8 Pharmacy Management Tips for Technician Leaders

As the health care landscape continues to change, pharmacy technicians have been increasingly holding leadership roles on their pharmacy teams.

As the health care landscape continues to change, pharmacy technicians have been increasingly holding leadership roles on their pharmacy teams.

Yet the task of managing a pharmacy can prove daunting to even the most experienced tech, as many technician training programs don’t necessarily prepare their students for pharmacy management.

In a session at the 2015 American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP) Annual Meeting and Exhibition in Las Vegas, Nevada, Linsay Davis, PharmD, CGP, and Melissa Mattice, RPh, discussed leadership in pharmacy.

Although their targeted audience was consultant pharmacists, they provided the following tips for all pharmacy workers—including technicians—who are looking for ways to better manage their team.

1. Understand the Difference Between Management and Leadership

Dr. Davis and Mattice examined the difference between leadership and management—2 distinct yet equally important responsibilities for those taking on a prominent role in their pharmacy.

The main distinction is the primarily focus: managers work towards completing tasks, but leaders are driven to organize and motivate people.

“Leadership and management are 2 very different things,” Mattice told session attendees. “Managers plan activities, control resources, and organize structure, while leaders influence others to voluntarily seek defined objectives, inspire them to do better, and work harder.”

Pharmacy workers can assume both roles, she explained, but understanding this difference can allow pharmacists and technicians to make clearer decisions on their approach to organizing the pharmacy team.

2. Identify Your Leadership Skills and Style

Dr. Davis and Mattice highlighted a number of skills essential to the effective management of a pharmacy, including the ability to work effectively with others, the technical knowledge needed to complete tasks, and the capacity to plan for the pharmacy’s long-term wellness. Yet, positive character traits are equally important in pharmacy leaders, Mattice told ASCP attendees.

“Above all, a good leader needs to have personal drive, a desire to lead, and personal integrity,” she said.

Although these skills and traits are common among many good leaders, there is still a wide spectrum of leadership styles—ranging from micromanagement to hands-off approaches—for pharmacy workers to adopt.

The speakers encouraged the audience to consider a more positive style that focuses on inclusion and interactivity. For example, participative leaders might spend more time working alongside their team, while leaders who take a consultative approach might help their team members feel valued by seeking and accepting their perspective and input.

Dr. Davis and Mattice acknowledged that leaders and managers may occasionally need to take a more direct or even firm approach to keep the pharmacy team on track; however, they warned against predominately negative leadership styles based on threats and punishments.

“Autocratic leaders who have an almost military-like style of management tend to be seen as workplace bullies,” Dr. Davis cautioned. “This usually hurts productivity and morale, and promotes absenteeism and employee turnover.”

Technicians may also consider a form of situational leadership, adapting their style to fit their team’s development level and the needs of the pharmacy.

3. Observe the Group Dynamic

In comparing group management to the act of herding cats, Dr. Davis and Mattice acknowledged that human behavior in groups can be unpredictable, and they advised the audience at ASCP against attempting to implement a “one-size-fits-all” solution to organizational problems.

Exacerbating these issues is the fact that a group that has experienced any sort of personnel changes can take anywhere from 6 to 8 months to fully mature and work together seamlessly, with many managers making the mistake of trying to expedite this progress.

“Rushing a group is like asking a 5 year old to act like a 25 year old,” Dr. Davis said. “It’s important for pharmacy leaders to patiently guide a team’s progress rather than attempting to force it.”

As a group develops, technician leaders should observe the way their team interacts with one another, as well as the roles that each worker plays on the team.

Dr. Davis and Mattice categorized these roles into 3 groups:

  • Thought-orientated: the workers who act as planners and evaluators;
  • Action-orientated: the workers who primarily implement and complete these plans, and;
  • People-orientated: the workers who tend to be “team players” and coordinate resources among the rest of the team.

Understanding a group’s dynamic enables a leader to play to each team member’s strengths and assign responsibilities accordingly, Mattice explained.

4. Identify Each Employee’s Motivation

Motivating a team is essential to pharmacy management, but many leaders cling to inaccurate or outdated ideas about motivation, according to Mattice.

“There are a number of common myths about motivation that leaders still rely on, such as the idea that motivated workers are more productive, or that workers are best motivated by money,” she said. “Most of these are simply untrue.”

Dr. Davis explained that most workers are instead primarily motivated by 1 of 3 things:

  • Achievement: these workers pursue and attain goals, seek and take credit for their actions, and look for specific feedback.
  • Affiliation: these workers seek better relationships with their co-workers, desire the freedom to make friends, and attempt to maintain a sense of community among their team.
  • Power: these workers are driven by a desire to influence people and situations, and they wish to make an impact on their organization.

The speakers encouraged the audience to find out what motivates each staff member and use that to their team’s advantage. For example, affiliation-motivated technicians might work better when complimented for attitude and cooperation, while power-motivated technicians could feel empowered to work harder if they are told how well they represent their workplace.

“A manager must identify their employees’ individual drives and channel their behavior towards task performance,” Mattice said. “When properly motivated, your team will work far more effectively.”

5. Improve Communication

Just as workers are often motivated by different things, they also understand and relay information in a number of different ways, which can frequently lead to miscommunication among the team.

Dr. Davis highlighted many obstacles that hinder effective communication, including personal barriers such as emotional and value differences, physical barriers such as noise and special distance, and semantic barriers such as jargon and cultural differences. She advised the audience to pinpoint the areas where communication between team members breaks down in the pharmacy, and to identify how each worker prefers to communicate.

“When you understand the unique work attitudes of each employee, you can learn how to speak to them in ‘their language’ and communicate to their individual needs,” Dr. Davis explained.

6. Set Goals

As pharmacies inevitably encounter challenges, it is important for team leaders to set goals for overcoming these obstacles.

“Goal-setting is a motivational process to create a discrepancy between current and expected performance,” Dr. Davis said. “It also establishes a standard by which to measure performance, since individuals who achieve goals tend to set higher goals for the future.”

However, goal-setting can be a challenge in itself; individuals tend to work harder when a goal is more difficult, but a goal that seems unfeasible will demotivate and demoralize workers.

“If you set a goal and the goal is unattainable, how motivated will your team be to partake in the process going forward?” Mattice asked rhetorically.

The speakers advised pharmacy leaders to set goals that fulfill the following 5 criteria: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART).

7. Provide and Be Open to Feedback

It is important for pharmacy leaders to provide their workers with timely and specific feedback in order to help them improve their performance.

The speakers cautioned that all feedback should be respectful and encouraging, as overly negative or poorly phrased feedback can often feel like a personal attack to a worker.

“There should be a good balance of positive and constructive feedback, with more emphasize on the positive,” Mattice stated. “The more negative feedback should be constructive, pointing the way to new goals and potential areas of improvement, while the positive feedback should empower workers and let them know what they’re doing right.”

Mattice added that feedback should be a dialogue rather than a lecture, with workers given the opportunity both to respond to critiques and provide feedback to their leaders.

“It is essential that feedback be an ongoing, 2-way conversation,” she said. “You have to be willing to participate in feedback to improve your abilities as a leader and manager.”

8. Look to Your Leaders

Ultimately, Dr. Davis and Mattice encouraged the audience to look to their own experiences with effective managers for ideas on how to proceed as a pharmacy leader.

“Who most inspired you as a leader or manager in your organization? What was it about these individuals that motivated you to be a better worker?” Dr. Davis asked. “We don’t have to completely emulate those who came before us, but if we put ourselves in our workers’ shoes and consider how we would like to be led, it can help us to shape our own leadership styles.”