Manager Keeps Shooting Down Your Plans? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I have recently taken a job as office/operations manager for a medical practice. The managing partner is fairly new to the practice and was given the job because none of the other doctors want to deal with the day-to-day problems.

It is true that hiring and managing staff plus staying on top of the many rules, regulations, and insurance details is an endless series of issues. The practice has kept up with the times but just barely, and there is much room for improvement, efficiencies, and innovation.

The managing partner claims he wants to modernize and be more profitable, but every time I present him with a plan, he shoots it down.

How can I get him onboard with my ideas? I really just want to make things better around here.

Excited to Make Change


Dear Excited to Make Change,

Congratulations! You sound super excited and enthusiastic. I am sorry that the wind has been taken out of your sails with your first attempts, but with a few tweaks in your approach you will be on your way again.

It sounds like so far you have presented ideas and plans that you think are most needed—but your new managing partner doesn’t know you yet and has no reason to trust you. So your first step is to understand your managing partner. Schedule some time with him to ask questions, listen carefully to the answers, and take notes. Something like:

  • What is your vision for the practice?
  • If you could change one thing about the way we operate the practice today, what would it be?
  • What do you think is working well?
  • What do you think is not working well?
  • What is important you?
  • Of all the things that are important, which are the priorities?
  • What was it about my previous attempts at plans that didn’t work for you?
  • If I were to do my job perfectly, what would that look like to you?

Do not engage in discussion. If you must talk at all, ask follow-up questions to get more detail. Use phrases like “can you say more about that?” or “tell me more” or “can you share an example?” During your listening session, do not use the opportunity to argue for your plans. Really—I am not kidding—just listen and pay attention. After your listening session, write up your notes and send them to the managing partner. This will further cement the impression that you care and you are paying attention.

This meeting accomplishes a couple of things:

  1. You will build trust: It makes the managing partner feel that he is included and you are interested in his opinions and ideas. So with just that, you are developing your relationship and making him feel like he matters. The rule of thumb here is that no one will trust the message until they trust the messenger.
  2. You will learn a lot: You will get some insight into how your managing partner sees things, what is important to him, and how he thinks. You can use this information to craft a plan to tackle what matters most to him in a way that is compelling to him. You’ll learn his language: Does he speak and think in spreadsheets? Does he want to hear about best practices your competitors are using? Does he care only about money? Patient care? Customer service? Holding the doctors accountable?

When the time comes to share a plan, you can frame it as his own idea; e.g., “You said the most critical thing we need to address is patient care, so I have taken your suggestions, added a few based on my research, and would like to present some ideas on how we might tackle that.” The tactic of making the person with the power to greenlight your plans think the whole thing was their idea is as old as time—because it works. If you feel yourself balking at this notion because you want credit for your own genius, I get that. And I say get over it. Focus on how you can get stuff done, and not on who will get credit for it.

Some other thoughts to consider as you get more insight into what your manager is thinking about and how he is thinking about it:

  • Create a survey for everyone working in the practice to assess what matters to them, what gets in the way of them doing their best work, and what ideas they have to “make things better around here.” Then, leverage public opinion to argue for some good ideas. You can do interviews with people or use an online survey tool like Survey Monkey, which has a free version. You don’t have to be an expert to create surveys. Just be sure to ask one question at a time. Create ways for people to respond to problems that have already been surfaced, to get a sense of which ones are the most pressing for people.
  • Research what your competitors do differently (or better) than you. Study the latest best practices and be clear about how these practices make a difference. Use as much data as you can get your hands on to make your case.
  • Connect your ideas to your practice’s values (if they exist), strategic plan (if there is one), and/or goals for growth (if there are any).
  • If your managing partner shoots down your next attempt, you might lobby for support among the doctors and others in the practice who have influence.

Hopefully, one or more of these ideas will be helpful. Don’t give up. What seems obvious to you is probably not obvious to others. This is an opportunity for you to develop the skills of gaining supporters and building enthusiasm for your ideas and plans. I promise—having these skills will serve you well for your entire career!

You probably wish you could just have a great idea and move directly to execution. I remember feeling that way a long time ago. That works if it is just you. But the minute you try to do things for an entire group, you become a political animal, and that is a lot of work—much more work than you think it should be. But worth it in the end.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

Leave a Reply