What Motivates Field Staff… and What Does Not

By: Kriss Barlow RN, MBA | kbarlow@barlowmccarthy.com

As summer wraps up we have fresh memories of getting in and out of very hot cars, people you need being away on vacation and the daily distractions of summer. We all have positive and not so positive things about our jobs. But these are not necessarily the same as feeling unhappy in the job. Forbes reports that three of four employees report that their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job. Doing sales calls in a hot car has nothing on this stat!

This is a tender topic to even write about. No leader sets out to demotivate their staff. Managers want to be successful and they recognize that effective staff are central to the process. But, many managers have not actively done the field role. So, while they have a great sense of the organization, the data and doctors and goals for the field effort, they often have a gap in what works in the field.

While it has been “more than a couple” of years since I’ve been a field rep, my ears are open and my conversations with field staff are frequent. Here’s what they say.

  1. Be responsive. Field staff are motivated when they get consistent response at two levels.
  • First is timely communication within the team. Effective managers are consistent in letting team members know when and how they will respond. They offer tools for self-management where situations require it. And, they communicate how to bypass the usual systems if there is an immediate need.
  • The second need is at the organizational level.  A key gripe of a liaison is when they need to respond to a doctor and an internal reply is late or not forthcoming. They cajole, remind, ask and ask until they feel like nags and at a point it feels like others have no interest in earning the relationship and referral.
  1. Take care of the referral. Today it takes between 4-6 visits to earn an acute care referral. Field staff get really frustrated when the internal team drops the ball. Back in the day we could ask the doctor to try us again. Today, it’s one and done.
  2. Value my expertise. Field sales is a job filled with rejection. We work in a normal state of rejection that nobody else experiences, except maybe your bill collector. Feedback is essential, but field staff are a tough on the outside, tender on the inside group. They are more motivated when the conversation starts with their perceptions and things they are working on. In fact, that may be solid advice for managers in general.
  3. Manage “out of the field” requests. Everyone wants everything right now and it’s often kicked down the chain of command until it lands in the lap of the field staff. Managing impromptu requests several times a month is different for those in a field role than an office. It can drive field staff out of the field and to their desks or require after hours work. We all get that it happens occasionally. The key question is, when does occasional become repetitive and, dare we say, annoying.
  4. Consistent, involved goals. The boss sets clear goals in all good physician relations programs. It’s right and good, but can be problematic when it is done in a vacuum. Goals need to be thoughtfully created, achievable and consistent. Good field staff want to exceed expectations, so a moving target often results in motivation problems.
  5. My work, my glory. Back to the ego side of great field staff. Making others look good is foundational to a field role. Every day is spent talking up their doctors and organization. It is motivating when the team member’s story is consistently told with their name or when they are called out and given credit for a new success.
  6. Investment. People want to know that you are willing to invest in their success. For some it is skill-building, for others it’s getting them connected to the right clinical knowledge. For many leaders, it is a business or financial decision. However, for many field staff, it feels personal. While it may be a big investment to send someone to a national conference, small call outs that recognize them for great work can pay large dividends.

If you are a staff person, likely there are a few that pop to the top of the list. Recognition is often the first step in effective change. For field staff, we can work on taking things a little less personal if most other attributes of the job are pretty good.  For managers, I suspect we all see areas where there’s more to the story. And perhaps a few topics that will resonate and need attention.

  1. Shawna Cass

    This one really spoke to me, Kriss! You may have been out of the field for “more than a couple years” but you are still very much in-tune to our reality and what drives us today – and that it’s much different than it was even just 5-10 years ago! Great article!

  2. PHoglund

    In Addition: Understand and Report timely and accurately on where referrals are coming from while supplying a robust lead source for representatives to follow up on warm leads. Ensure buy-in from the field team who drives this business.