Creating a Positive Culture in Your Pharmacy

Creating a Positive Culture in Your Pharmacy
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Peter Drucker, the guru of modern management, once said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  This is a factor that every pharmacy employer and employee needs to be mindful of. Employers must remember that their lofty business strategy, new technology and expensive marketing will be mostly wasted if it meets the grim reality of negative culture on the front lines. And employees need to be aware that their positive or negative impact on team-culture is being watched, and can have an impact on their career and employment.

A bad culture in the pharmacy is hard to define, but easy to see. You know it when you get there. You can literally feel it in the air. Employees can become snippy with one another, or with patients. There is an uneven distribution of work. You tend to see a greater frequency of sick calls, tardiness, low response levels to request for extra help, and higher turnover. Vocalization of complaints is frequent, sometimes erupting in outbursts of frustration. It feels like all the positive energy has been sucked from the team, leaving withered, dry, unhappy souls that float around the pharmacy until their shift is done.

It doesn’t have to stay that way.

How do you go about changing the culture of your pharmacy team if it has become this way?

The first step is that leadership needs to recognize the problem and want to do something about it. They must be convinced it is important. They must stop looking the other way. And “doing something” will certainly involve addressing the issue with front-line management.

I have sat in rooms at health systems and watched leadership representatives from pharmacy and nursing staff (for example) go at one another like cats and dogs. And then they wonder why their teams cannot get along! Attitudes, like raindrops, trickle down from above. Leadership has to recognize and deal with managers who are creating culture problems in their hospital or retail pharmacy or department.  Sometimes, frankly, another saying is worth remembering: if you want to change people, change people.

Second, it has been my experience that the best way to promote culture is to start with (and keep looking at) the great vision, goal and purpose of your organization. Often bad culture is the result of too much selfishness. We’re looking inward rather than upward. Embracing, promoting and celebrating the vision of your department is a great way to encourage people to stop thinking about themselves, and to start thinking of others. It also has a way of identifying individuals who just don’t get it. There has to be more to work than a paycheck.

Third, there is simply o substitute for getting teams together and talking about the culture that needs to be developed. Team meetings in the “pharmacy world” are more challenging than in an office-based business. Companies typically staff tightly, so that whenever someone is scheduled, they are desperately needed on the front lines. You have to be creative. But you can’t change culture with an email or a poster. At these meetings a leader or manager needs to be blunt about culture-building behaviors that need to start or stop, based upon the impact they are having.

Fourth, there needs to be tangible, visible signs of support and appreciation for teams and departments. An example of this is asking a team about the needs they have in their department, and trying to meet them whenever possible. Can you replace a broken printer, add some additional storage, get a new carpet or spruce up a break room? Sometimes a small, tangible improvement is a token of good-will, lets people know you are listening, and sets the tone for future cooperation.

Fifth, I would say itis important to accept no excuses for bad culture. The pharmacy world has plenty of challenges and frustrations. Drug shortages, problems with technology, unreasonable demands, high stress due to the potential consequences of making a mistake, and many other things. But if we accept the excuse that circumstances define culture we will never change. And it just isn’t true. Every challenge can be approached as an opportunity if we have the right attitude.

Sixth, and finally, itis my experience that cultural changes at work don’t have to take forever, and we shouldn’t expect that. There will always be some individuals who will excuse a poor culture by saying “these things take time.” More often than not, the problem is that culture-changing initiatives are not being executed on and embraced. Great organizations cannot afford to allow a negative culture to persist among their teams if they have any hope of remaining competitive. Great cultures, and great teams, produce great results for patients and for the business.

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