How conscientious bosses hire the right people, resolve conflict, and keep biomeds motivated.

 Biomed managers, it seems, have a lot on their minds. They are responsible for a lot of equipment, they work long hours, and they also often have bosses of their own to worry about. But you should know that their biggest concern, the thing they’re spending the majority of their time thinking about, is their employees. How to find the perfect people to fill jobs in your department. How to make sure you all get along. How to communicate with you in a way that lets you know that they’re friendly but they’re still your boss. It seems that they know that without you, your departments wouldn’t run. And they really are doing their best to keep you happy.

But how do they concentrate so much on employees and still get their own work done? Here are some lessons from biomed department managers who seem to have mastered this balancing act.

Everyday Challenges
For Tom Chenail, a regional manager of operations with Technology in Medicine (TiM), in Holliston, Mass, the biggest challenge is keeping employees up to date on technology. “Equipment is becoming more sophisticated and less hands-on,” he says. “But we’ve got to know the inner workings of the units and the theory behind their operation, and that will never change.” He explains that as information technology (IT) and biomed become “somewhat synonymous,” it will be all the more important to stay current with advances in products.

 Yadin David, director, biomedical engineering, at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, speaks with employee Peter Traylor.

Yadin David, EdD, PE, CCE, who manages 60 employees in the biomedical engineering department of Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, says that though his department has low turnover—a good thing—this actually poses challenges of its own. He says that he thinks his department successfully hires people who perform well, but that “people are enjoying their careers in this department and staying with the program for many, many years, and as a result the advancement opportunities are not as wide as they would be with a higher turnover rate.”

 David goes over a report with employees (from left) Randy Taylor, Roger G. Eddy, and Green.

Brian Barton is manager of clinical engineering for the Little Company of Mary hospital service area in Torrance, Calif, through an independent service organization called Masterplan Inc, based in Chatsworth, Calif. As the overseer of nine people within several hospitals and clinics, his biggest challenge is “trying to put out all the fires with a limited amount of staff,” he says. “We cover about 6,000 pieces of equipment, so it all depends on whether it’s a good day or bad day.”

One solution to those everyday challenges, these managers believe, is to keep employees motivated. Chenail says part of the way to do this is to provide continuing education courses, through which he can keep his staff as current as possible on the technology while also keeping them inspired to work hard. “We have education courses at our facility … and we also send folks out to training schools—whatever’s applicable,” he says. “And we’re trying to keep our folks rotating on a regular basis, because probably one of the toughest things to do is to keep these guys going. All the folks want the training, and whenever it’s applicable, we try to help them out.”

 Ruben Williams, BMET, and David examine a sound meter test on an incubator.

He says that he also tries to pay attention to his employees’ workloads, knowing that if someone is swamped, their motivation could be diminished. He tells them, “If you’ve got a month where your PMs are really high, and you’ve been swamped, and you haven’t had time to get to [them], let me know,” and he can direct other staff members their way. But employees have to tell him they’re inundated, or he can’t help. “So it’s all communication,” he says. “If you communicate with the folks who work with you, you know where they’re coming from, they know where you’re coming from, and hopefully it limits any potential problems.”

According to David, there are several ways to keep employees motivated. First, provide ways for team members to develop professionally, through continuing education courses but also by allowing them to participate in product installations. “We create opportunities for individuals to get involved in more than just testing and maintaining medical equipment, but also in decisions around the evaluation and installation,” he says.

Another motivation factor, he says, is “recognizing excellence.” Every month, David holds a department meeting during which people can share success stories and offer suggestions to each other when things are not so successful. Meetings like this—along with departmental parties and lunches—also help people get to know each other. But it’s more the recognition of a “job well done” that helps keep employees motivated, David says. When someone does a good job, “we tell individuals that it’s being appreciated and noticed, and that is a big help.”

Barton says his team stays motivated through the efficient distribution of labor. His staff is tiered in such a way that there is a senior biomedical equipment technician at each site who sets the PMs for each day. This person has to “have the ability to figure out how many people he needs doing PMs a day, how many guys should be out on repairs and off-sites, and other things like that,” Barton says. “It’s kind of a daunting task, but after a while you get used to what you need and how to play the game.”

Creating the Perfect Staff
For all of these managers, hiring new employees is a key part of their jobs. And, as they all want to keep staff members on board as long as possible, it can be tricky to find exactly the right person.

“For me, attitude goes a long way,” Barton says. “You can easily find people with the knowledge, but I’d rather have someone with a great attitude who shows me he’s a self-starter, who can get the job done, who is courteous and professional—all those things go so far.”

He says that, especially working for a third-party company, he looks for people who present themselves well. “Our work is so ‘see-and-be-seen,’ ” he says. “Your professionalism is not so much how much you know, but how you go about your job … so I want to see someone who takes the opportunity to learn, has the right attitude, is respectful, and is professional-looking—I make all my guys wear ties and dress shirts every day.”

David’s department also has high expectations for new team members. In short, he says, “We look for individuals who are able to practically provide service, who are not going to compromise in their testing and investigation of problems … and who are able to communicate with peers as well as with people in other disciplines.”

For Chenail, it’s all about fit. “I want someone who’s going to fit with the company and who’s going to stick around for a long time.”

He explains that it may sound “hokey,” but that you should enjoy your job—as he has for the 18 years he’s been with his company—so he wants to find people who are proud of what they do. “I get hundreds of resumés from guys who can do the job,” Chenail says. “But I want someone who’s ready to just roll up their sleeves, get dirty, get the job done, not leave until it is done, and then be ready to come back the next day.”

When Good Employees Go Bad
But what happens when the “perfect candidates” you hire have problems getting along? These managers try to nip all potential conflict in the bud.

“There are different levels of personality conflict we experience,” David says. “So we try to make everyone sensitive to the variations we have as human beings, that we’re not robots, and that we have to be flexible and accommodate different priorities.”

Barton says that as soon as he hears of a conflict, he sits down with the person or people with the problem, and “I will have a closed-door session to try to figure out why we’re having personality conflicts, and try to work with both sides to see if we can’t come to a neutral area.”

He explains that they always try to work it out, but for the “times when some people just don’t get along, and it’s just a personality conflict, we try to separate those people and find different positions for them, and if worse comes to worst, we will send them to another hospital if there’s the opportunity.”

Chenail also tries to take care of conflicts right away. “I’ll bring a person in, we’ll sit in my office and we’ll discuss everything. It’s their opportunity to unload,” he says. “We discuss the goals—short-term, long-term—and we come to a consensus.”

The people involved in the conflict may not leave his office happy, he says, but they’ve at least agreed to disagree. “I’ve had times when guys have given me the ‘what-for’s?’ and used terms I can’t discuss here, but that’s life,” he says.

What’s important is that they know where the others are coming from. “You don’t have to love me,” he laughs.

“I prefer it, because I hate being hated. But it’s about being on the same page, and jumping on [the problem] right away. If you let it fester, forget it. It just gets out of control and brings many more people down with it.”

Talking It Out
Of course, resolving conflict—and preventing it—often stems from good communication, something all of these managers value highly.

“With a large number of people, you can imagine that there are opportunities for miscommunication,” David says. “I want to make sure that people won’t be in that situation.”

He says his department uses electronic bulletin boards, newsletters and other printed media, email, and regular meetings to make sure everyone receives all of the same information. People in his department, he says, have to communicate with nurses, vendors, peers, and managers, so it’s important that everyone knows what’s going on. “Sometimes I feel like a preacher,” he says. “But you have to be persistent and consistent with the [information].”

Chenail says he’s lucky his staff is self-sufficient and can work with limited supervision, but he still tries to talk with them as much as possible. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen because it’s crunch time,” he says. “But I try, at a minimum, to get on the phone with these guys once or twice a week, so I can say, ‘What’s going on? How are things going? What do you need to discuss? What do you need from me?’ If it’s not a visual face-to-face, it’s over the phone.”

Barton’s staff knows he’s there for them at any time, he says. “It’s no problem getting a hold of me. They can come in my office and sit down and shut the door anytime they want, and I think that goes a long way with those guys.”

In the end, communication can break down, personalities can conflict, and promising hires can end up not fitting in. But something must be going right, because these guys all love their jobs.

David, who has traveled the world during the 22 years in his position, says that when he talks to other directors and managers, “it seems like we have, regardless of the language and the culture and country we’re in, very similar issues.”

They also all have a technical background that sometimes doesn’t prepare them to manage people. “Employee management is different from project management,” he says. “So you have to have, number one, the integrity and trust of people if you’re going to lead them, and you have to have the vision and the infrastructure to have people work with you, and then you have to have the communication and the strategy of rewarding and guiding people.”

Chenail says it’s important to remember that everyone makes errors—even employers. “We all make mistakes,” Chenail says, adding something that’s probably good to hear from any manager: “But being the human beings we are, we’re all allowed a mistake or two in our lives.” 24×7

Sarah Schmelling is a contributing writer for 24×7.