthly wrap-up to make sure you don’t miss any of the great stuff we post throughout the month on Manage My Practice, but we also want to hear from you! What were your favorite posts and discussions this month? Did we skip over your favorite from November? Let us know in the comments!

Posted in: A Career in Practice Management, General, Leadership

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Change in the Group Medical Practice: Customers, Consequences, Control, and Culture

James Smith, MBA

James Smith, MBA

Note from Mary Pat: Please welcome my guest columnist Jim Smith, MBA who has written on the subject of change.  His original article was written about the Washington State Department of Transportation, but he has been kind enough to let me change WSDOT to ABC Medical Practice, a very large and fictitious medical practice that resembles almost every practice you and I know.

Over the past twenty years many changes have been made at the ABC Medical Practice. Almost always they were changes which improved employee production and modified the then current way of doing things. I have noticed the staff employed at the practice are only interested in doing things the “way we have always done it.”  My point is this; people are not creatures of change, do not like change, will not suggest change, and when confronted with change quite often reject change.

Reinventing healthcare and group medical practice is a mammoth task, much larger than any change efforts at a big corporation. The ABC Medical Practice has many employees and dozens of departments. How do you begin to change something so large and bureaucratic?

To begin with, you have to recognize that you’re dealing not with one large organization but with lots and lots of individual bureaucracies, each of which has its own concerns and needs. Each unit must move through the change process in its own particular way. Every department is going to have to approach change on several different levels. The first step in any change””and it doesn’t matter if you’re running a division of GM or Kiser Permanente ””is to begin to ask the basic questions: What business are we in? What’s our mission? Who are the customers we’re aiming to serve? You must answer those questions carefully.

Then, if you’re truly going to understand the most important problems and begin to look for answers, the second step is to draw on the experience of people from all organizational levels. How do the services you provide look to employees in the field? How does it feel to be a customer of your company?

In healthcare, the answers aren’t necessarily the same as those in business.  Who are the customers of the ABC Medical Practice?  Patients?  Referrers?  Payers?  The federal government?  The state government?  The owners?  Those questions””and their answers””are important, but they aren’t obvious. After you have defined your mission and your customers and then learned what those customers want, you need to articulate a vision of change and sell that vision to every employee.

Look at change from four thematic perspectives: customers, consequences, control, and culture. First, you need to revamp the relationship between your organization and its customers. You have to ask customers what they want and then restructure your organization to deliver it. Second, you need to create consequences for what people and organizations do. In business, if employees can’t deliver what they were hired to deliver, they leave or are fired. If the business can’t make money and keep customers happy, it doesn’t survive.  Somehow, managers have to create a feeling that what people do day-to-day to advance the mission of their practice really is important. And healthcare leaders have to create performance measures, budgets and other systems that reward success and force weak performers to improve.  Healthcare workers are no different than other employees; they want to see their efforts matter and their progress measured.

Third, you need to look at who has control. In healthcare, control is vested at the top much more than in almost any business. If you want an organization to become more entrepreneurial and alert to customers, you must give a lot more control to the people on the front lines who deal with customers and deliver the services. That’s as true of healthcare as it is of business.

Finally, you need to ensure that the culture of the medical practice supports the work that people need to do to deliver value to the customer. In the workplace, long-standing cultures have taught people to keep their heads down, stay out of trouble, and, unfortunately, they have accomplished little. The key is to craft a different kind of culture.

Conversations about the vision of the future and your mission have to start at the very top. The doctors have to get out there and talk about that vision again and again. The leaders must do the same, but they need to be more detailed-oriented and talk about specific goals. And so on down to every level.

A crisis helps enormously. Companies like Harley-Davidson and Ford have used crises in a similar manner. If you don’t have an obvious crisis, sometimes you have to try to manufacture one or at least create an overwhelming sense of urgency. You can say, “This is the level of performance we need to attain, and we’re doing a miserable job.” You can talk in quantitative terms about where you are and where you want to be and involve everybody in choosing the strategies to get there. And then, when you reach the point where you hit your goals, you shouldn’t be shy about trumpeting it. Successful results can protect you from the internal and external opposition you’re almost certain to run into.

Until now, change in healthcare has been an either-or proposition: either quickly create economic value for owners or patiently develop an open, trusting corporate culture long term. But new research indicates that combining these “hard” and “soft” approaches can radically transform the way businesses change.

The new economy has ushered in great business opportunities””and great turmoil. Not since the Industrial Revolution have the stakes of dealing with change been so high. Most traditional organizations have accepted, in theory at least, that they must either change or die. And even Internet companies such as eBay,, and America Online recognize that they need to manage the changes associated with rapid entrepreneurial growth. Despite some individual successes, however, change remains difficult to pull off, and few companies manage the process as well as they would like. Most of their initiatives installing new technology, downsizing, restructuring, or trying to change corporate culture has had low success rates. The brutal fact is that about 70% of all change initiatives fail.

In our experience, the reason for most of those failures is that in their rush to change their organizations, managers end up immersing themselves in an alphabet soup of initiatives. They lose focus and become mesmerized by all the advice available in print and on-line about why companies should change, what they should try to accomplish, and how they should do it. This proliferation of recommendations often leads to muddle when change is attempted. The result is that most change efforts exert a heavy toll, both human and economic. To improve the odds of success, and to reduce the human carnage, it is imperative that executives understand the nature and process of corporate change much better. But even that is not enough. Leaders need to crack the code of change.

To Recap:

  • Each medical organization is made up of official and unofficial departments and each department will have its individual perspective, needs and culture.Who is your customer? (Examine this carefully – you might be surprised.)
  • Are there any consequences for not being willing to change? Is the culture really going to change, or is it just a lot of talk?
  • Are those in control the ones talking about the vision?  If the doctors own the practice and they don’t truly believe in the change, neither will the staff.
  • Is there a crisis?  If you are in healthcare, whether you believe it or not, there is a crisis.
  • Don’t overwhelm the practice with initiatives, unless they are important and not just the flavor-of-the-month.
  • Celebrate successes!

Posted in: Leadership

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