Go for Gold: How to Encourage ‘Olympic’ Excellence at Your Practice

For the past two weeks, the world has been captivated by the games of the 30th Olympiad in London, England. Watching here in the U.S., we’ve been inspired by the elite American athletes’ remarkable feats, from Michael Phelps’ acquisition of his 22nd medal to the powerhouse performances of the women’s gymnastics team.

Those of us going about the regular business of our medical practices may not be able to replicate the athletic accomplishments of those top performers. Yet there’s a lot we can learn from the American Olympians about achieving excellence, and applying some of their principles to your healthcare organization can push you toward a daily first-place finish.

Commit to Training
Olympians don’t just learn how to play badminton, run hurdles or paddle a kayak and then rest on their laurels, thinking that’s enough.

Top-tier athletic performers engage in intensive training to not only learn their sports but constantly improve their skills. Allyson Felix, who won the gold medal in this year’s 200-meter sprint competition, trains five hours daily.

We’re not suggesting that you and your employees devote that kind of time to training yourselves on how to best use your EHR or engage patients in their care. But we do think that Olympic-level excellence comes from working hard to constantly be better. Training at your practice shouldn’t end after the first two weeks of employment.

Make your office culture one that’s committed to quality, ongoing education. Provide opportunities for your employees to consistently expand and enhance their skill sets by encouraging them to watch webinars, shadow their coworkers and cross-train with other departments.

True Teamwork
At the Olympics, an athlete may compete as an individual (as in weightlifting) or as one member of a team that plays as a unit (as in soccer). Sometimes a competitor is a sort of doing both – think swimming relays.

The same is true of your practice. Some people are working mostly independently (the solo practitioner), some are working together in a team setting (the five employees of your billing department) and others operate in a mixed setting (your group of front desk attendants, for example).

But research shows that athletes place less undue pressure on themselves when they perform as a member of a team, rather than as an individual. Additionally, the support of teammates helps athletes push themselves to do their best.

Even though not all of your employees work together and have the same goals from day to day, make sure they see themselves as a team. As a patient passes through your office or a claim moves its way through the revenue cycle, think about it as a relay race: each member of your staff has to execute his or her job effectively to pass a task on cleanly to the next employee.

Foster Pride
All that said, there’s a sense of unity being felt by the athletes in the Olympic village this summer that goes well beyond pulling together on the rowing squad or gymnastics team. The 530 American Olympic competitors are all bound together as members of one very prestigious group: Team USA.

The sense of patriotism inherent in the Olympic games is part of what makes it so special – the proud display of our national flag during the Opening Ceremonies, the anthem playing when a U.S. sportsman wins gold, the triumphant athletes expressing joy in representing their home country.

Cultivating that kind of allegiance isn’t easy for any business, but you should strive to be an organization that your employees are proud to work for and thus feel loyal to.

Establish an impressive presence for your practice in your community – support philanthropic causes, participate in local events and foster a reputation as an upstanding place to work. Have regular company-wide meetings to address your practice’s overall goals. And treat your staff and patients with respect and appreciation if you hope to receive esteem in return.

Have Fun With It
Despite the thousands of grueling hours, athletes devote to their sports, they usually look as though they’re having the time of their lives in an Olympic competition.

Consider the U.S. men’s basketball team, made up of players who usually compete as rivals in the NBA. Not only are they hooping in the Olympics for free, but it seems like they truly enjoy doing so. To me, the often-reserved Kevin Durant’s expressive enthusiasm during these games has been a highlight.

It never hurts to cultivate a playful sense of competition among your employees and engage in team-building exercises that staff can enjoy. Games and celebrations help foster the teamwork and pride you’re aiming for.

Compete in a corporate challenge. Hold your own Office Olympics in events like trashcan basketball or beanbag toss. Have ‘Jeopardy’-style training exercises and reward your winners.

Excellence takes many forms, and achieving it should be – at least sometimes – enjoyable. Here’s to a gold medal performance for your practice!

How do you foster a culture of excellence and teamwork?

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