Rookie Mistakes, Part II: “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up!”

One of the reasons I started this blog was so emerging leaders in healthcare could learn from my experiences as a “rookie,” so you don’t make the same mistakes I did first starting out. I have fallen short quite a few times. I’ve these experiences here and here and here.

You’ll still make mistakes.

No doubt.

We all do.

And hopefully you’ll not mock my “stupidity” as you read through these warnings—what NOT to do. We’re all human, right?

My first rookie mistake started innocently enough. They all do. In my first executive role as VP of clinics with a small hospital system, I had a physician at a satellite clinic with a history of, ahem, less-than-stellar performance (read: high maintenance, low productivity). One day while I was on-site rounding, she called me into her office and announced to me she was resigning. Her plan was to move down South to be with the high school sweetheart she reconnected with online.

Great.

No problem.

I shared this notification with the rest of the leadership team of the system, and very shortly efforts were underway to recruit a replacement physician.

News spread of her pending departure. Her house went on the market. And we were fortunate to connect (and contract) with a physician candidate finishing his residency who was a perfect fit for this community and clinic location. Within roughly 60 days, all was (seemingly) in order.

Then, bam! Out of nowhere she says she never resigned.

Wait!

WHAT???

She clearly had resigned. Her house was on the market. She had spent months buzzing about the office telling everyone who would listen that she was leaving. Her nurse practitioner had witnessed our original discussion where she announced her resignation.

The problem is, even with all that evidence, I didn’t have THE evidence.

I never got her notice of resignation in writing as required by contract.

In the end, she filed suit—claiming “improper termination of the employment agreement.” The hospital system ended up spending, really unnecessarily, a sizeable amount of money on legal fees to settle.

I learned the hard way three very important lessons:

  1. Get it in Writing. A handshake. Witness testimony. None of that stuff matters in the end, strictly from a legal standpoint. As much as you may trust someone, you must have written documentation, especially when dealing with sensitive business matters.
  2. Know Your Contracts. You may feel like these agreements aren’t your bread and butter. The reality is, as a leader you will inevitably be accountable for legal arrangements or agreements. You need to be up-to-speed on all such contracts and documents that fall under your sphere of influence—just as you would be responsible for all other technical aspects of your job.
  3. Double and Triple Check All Matters of Consequence. Don’t go it alone. You’re on a team for a reason. Consult with colleagues in their areas of expertise. Over communicate on matters of consequence. Ultimately, my cringe-worthy story represents a failure at multiple levels. Until the point at which this physician claimed that she hadn’t ever resigned, not one person questioned whether the notice had been provided in writing. But, in the end, I was THE accountable party, and the blame belonged squarely on my shoulders. Always work with those above or around you to assure that all those metaphorical “i’s” are dotted and “t’s” are crossed.

 

To this day, I still can’t believe this event happened. As a leader, you can’t predict what people will do, but you can be prepared through meticulous understanding and management of all areas of accountability.

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