The Challenges and Benefits of the People First Method

As we start the new year, take a moment to THINK about the mindset you want to carry into this year. Reflect on your goals for your team, your business/practice, and yourself. It might sound counterintuitive, but your leadership mindset going into the new year should be, “what’s in it for me?” 

Let’s face it- if you don’t buy into how something will help YOU, you won’t buy into the idea itself. This is why the People First model can be so effective. It finds a way to benefit everyone by balancing business strategy, employee satisfaction & retention, customer experience/patient safety, and ultimately a more fulfilled you. It truly does it all.

The Challenges of People First 

When I talk about the People First model, some leaders are initially skeptical. Sure, they think it sounds great, but is it realistic? After all, who has the time?

What people don’t realize is how much their structures really do make a difference. You can make small (or large) People First tweaks in your structure that move you to better performance. There’s one thing you can do today that leads to one thing you can do tomorrow and so on and so forth. Rather than a big bang, People First is an evolution that leads to a revolution in your practice and leadership.

That’s all fine and good, but again, what’s in it for you? Let’s shift the focus from what you’re giving to what you’re getting with People First.

Why You Should Care

Putting people first isn’t just a nice idea. It’s a proven approach to improve productivity and outcomes in the workplace. Though the thought of it may seem unproductive and time-consuming, it’s building a foundation that is wildly productive and very efficient in the long run.

Here’s what I mean. The most productive and effective teams are made up of high performers. Whether you’re in the healthcare industry or not, a Gallup poll shows that the highest performers have the following qualities:

  • they have been with their organization for over 10 years
  • they are engaged in their work
  • the expectations of their jobs align well with their innate talents

When you put people first, you reduce turnover rates, increase engagement and find an exceptional fit for people to put their natural skills and dispositions to their best use. Essentially, you are creating an incubator for high performers.

The Business Case for People First in Healthcare

The primary focus of healthcare is understandably patient care and safety. A 2016 study by S. Collier and J. Fitzpatrick demonstrated a strong positive relationship between total employee engagement score and total patient safety score.

When we focus solely on the patient and ignore the experience of the provider, the stressful work life of our clinicians and staff impacts their ability to achieve the Triple Aim of healthcare (care, health & cost).

Practices that truly adjust their aim to People First exceed the goals of the Triple Aim while preventing burnout.

Still trying to figure out what’s in it for you or whether the People First approach is really worth it.  Look no further than the incredible leaders I interviewed for my book, People First.

When it comes to People First, I guess the real question is: what’s not in it for you?!

Recently, I was fortunate enough to visit one of my favorite retreat hotels in Tucson. The guests and the staff are always friendly, so, not surprising for me, I ended up chatting with everybody.

While I was in the buffet line, another guest told me how glad she was that she had enjoyed 5 whole days at the resort and that she was sad to be leaving. It was a Tuesday. She asked me when I arrived, and I told her I arrived Monday morning and was leaving on Friday. She said, “Wow, you must have a generous boss. How do you get that much time off?”

My first thought was “I guess I’m not supposed to be able to take a full week off.” But I paused for a second and said, “I run my own business, and I’m able to build my schedule in a way that works for both my clients and me.”

When I was getting my business up and running, an acquaintance said “well I guess you don’t have a real job anymore.” My self-limiting belief kicked in that unless I was at my desk every day, then I wasn’t really working.  I know how hard I work, the value my clients get and how much I love the work so why did I feel “less than” because I wasn’t tied to my desk?

I don’t know where the self-limiting belief came from but this experience brought me back to my healthcare leadership days.  One time I emailed my boss one day to ask him if I could come in at 7:30 am instead of 7:00 am the following day. He called me confused – he didn’t realize my start time was 7:00 am. I told him that was when I usually came in, and his response surprised me. He reminded me that I never asked for permission to stay until after we closed or to come in on a Sunday, so I shouldn’t have to ask to come in a half-hour after my self-defined start time.

Whew! There’s a self-limiting belief. My mindset was that I had to support this team 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. That included starting at 7:00 am no matter how late I stayed, and working Monday – Friday, even if I worked the weekend. That self-limiting belief produced behavior that was not aligned with my values.

I needed to let go of someone else’s belief about what works, and for that matter, what success looks like.  I needed to kick these self-limiting beliefs to the curb.

What Self-Limiting Beliefs Do You Have?

You may be thinking this isn’t applicable to you because you’re not a business owner. But you’ve got self-limiting beliefs too. And maybe it’s time to kick them to the curb.

Self-limiting beliefs come in many different sizes. These self-limiting beliefs can creep their way in regardless of where you are in life. One way to identify them is to notice when you say “oh, I can’t do that” or “this is the way it has to be”.  Can you truly not do it, or has it been ingrained in your head that you aren’t good enough.  Does it really have to be done a certain way or are you simply following someone else’s rules?

Consider times when you are self-deprecating.  Is it because you are humble and know that we can always improve?  Or is it because you set a limit around what skills you have, what level of success you can achieve?

Rethinking Our Self-Limiting Beliefs

As we consider the mindset of a leader, I want you to think about some of the mindsets, or self-limiting beliefs, that prevent you from doing things. Where do you need to be willing to own your actions so they can better align with your values?

It may be something small, like coming in at 7:30 am instead of 7:00 am. It could be something big, like taking a chance and applying for that role, or asking for help from someone.

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About Amy Lafko

As a Physical Therapist, Amy spent years in school learning best practices for patient care and how to put the patient first. Like so many technically skilled clinicians, she advanced to a leadership role. Spending 20+ years in operational leadership, she had an epiphany: Putting the customer first isn’t the path to success or fulfillment. Rather, the most successful organizations and practices put their people first – and exceptional customer care, profitability, and effectiveness naturally followed.