Applying insights from how senior corporate executives manage and lead their business
If you’re like many independent pharmacists, you didn’t train to be a business owner. Your path involved trial, error and a dose of common sense. And, you might not think you have much in common with a senior executive of a large corporation. However, like you, they manage finances, operations and people. They also focus on industry trends, evaluate opportunities and challenges that can impact their business, create strategies for how to stay on top, and lead their organization through change. This article explores how your role as leader is just as (if not more) important to your pharmacy’s success as being the day-to-day manager and chief pharmacist of your business.
Looking through the Strategic Management Lens
“You have to think big picture. Look at what’s over the horizon,” said John Baldoni, chair of the leadership development practice at N2growth, a global leadership consultancy, executive coach, and author of a dozen books on leadership, including The Leader’s Pocket Guide. Take the time to analyze how your pharmacy business is doing and what you should do to engage your employees in their work.
To think like a CEO, Baldoni says to focus on these three areas:
- Vision: Ask yourself, “Where do I want to take my business?” and “What do I want to be known for?” That will guide your actions for the future.
- Mission: Define what you will do to achieve your vision. You cannot be all things to all people, so focus on what you do well.
- Values: Identify the principles that will guide you and your employees.
“Your mission is what you do,” he explained. “Values are what hold you together.”
Think about what differentiates your independent community pharmacy from a chain pharmacy. “I would live and breathe that positive difference,” Baldoni said. For example, that may be your pharmacy’s customer service ethos, the culture that places a high value on how you and your employees treat customers.
The Challenge of Leadership
In his short video “Managing Better by Leading Well,” Baldoni talks about the need to be both manager and leader. Most pharmacy owners are comfortable wearing the manager hat — supervising workflow, delegating responsibilities, and keeping things running on time and within budget. Baldoni suggests as a leader your role is to challenge convention and radiate optimism, looking for positive outcomes.
“Leadership is about doing what’s good for the organization,” said Baldoni. He suggests thinking about the leaders you have respected and that have inspired you, perhaps your parents and colleagues. Recognize the qualities that stood out in them and cultivate those in yourself. To be a leader, Baldoni said, you also must be attuned to changes in the industry and shore up any areas in which you are weak.
According to Baldoni, as manager and leader you will communicate for understanding and coach for success. He stresses the importance of encouraging employees to believe in their abilities and continue to develop their skills and talents, and having them focus on the possibilities rather than the constraints.
Leaders also empower employees to make appropriate decisions. Instill in your employees a sense of ownership in the pharmacy and treat them as partners in building the business, Baldoni advises. Ask yourself, “Am I giving them appropriate authority and responsibility?”
Allow your employees to “own the problems and solutions,” Baldoni said. Encourage them to develop their own ideas for how to handle situations, based on values you have shared and within the guidelines you’ve established for how to behave in your business, such as treating customers with dignity and respect. Train them effectively and provide support. Delegate authority and ensure employees have the resources to act. “If you trust your people,” Baldoni said, “then you can let go.”
Weekly staff meetings, job descriptions, performance reviews, and employee handbooks all contribute to ensuring staff members understand both what you expect them to do and your goals for the business.
Employees will watch your behavior, so “you have to walk the talk,” Baldoni said, living the values that you want to see them display. Hold regular meetings to talk about your pharmacy’s values and how they translate into operations in the business.
Having “coaching conversations” when an employee isn’t handling situations properly is also important. Open with a positive comment about the employee, and then describe what you noticed. For example, “Mary, I admire how you usually are very patient with our customers and take the time to listen carefully to their concerns. I was surprised just now when you sounded abrupt while dealing with a customer on the phone. What happened?”
It’s important to ask the employee about the situation, so that instead of delivering a lecture you understand the employee’s perspective and then have a conversation with the employee. Explain your expectations for how the employee should handle situations in the future, and explain why a change is necessary. Finalize the coaching session by having the employee agree to the change.
Want more ideas? Check out the article “Tips for Building a Winning Team.”
Leaders Measure Results
Corporate leaders, says Baldoni, know the importance of being able to evaluate and answer the question, did we do what we said we will do? To lead a successful pharmacy business, you have to know where the business stands, where it is going, and how long it may take to get there. That means understanding key financial and performance measures.
- Financial statements such as the balance sheet and income statement will show you information such as your pharmacy’s net worth, expenses and profit margin. (Discover how to understand — and increase — your pharmacy’s value by reading “What’s Your Pharmacy Worth?”)
- Productivity measures detail information such as your customer volume, inventory turnover and sales per employee hour. (Explore new ideas in “5 Ways to Improve Your Pharmacy’s Efficiency.”)
Together, this information allows you to establish concrete goals and a budget, and make informed decisions about how best to invest in your pharmacy’s future. You can compare your pharmacy’s performance against industry standards through reports such as the annual NCPA Digest.
Make Time to Lead
When your schedule is already packed, leading your business becomes an afterthought. Baldoni stresses the importance of freeing yourself to be more strategic and grow the capacity of the organization to meet rising challenges. Take these actions to carve out time to be the CEO of your pharmacy:
- Schedule time to manage the business. Block out hours on your weekly schedule to think about your business, plan, and manage it.
- Invest in automation that will cut the time you spend filling prescriptions.
- Delegate more work to your employees and focus on the activities that only you have the expertise to do.
The guide Operate Your Pharmacy Like a CEO has a six-step plan to help you master the balancing act between your roles as pharmacist, manager and leader.
Plan for Transition
CEOs plan their exit strategies. If you’re considering turning your pharmacy over to someone else because of your age, financial security or a change in your interests, look for someone who has the same values and integrity on which you have built your business. Ask yourself, “Is this person going to run the store the way I think it should be run?”
Recognize that the next owner/CEO won’t be your clone and will face a different situation and different challenges than you did. “You need to come to terms with that,” Baldoni said. But if the next leader shares your values, you can be confident that you are leaving the business in good hands. (To learn more about successfully exiting your business, read “Pharmacy Owner’s Guide to Entering Your Exit Strategy” and explore other helpful resources on RxOwnership.com.)
What advice do you have for other pharmacy owners about thinking and operating as a CEO? Share your comments below.