Spending Time in the Field

A manager’s guide to rounding at the front lines

I have responsibility for about 1,500 staff members and 200 managers in the three large Member Service Call Centers and California Member Services. It’s impossible to know from my office what’s really happening at every worksite—and thus difficult to help teams overcome barriers that get in the way of serving our members and customers every day. That’s why I spend 20 percent of my time visiting the facilities and talking to people on the front line.

Of course, unit-based teams can tackle a lot of issues themselves. But for problems that cut across teams or departments, engaged leaders and sponsors are essential. And to be engaged, you have to be present. For instance, a frontline customer service rep can tell me how long it takes her to work through a particular member concern. I can then look across the department, see what that’s costing us in lost time and productivity, and have the processes or systems improved.

Some of this time is with individuals, hearing what’s going on, mentoring them or offering career guidance and advice. After one such conversation a staff member said it was the first time in 25 years on the job that a senior leader had talked with her about her work and ideas. It’s sad that it had taken that long.

These visits also allow me to exchange ideas with the group. I always try to:

  • Tell them how we’re doing as a department, why our work matters to Kaiser Permanente and our members, and what’s ahead.
  • Ask what gets in the way of them doing their jobs and how we can remove barriers and make their work lives easier and more productive.
  • Acknowledge their frustration, when it’s there, and promise to look into whatever issue is raised and report back the outcome. And I always do.

That doesn’t mean I can act on every idea or issue immediately; some things make sense or take priority and some don’t. Nor does it mean that it’s always my job to make everything right. Increasingly, teams are doing this work themselves. Managers can often get more done by distributing power and leadership to others. In fact, the most frequent breakdown I see—broken work relationships—can only be fixed by those involved.

But when people understand the business, are part of the conversation and have the right tools and support, they can create a great workplace and do what we’re all here to do—provide great care and service to our patients and members.

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