5 Strategies for Administrator Succession Planning From ASC Administrator Lori Martin

When Lori Martin, RN, administrator and clinical director at SUMMIT Surgery Center at Saint Mary's Galena in Reno, Nev., found herself battling cancer and needing to scale back her full-time work schedule for several months, she fully realized the value of consistent succession planning with her employees.

For Ms. Martin, the point wasn't so much to prepare employees to be next-in-line for the administrator position, but to equip them with the skills necessary to handle unexpected absences and changes in responsibility without shifting focus away from effectively running the center. Ms. Martin was able to accomplish this by ensuring that every employee had an understanding of her day-to-day responsibilities from day one.

"If I had just kept all of that information to myself, my absence would have been a disaster," said Ms. Martin. "I've seen other administrators try to hoard all information, but when something like this happens, what does everybody do?"

Ms. Martin shared five strategies for succession planning as an administrator, with a continuous focus on grooming all employees to be well-versed in the administrative tasks that enable the center to function.

1.  Lead by example. Ms. Martin's priority as an administrator is to exemplify the qualities she wanted to see in center employees and in a future administrator. She would emphasize openness and approachability, for instance, by encouraging employees to contact her via calling or sending text messages to her cell phone if questions arose while she was out of the office.

To maintain an upbeat environment in the center, Ms. Martin will often approach and greet patients with the hope that employees will observe and mimic the behavior. Smiling is a crucial part of how she impacts her environment, even on days following chemotherapy when she finds it difficult. Ultimately, a consistent smile can send a strong message of expectations to her staff.

"If the administrator looks stressed out, everybody thinks, 'Something bad is going on, we should be stressed out, too, '" Ms. Martin said. "It's about having that attitude, knowing the seriousness of what we do, and approaching it in a calm and confident manner. The staff are treated and respected as professionals, but it's not like the atmosphere has to be so serious and bogged down. If you're prepared, you don't have to approach things in such a stressful way. We enjoy what we do, so my approach is to enjoy being at work."

2. Walk employees through every step of the administrative process. Ms. Martin would also groom employees on key aspects of the administrative processes necessary to keep the center running smoothly. She would begin by accompanying a staff member to a meeting with a vendor representative, for example, and explain each step of the meeting and the necessary questions to ask.

"A big part of grooming someone in leadership is feeling comfortable to delegate things, meeting with reps, gather information," Ms. Martin said. "A lot of the staff are from a nursing background, so asking questions about money, profit costs and disposable items is foreign to them," said Ms. Martin. "But they have to get comfortable with that. They have to know how much things cost, how to finance a for-profit organization. The comfort level they've built with managing those items has allowed us to continue to be successful."

3. Use an employee's strengths to determine which skills to build. Though she emphasized the skills behind key tasks such as marketing, vendor meetings and payroll with all employees, Ms. Martin also assigned particular tasks based on an employee's personal strengths. When potential physician partners would visit the center for a tour, for example, Ms. Martin would give the task to a more extroverted employee who was familiar with the concept of promotion.

"Many of the staff members weren't used to interacting with doctors and trying to sell the center," said Ms. Martin. "It's all personality-based — you don't want your introverts trying to push their comfort level to sell something."

4. Organize regular leadership meetings. Ms. Martin and the center staff meet each month to discuss the importance of delegating responsibilities and building leadership qualities within the center. The center's monthly quality meeting dovetails into a monthly leadership meeting, which includes pre-op and PACU supervisors, the business office manager and the OR supervisor. During this time, Ms. Martin said, the key staff members discuss current leadership and development needs within the center, and Ms. Martin often reads a quote or excerpt from recent news that highlights an example of leadership.

5. Ensure that the center can function well in the administrator's absence. When Ms. Martin was unable to come into the office due to her illness, center staff members were able to work to resolve conflicts without having to turn to her for assistance. The center recently faced a need for a radiology technologist, for example, but was unable to place any per diem technologists in the position.

In normal circumstances Ms. Martin, an X-ray technologist, would have completed the task herself or coordinated the hiring of a new employee. But in her absence, center staff instead coordinated the search, interview and hiring of a new technologist with the help of the center's HR company.

Having been thoroughly trained in the center's values and goals, the staff was able to hire an employee with mutual team values who has fit in seamlessly with the center, Ms. Martin said.   

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