Being the director of nursing (DON) is challenging, and anyone in the role will surely agree. Having a DON title comes with great rewards and requires lots of skills. I tell new DONs it’s all about having the right tools in your toolbox. Like a mechanic, when you have the best tools, you can do your job efficiently and effectively. But knowing how and when to use those tools is also important. I want to share three valuable tools for a new DON: setting expectations, addressing poor performing employees, and building high functioning teams. Let’s start with the first one.
Expressing What You Expect
Years ago, when I was a DON, I also had two teenagers at home. Balancing life between work and home was the biggest challenge. We had a saying in our house, you do not call mom at work unless one of the following has occurred at home: someone was blue, bleeding, or the police have been called. Other than these things, mom couldn’t be bothered while she was saving lives and putting out staffing crises.
While my children were very good at following this rule, my work family remained confused about when to call or text me about an urgent matter while I was at home. I would receive calls informing me that a resident had contact dermatitis but not receive a call when someone fell. I would get a text about staff calling in sick, but nothing when we ran out of some important supply. In short, I was missing a key tool to success—setting expectations through clear, concise directions.
Upon realizing this, at the next staff meeting, I told the team I only wanted to be called if someone was blue, bleeding or red, or the police were called or should be called. Of course, I also provided several examples of when to pick up the phone and call, when staff could send a text, and what could wait until the morning. Staff calling off ill that was covered by someone staying is a text. A missing resident is a phone call (the police could/should be called), but missing pants can wait until morning. A bruise (blue) of unknown origin was a call, while a splinter could wait until morning. A fall (which could lead to being blue and/or bleeding) required a call, a missing battery for the lift could wait until the morning. This was a valuable tool, because the team now had guidelines to follow for when and how they should contact me. When you set your expectations, give examples, and provide feedback when people do not follow expectations, you create clarity for your team.
Now that you have the first tool to work with, think about how your team is contacting you while you’re at home. Do you think you need to set up a system like my example so that your team knows when to contact you? Is there anything about your current system that could be clarified or improved? Take some time this week to look at how your team is communicating with you about emergencies and reflect on how you feel about it. Could they text instead? Should they be calling? What can wait and what needs your attention immediately?
In our next blog post, I’ll cover the second tool—addressing poor performing employees. Stay tuned!