Walgreens is ditching task-based performance metrics for pharmacists

Discussion
Source: Walgreen’s video - “A Day in the Life: Pharmacist Tabitha Mayhew”
Oct 31, 2022

Walgreens is eliminating task-based metrics for pharmacy staff as part of performance reviews in order to place an “even greater focus on patient care and outcomes.”

Walgreens makes the change as a pharmacist shortage is reportedly leading to longer wait times for prescriptions, leading many pharmacies, including Walgreens, to close stores or shorten hours.

The move also supports Walgreen’s extension into new areas of care, such as testing and treating routine illnesses.

An NBC News investigation last year explored how the added workloads pharmacists have faced during the pandemic are leading many to leave the industry. The pressure to meet metrics was found to further heightened risks of burnout and making mistakes filling out prescriptions.

The metrics typically include weekly targets for the number of prescriptions filled, vaccinations given and calls to patients, as well as how fast phones are answered.

“We’re proud to take a strong position in the industry with this measure, one we are taking due to feedback from our pharmacy team members and also as part of our commitment to pharmacy quality and patient care,” said Holly May, EVP and global chief human resources officer, Walgreens, in a statement.

To address pharmacist shortages, Walgreens has already taken several steps to enhance compensation and has opened micro-fulfillment centers to reduce prescription fulfillment in stores.

An August survey from the American Pharmacists Association and the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations found low staffing to be the root cause of negative work experiences for pharmacists, although metrics not aligned with patient outcomes also ranked high.

Last year, a California law barred using “pharmacy metrics” to evaluate pharmacists’ performance. Ohio’s state pharmacy board last month proposed prohibiting the use of quotas at pharmacies.

In other areas of retail, the productivity of cashiers, warehouse workers and delivery drivers are often monitored. Beyond measuring performance, proponents believe such metrics incentivize most workers.

A recent New York Times article noted that electronic surveillance, such as tracking clicks, is extending productivity monitoring to white collar jobs and questioned whether the gains in “efficiency and accountability” are worth the resulting risk of employee stress and outrage.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think task-based metrics do more to incentivize or stress out retail workers? Should such productivity quotas be eliminated for pharmacists?

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Braintrust
"As a result of today’s constrained labor market, relying on yesterday’s metrics is not a good approach. Companies need to recast productivity goals and 'humanize' them."
"For Walgreens and others in the retail pharmacy business, it’s clear that if you want to be that alternative to a PCP or urgent care facility, you need to focus on outcomes ra"
"... giving the most trained people in the store time to interact with customers can only be a win."

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15 Comments on "Walgreens is ditching task-based performance metrics for pharmacists"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

How ironic that Walgreens took such a micro-managing approach to its pharmacists, while completely missing the big picture that most of its stores completely lack investment and provide a poor experience!

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

No wonder the service has been so bad! I had just pulled the trigger and changed to a CVS-based plan. But this is beyond ironic and explains all kinds of bad behavior.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Specific to Walgreens, this is absolutely the right change. For pharmacists to deliver care at the top of their license, they must put patient care far above productivity quotas and a numbers-only approach. In my 30+ years working across the pharmacy industry, I have too often seen hardcore metrics debilitate a pharmacist’s ability to effectively serve patients and their caregivers.

More broadly, I believe that as a result of today’s constrained labor market, relying on yesterday’s metrics is not a good approach. Companies need to recast productivity goals and “humanize” them.

Mark Self
BrainTrust

Pharmacies should still measure productivity with metrics like wait times, etc. however I applaud Walgreens’ decision here. This should help both with pharmacy associate satisfaction and customer satisfaction — as long as these changes do not result in people in long lines in-store or at the drive-thru.

I am confident Walgreens will continue to automate tasks that can be easily “removed” from the pharmacist’s task list with no impact to customer satisfaction in support of this move.

Jenn McMillen
BrainTrust

It’s no secret that Walgreens’ customer satisfaction metrics have been on the downslide, so giving the most trained people in the store time to interact with customers can only be a win.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Eliminating the performance metrics may not be a good idea, if the end result is longer wait times for filled prescriptions and more unanswered phone calls. (I moved several prescriptions from Walgreens to a local pharmacy chain this year because of issues like these.) I realize that task-based measures can put added stress on understaffed pharmacy teams, but the outcome of Walgreens’ policy change may be an even worse customer experience.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

I suspect that Walgreens has to do this. The competition for pharmacists is fierce. Treating pharmacists like assembly line workers isn’t going to help the chain attract pharmacists. No one, retail or otherwise, wants to work in a sweatshop.
The other issue is that task-based metrics incent pharmacists to put production metrics over patient care which, for a company trying to improve its customer service metrics, doesn’t do anything to help. Lastly, I’d be worried that the pharmacists working under these conditions will likely make mistakes. And, in their business, one mistake could have very dire consequences. This was a bad idea, and I’m glad they’re eliminating it.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

An assembly line worker. The education path for a pharmacist is six to eight years of school, plus internships and passing state exams. After all that, they are required to count pills and label bottles.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Walgreens is eliminating task-based metrics for pharmacy staff as part of performance reviews to place an “even greater focus on patient care and outcomes.”

Gee, isn’t the latter their job? As a chain, Walgreens can’t talk about patients and healthcare and then institute an incentive program that produces the opposite results.

There should never be task-oriented quotas when the job is to interact with customers. For task-based jobs, I suggest that the retailers review the Hawthorne Experiments of the 1920s.

David Spear
BrainTrust

The mantra of customer-centricity is espoused by most companies but, in reality, only a few really get it right. And those who do, typically, are leaders in their respective industries. In my view, these companies do more to embed a culture of servant leadership towards their customers — the consumers, who visit and interact with their stores, products and associates vs a “quota only” mentality. When associates are trained to go above and beyond in the interest of the customer – and not worry about the myriad of frustrating metrics a company can employ – they deliver superior performance and customers reward them with frequent return visits.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

What you inspect is what you get. If Walgreens is looking at the time to fill, then task-based metrics are the way to go. If you use task-based measures, you must ensure you give all the workers the tools they need. But all you will get is the completed task. This does not bode well for customer service and relations and tends to drive turnover. So if Walgreens is looking for better customer relations and lower staff turnover, ditching these metrics is the way to go. Pharmacists did not become pharmacists just to put pills in bottles.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust

For Walgreens and others in the retail pharmacy business, it’s clear that if you want to be that alternative to a PCP or urgent care facility, you need to focus on outcomes rather than tasks. That said, it’s a core challenge of healthcare, as everyone chases profits at the expense — literally and figuratively — of wellness and healthy/healthier outcomes for patients and communities.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

A task-based metric is akin to average handle time (AHT) in a call center. Agents (or in Walgreens case, pharmacists) aren’t measured on customer satisfaction, but instead how fast they can move from one call to the next. While productivity is high, customer satisfaction often suffers. I didn’t know that Walgreens was focused on tasks and productivity. And they probably thought more prescriptions filled and vaccinations and flu shots given was what customers want. Yes they do, but they also want to be have a good experience. If that suffers, you potentially lose customers. Of course, there is a balance. In the end, Walgreens gets it. They want, as the article says, “an even greater focus on patient care and outcomes.”

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I think most of us would agree, this approach seems rather lacking in imagination, but still it offers a certain clarity in what it is trying to do.

And of course deciding we don’t like a particular approach, doesn’t really tell us what we’re supposed to use instead.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

While pharmacists are a special outlier with more knowledge work, there are some tasks such as stocking, receiving, food prep, reset times, sales or even cashiering where task management is not only a strong push, but also enables rewarding those who outperform. A merit based system is never the wrong way to go — when merit can be measured. For many retailers, task-based metrics are the only way to know if their employees are being productive, outside the sales metric. For pharmacists, I’m not so sure there is a good fit — there needs to be an assessment for each role.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"As a result of today’s constrained labor market, relying on yesterday’s metrics is not a good approach. Companies need to recast productivity goals and 'humanize' them."
"For Walgreens and others in the retail pharmacy business, it’s clear that if you want to be that alternative to a PCP or urgent care facility, you need to focus on outcomes ra"
"... giving the most trained people in the store time to interact with customers can only be a win."

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