The Elephant in the Room
How should you talk to valued staff who make costly mistakes?
REBECCA L. JOHNSON, CPOT, COT, COE
When you have an employee who repeatedly makes mistakes, failure to discuss the “elephant in the room” can be harmful to the health of your business.
Take the example of “Sheri,” a personable employee who is loved by everyone in the office, especially patients. While she is a valuable contributor, she is lacking when it comes to attention to detail. Specifically, she continually writes inaccurate and incomplete lab orders, causing numerous glasses remakes. When told that she made a mistake, she seems genuinely sorry and agrees to try harder, but nothing changes (besides your frustration level).
As much as you may like “Sheri,” her mistakes are costly and must be addressed.
Here are four tips to help you prepare for a dreadful, yet important, conversation with an underperforming employee.
1 Remove negative emotions.
Avoid having the conversation when you are feeling frustrated with the employee. You may feel personally hurt that this person would take advantage of your kindness and patience, so walk away from the situation until this feeling subsides. Try to remember that the employee’s mistakes are not a personal attack on you or your authority.
2 Examine the impact.
Employees react better if you help them understand the consequences of their actions.
Think about the effect this has on your business, and determine the impact of the problem. In our example, how much money has “Sheri’s” mistakes cost in the last year? How does “Sheri’s” mistake ratio compare with her peers? How many times has she promised to “do better?” Also, consider unquantifiable impacts, such as patient satisfaction and employee morale.
Avoid having difficult conversations with employees when you feel frustrated.
3 Determine the source.
In reality, most employees want to do a good job. Instead of looking at the situation as a character or personality problem with the employee, ask yourself what other influences could be causing the behavior.
In our example, “Sheri” may be trying to do too much at one time. Are her errors during times when the optical is short-handed and “Sheri” is rushed? If so, hiring a part-time optician to work the busy hours could take some of the pressure off and give “Sheri” more time to sell and make patients happy.
4 Be positive.
Remind yourself of the employee’s strong points. In our example, “Sheri” has a way of keeping everyone laughing, even on stressful days, and would be missed if she were no longer on the team. This should motivate you to come up with a solution to keep the employee on your staff.
Get rid of the elephant.
In the movie Manhattan, Woody Allen says, “I can’t express anger. That’s my problem. I internalize everything. I just grow a tumor instead.”
Confrontation can be difficult enough that many people prefer the “elephant-sized tumor.” The better option: Have a conversation that addresses the problems, which positively impacts your practice. OM
MS. JOHNSON IS THE FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF EYETRAIN4YOU AND THE EXCUTIVE DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS SERVICES FOR GPN. E-MAIL HER AT REBECCA@EYETRAIN4YOU.COM, OR SEND COMMENTS TO OPTOMETRICMANAGEMENT@GMAIL.COM.