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Participants at conference raise arms upward
Michelle Hoad leads participants at the 2024 Lab Manager Leadership Summit in a stretch before her clinical track keynote.
 Scott Wallask

Tips to Improve Lab Advocacy and Employee Engagement

These two goals were prominent themes during the Lab Manager Leadership Summit’s Clinical Track

Photo portrait of Scott Wallask
Scott Wallask, BA
Photo portrait of Scott Wallask

Scott Wallask, BA, is senior editorial manager for Today’s Clinical Lab and G2 Intelligence. He has spent more than 25 years covering the healthcare and high-tech industries. A former newspaper reporter, he graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in journalism.

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Published:May 24, 2024
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“Advocating for the lab” and “improving employee engagement”—these phrases often elicit sweat on the brows of clinical laboratory managers because both concepts are difficult to achieve.

Last month, attendees of the Clinical Track at the 2024 Lab Manager Leadership Summit got field-tested advice about how to better advocate and engage. Below are highlights from the event.

Ideas to improve worker engagement

Clinical laboratory leaders who hope to improve engagement with employees should consider a pair of expert tips.

Try a “Yes…and” exercise

Taking a colleague’s idea, validating it, and then adding to the thought can be an effective way to build consensus for problem-solving, said Stephanie Whitehead, MBA, MPH, MLS(ASCP), executive director of pathology services at University Health System and the co-host of the eLABorate Topics podcast. While leading the Clinical Track workshop, Whitehead involved participants in an intriguing exercise dubbed, “Yes…and.”

The gist of the exercise is that Person A suggests an idea or change. Person B acknowledges the idea (“Yes”) and then tacks on an additional suggestion or view (“…and.”). Person C, D, and so forth take the idea further along.

For example:

Person A: “I think we should evaluate automation technology in our lab to reduce mundane tasks.”

Person B: “Yes, that is a solid idea. To me, handwriting is the most mundane task each day because it takes up too much time, and our automation evaluation should start with how to better handle specimen labels we need to fill out.”

“The idea is not to solve the problem in the moment but to make it as safe as possible for new ideas to come forward,” Whitehead noted.

Discuss career paths with employees

One of the greatest things a lab manager can engage with an employee about is a future career path. 

Sometimes that discussion stems from seeing an employee with an obvious aptitude to lead projects, become a super user for a technology, or manage others, said April Day, MBA, BS, MLS, senior director of laboratory medicine at Geisinger.

On the other hand, the discussion also might be prompted by a worker who seems bored in their job, Day added, during a panel at the conference.

Either way, Day said to approach the employee with honesty and transparency about what both the worker and the manager see in the future for the employee’s job.

“That could turn out to be pivotal to that person’s career,” Day said.

How to better advocate for lab interests

Savvy clinical lab leaders know they must advocate for themselves and the overall industry. But doing so at times can seem like pushing a rock up a mountain. Here are some encouraging thoughts from experts.

Bring the clinicians in for support

In November, the Medical Laboratory Professionals Association of Ontario (MLPAO) attended a lobbying day with the province’s minister of health. Michelle Hoad, CEO at the MLPAO, headed up the delegation.

Hoad brought physicians with her to the minister’s office to talk about how medical lab scientists can help caregivers. “The doctors talked with the minister about how lab tests impact patient care and treatment,” she recalled during the Clinical Track keynote.

This same approach can work with community leaders, business decision-makers, and the general public. 

Hoad also went to the lobbying day armed with statistics, such as the fact that Ontario lab professionals process and interpret more than 280 million lab tests annually. Finding and sharing that data for your community or state can be powerful, she said.

Entice stakeholders during lab projects

Given the financial pressures on diagnostic laboratories to cut operating costs while facing reduced test reimbursement, trying to push forward a new lab project can be intimidating for lab leaders.

One trick that Day uses to advocate for projects is to make the endeavors more about the decision-makers. “Find out what stakeholders need,” she said.

Day was involved in a project to build a new lab. She met with leaders in other departments to find out how the new lab could benefit them, and she took that collective message to executives. For example, with a freshly constructed lab, related activities that might entice other departments include improving turnaround times (appeals to physicians), bringing in new customers (appeals to the marketing team), or conducting more tests in house (appeals to the finance department).

Two final thoughts

It was clear from attendees’ comments during the Lab Manager Leadership Summit’s Clinical Track that managers struggle with advocacy and engagement.

The tips discussed here are important to consider for two main reasons:

  • Raising awareness about labs—both to internal departments within an organization and to external audiences—opens doors to further support from allies.

  • Involving employees in problem-solving and career choices can increase their respect for their managers and lead to more open communication.

Forward-thinking lab managers will recognize that polishing their skills in advocacy and employee engagement are useful ways to contribute to a laboratory’s overall objectives.