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A discussion of planning practices during a management development class was teetering on the brink of becoming a gripe session when a first-line manager exclaimed in frustration, "How can I possibly set goals for my department when there's never enough staff, there are chronic shortages of the most-needed skills, and there's never enough budget to carry out our plans? What am I supposed to do-keep planning anyway?
As heads nodded and grumbles of assent rippled about the room, a manager of many years' experience said, "Maybe you should set goals with your department, not for your department."
Another person added, "Of course you're supposed to keep planning anyway. If you think things are a mess with a little planning, you should try to get along with no planning at all."
Unfortunately, too many managers find themselves getting along with no planning at all. This age-old, go-with-the-flow approach to management has been with us since time immemorial, giving us terms such as crisis management, fire-fighting management, and such. The manager who is always in a reactive mode, always shifting his or her attention to the trouble spot of the moment, is in fact "in charge" of nothing.
The manager has a choice. He or she can consciously choose to control the job or can, by default, choose to be controlled by the job.
It may often seem as though the first-line manager, occupying that critical organizational layer between middle management and the organization's nonmanagerial employees, is in a position of exercising little if any control. It is all too easy to succumb to the pressures coming from both above and below and, at any given moment, rush toward the brightest burning fire or the most loudly squeaking wheel. That is, in the absence of a conscious effort to the contrary, it is all too easy to allow ourselves to be controlled by our jobs.
The way to gain control of the first-line management job is found in small, modest changes in work habits and practices. It is found not in ponderous planning calendars and formal time-management routines; rather, it is found in the manager's determination to focus on doing right things right the first time, and it is found in the manager's determination to always differentiate between what is immediately important and what is not.
An old-fashioned approach to job planning that has been around for many years remains highly appropriate. That is:
* At the end of today, jot down the 3 or 4 most important tasks you have facing you.
* Put these tasks in strict priority order.
* Tomorrow when you begin work, start on the highest-priority task and stay with it until it is finished. It you are pulled off for reasons beyond your control (your boss's demands, a true crisis, whatever), as soon as the distracting force goes away get back on your highest-priority task.
* Only when your top priority task is totally under control should you go on to the next most important task.
* At the end of every day, make a new list of the most important tasks facing you, and establish a new priority order.
With a modest approach to personal planning such as this, you will not revolutionize management. You may not even feel as though you are making much of a dent in the total pile of work facing you. You can, however, be assured of one extremely important fact: Working this way, you will know that at any given time you are addressing the most important task in the pile. This can represent a giant step toward taking control of the job.
This issue of The Health Care Manager (31:3, July-September 2012) offers the following for the reader's consideration:
* "Diagnosing and Improving Functioning in Interdisciplinary Health Care Teams" provides meaningful criteria for analyzing interdisciplinary team functioning based on features and characteristics of successful teams and provides strategies that can be used in improving team functioning.
* "Staff Expectations on Implementing New Electronic Applications in a Changing Organization" reports on a study undertaken to assess staff expectations before the implementation of new electronic applications in an organization experiencing significant ongoing change.
* "Guidelines for Conducting Bulletproof Workplace Investigations: Part II-Searches, Surveillance, and Other Legal Issues" is the concluding portion of a 2-part treatment addressing how to minimize the chances of legal difficulties when conducting workplace investigations. This part addresses privacy and other legal issues surrounding the use of various kinds of electronic surveillance.
* The Case in Health Care Management, "Delayed Change of Command," asks the reader to consider the possible effects on and within a department when the group's manager departs and the group is allowed to pass a number of months without designated permanent leadership.
* "The Effects of National Health Care Reform on Local Businesses-Part III: Secondary Research Questions-Discoveries and Implications" is the final installment of a 3-part report addressing a comprehensive study of the potential effects of national health care reform on businesses, suggesting that the business community could benefit from the legislation in the early years but could be adversely affected in subsequent years. This part addresses secondary questions and issues that emerged during the study.
* "How Nursing Managers Respond to Intraprofessional Aggression: Novel Strategies to an Ongoing Challenge" reports the results of a study involving a series on semistructured interviews conducted to improve understanding of how nurse managers respond to intraprofessional and interprofessional workplace aggression.
* "Electronic Health Records: Postadoption Physician Satisfaction and Continued Use" reports on an investigation into the effects of known antecedents of the adoption of technology on physician satisfaction with electronic health record technology and the continued use of such systems.
* In describing how a transformational and practice-based framework can be used to guide the improvement of pressure-ulcer quality-care outcomes, "A Nurse-Led Interdisciplinary Leadership Approach Targeting Pressure Ulcer Prevention in Long-term Care" also provides a working approach that can be successfully applied to numerous other kinds of problems addressed by health care teams.
* "Validation of the French and English Versions of the Worklife Pulse Survey" reports on the effort to validate the 2 versions of the survey as well as the comparability of the data generated by the survey, with survey responses examined by gender and age groups.
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