By Daniel Shifrin, R.P., M.S.
In 2003, ABC came up with a game show called, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” It was a simple concept; answer 15 multiple choice questions on a wide array of topics, with each correct answer bringing the contestant closer and closer to one million dollars.
Each contestant had three chances for help, or “lifelines” as they called it: 1) Ask the audience, where they would poll the studio audience, 2) 50/50, where they would eliminate two incorrect answers, and 3) Phone a friend, where they would call a contestant’s friend for their input.
A contestant could stop along the way and take whatever monies they achieved or they could continue. However, if the contestant missed one question, they would revert back to the lowest plateau dollar amount. Then, the game would be over.
So what made the show successful? The host. Regis Philbin. Regis was the host of a morning show called “Live with Regis and Kelly/ Kathy Lee”. He had a fun sense of humor and had a gift for engaging even the most boring contestant in a lively banter. The game was secondary. People would tune in to watch Regis. Regis made the show.
My Pharmacy staff was obsessed with the show. Actually, all of America was. It was a phenomenon! ABC would broadcast the show every night. If anyone of my Pharmacy staff missed the actual broadcast that night, they’d be sure to DVR and watch it later. We’d tape the show so we could watch it if we missed it. Because the very next day, everyone was talking about the contestants or the questions from the previous night’s show.
I remember the impact the show made at work. As I said, everyone was talking about it. I was sitting in my office and a pharmacy technician came in and told me they were going to lunch with another pharmacy technician.
“But you hate that person,” I said.
“Yes,” they replied, “ but they watched Millionaire last night and we’re going to talk about the show.” It had that much effect on people.
I always felt that it was essential to make my Pharmacy staff feel like millionaires. To accomplish this, I needed to motivate my staff. By focusing on what would benefit the Pharmacy , I motivated my Pharmacy staff to arrive at this endpoint. These are the methods which I used.
1. Performing visible management
I’ve always felt that a good manager cannot manage people from their office. As a manager, my days were filled with many tasks and things I needed to accomplish. I had many reports and phone calls which needed to be done. But managing my staff was a priority. I had to get out amongst the staff in order to manage them.
My secretary bought me a “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” calendar. Each date had a question followed by four possible answers.
I used the calendar’s questions as I made daily rounds throughout the department. Not only did I ask the daily question, but I spoke with my staff members as well. I listened to their concerns and even discovered things that were happening in my own department.
The calendar’s questions allowed me to play a visible part in managing my staff. It allowed me to make daily rounds and speak to my Pharmacy staff.
2. Managing using unusual resources
One day, I asked a staff member if they wanted anything from the cafeteria. They replied that they just wanted a cup of ice water. Then another staff member said that they’d have ice water too. Then another person, then another. Soon I was bringing back 10-12 cups of ice water. On a daily basis, I passed out cups of ice water to my staff.
I could have purchased a water cooler. It would have dispensed cold water from a large, attached bottle.. This way, my staff would have access to the cooler and I wouldn’t have to bring cups of water in from the cafeteria.
But bringing in the cups of water served the same purpose as the calendar’s questions. The cups of water allowed me to interact with my staff on a daily basis. It gave me the chance to walk around, talk to everyone, and and see what was happening in the Pharmacy. I did it every day.
Many people thought there was no purpose to it. They thought it would be easier to buy a water cooler, and have the staff get their own water. But they were wrong. It created a great vehicle to get around the department and manage my staff.
3. Implementing Snow Emergency Plans
I knew what my hospital’s snow plan was. Everything fell on the individual who happened to be the Administrator-on-call (AOC) that week. The AOC had a plethora of tasks to achieve. They couldn’t possibly give the proper attention to any individual department. Therefore, each department was on their own.
It’s almost like the scene in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” when Mr. Potter meets with George Bailey. Mr. Potter tells George Bailey that when the banks went under that George saved the Building and Loan, while he (Mr. Potter) saved the rest of the town.
This became my snow plan. I’d save the Pharmacy, while the AOC could (try to) save the rest of the hospital. My snow plan consisted of three rules.
A) Taking charge
As I stated previously, it was my job to save the Pharmacy. At the earliest sign of snow, I needed to be in the Pharmacy in order to put my snow plan into effect.
I did not work weekends, nor did I work evenings and nights. However, since I was implementing procedures, I needed to maintain a visible presence in the department. This meant working weekends, evenings, and nights was required. I also needed to sleep over until my snow plan was no longer in effect.
B) Maximizing staffing levels
Most snow storms started out with a few inches of snow on the ground. However, it only got worse. Snow storms generally got more intense as the day wore on. The storm continued into the evening hours and throughout the night. It was not unusual to have 10-20 (or more) inches of snow on the ground by morning.
As the snow storm intensified, it became more difficult for the next shifts to come in to work. I probably had enough staff at first, but my next shift, my overnight shift, and the following day’s shift would be seriously depleted. What’s more, once the existing shift of staff members left, chances are they wouldn’t make it back the next day. My goal was to ensure a sufficient staff to run the Pharmacy over the next several shifts.
Since it was a snow emergency, I was generous when it come to paying overtime. My plan was simple. If you worked, you were paid, regardless of your usual shift. If you slept, took time to eat, or were on an extended break, my staff was not paid.
I called the evening shift to come in early. I called the night shift to come in early as well. I provided pillows, blankets, and beds to all staff members to sleep over. In addition, many staff members brought their own sleeping bags and a change of clothes. I also provided food.
C) Ensuring proper food supply
Most employee cafeterias are normally opened for limited hours. The employee cafeteria in my hospital was opened for a few hours at breakfast, a few hours at lunch, and a few hours at supper. However, between these hours and at night, my staff members did not have access to food unless they brought their own.
It can be very unfair to expect my staff members to come in early, have them work extra shifts, and not provide them with food. To entice my staff members to come in and work, I purchased donuts, cakes, treats, sandwiches, salads, and beverages. There was enough food all throughout the entire snow emergency. This way my staff members could easily eat at 2am or 2pm.
4. Remembering all staff members
I’ve seen this happen in my hospital. Around the holiday season, there was a special holiday menu. To thank the hospital’s employees, various hospital managers served the food. The managers served both lunch and dinner to provide the holiday meal for the day and evening staffs.
I worked as a Pharmacy Manager for several years. Except for my last two years, nothing was ever done for the night staff. Furthermore, it wasn’t only my night staff, but every night staff member in the hospital. We were a 24/7/365 hospital who forgot one-third of its employees.
I decided to do something about this. During a hospital bake sale, I purchased an entire cake. I put in a box along with plates, napkins and utensils. I labeled the box “Night Pharmacy Staff” and placed it in the safe. My night staff enjoyed the cake.
I continued this practice many times throughout the year. I provided my night staff with food, sales rep’s pens and goodies, and hospital buttons and materials. My night staff appreciated this gesture and were glad that they were not forgotten.
5. Empowering pharmacy staff members
Empowering means granting an individual or group of people the opportunity to take more control. Empowerment allows my staff to determine a process and own the results. Generally, I’ve always tried to empower my staff. I try to allow them to implement their own ideas rather than telling them what to do.
A) Empowering used correctly
I met with a head nurse from one of the patient units. She wanted the Pharmacy to change our cart delivery procedure. Under her proposal, it would benefit the nurses. However, from a Pharmacy viewpoint, it would cause a time delay which would interfere with our medication distribution process.
Neither the head nurse, nor I would budge from our point of view. However, I did have a solution. I suggested that we empower our staffs.
We would organize an empowerment session. The head nurse and I would present the parameters of the problem to the pharmacy technicians and nurses. Then an independent leader would “guide” the staff members toward a solution. Any reasonable solution would be implemented. What’s more the staff members would own the solution. It could become an official policy. It could be tweaked. It could be scrapped completely. But any action taken would be decided by the staffs.
B) Empowering used incorrectly
A vice-president wished to implement a new program in my department. The vice-president asked for suggestions. My colleagues and I spent several hours analyzing the process. We developed good, sound procedures and even devised rules to address any unforeseen issues. My vice-president seemed very appreciative.
When the program was ready to be rolled out, my colleagues and I noticed that none of our procedures, rules, or suggestions were being considered. When questioned, our vice-president stated that he felt that his procedures were better.
My colleagues and I were not happy. However, we had no choice but to implement the program using the procedures that he established.
Several months later, the vice-president wanted help with another new program. He asked for suggestions.
My colleagues and I remembered the time we spent creating the first program. We remembered the procedures and rules we devised. We remembered how the vice-president ignored our efforts. We remembered how the vice-president implemented the project the way that he wanted it done.
We remembered all these things. The vice-president did not want to empower us. He did not want any of our input for the program that he had to implement . He only wanted to do it his way. We did not provide any suggestions.
6. Being nice
I had an unusual management style. Human Resources once told me that I was “too nice”. I had to be tougher with my staff. I totally disagreed.
I’ve seen many managers yell and scream at their staff. These managers belittle their staff members. The managers think that the staff’s fear of losing their job will motivate them to work harder. It doesn’t work that way.
I take pride in my staff. I need them. Why create an atmosphere of unrest? I need them to be at their best in order to complete their daily tasks. I also need them for future projects.
There’s nothing wrong with being nice. By treating staff members with respect and dignity, I can raise retention, improve productivity, and increase morale. I’ve always tried to make my staff feel like millionaires.
Daniel Shifrin, R.P., M.S. is a recently retired pharmacist who enjoys sharing his insights about hospital pharmacy. He is proud to own one of the largest collections of Pharmacy Stamp First Day Covers.