Optometric Management Tip # 482   -   Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Why You Need a True Office Manager

I'm surprised that so many private practices do not have office managers.  Or some practices have them (also known by other titles such as team leaders, department coordinators, and practice administrators), but the manager really has little or no authority to direct others.  I think a true office manager is a vital factor for a fast-growing and efficient practice.  In this tip, I'll describe why you need a manager with full authority to manage.

Is staff management a challenge?
Staff management ranks as the most difficult issue I hear about from ECPs who own practices.  It ranges from employees not showing up for work on time to battles with co-workers to texting on the job to generally poor attitudes.  Many employees are not really horrible, but they are not great either.  They have no enthusiasm; the spark that elevates a practice from average to great is missing.  Yet many of these ECPs don't have a real manager on duty.  The doctor hopes that after telling the staff how to do the job, they will carry out the vision.  The hope is that they will do the right thing.  Usually, an incentive program is in place which pays a small bonus if certain goals are met.

Unfortunately, in the real world, most employees need more structure than this.  They need supervision.  But in many practices, the doctor is the only person with real authority and he or she is in the exam room.  An office manager has many roles in most offices, but most important is making sure the rest of the staff is productive and projects the best image.

Not just a payroll expense
It might seem that promoting an employee to manager or hiring a new person for that role will cause an increase in payroll and a decrease in net income.  That's why many ECPs continue to drift along with minimal management year after year.  Trust me; it's not true.  A good office manager will greatly increase practice profitability by accomplishing the following:

Those factors contribute to practice growth in many different ways, but there is no doubt that the manager's salary is covered many times over.  Every eye care practice, large or small, should have a manager.

Manager's duties
Smaller practices can have a manager who has a dual role.  She might be manager and optician or manager and receptionist.  But the goal is for the manager to become a full time administrator and not work directly with patients.  It is a great achievement when your practice is large enough to need a full time manager.

I like to leave the exact duties of the manager rather unstructured.  I want it to evolve over time as I learn the person's strengths and as she gains respect from the staff.  As my trust in the manager grows, so will the duties of the job.  Don't try to describe it too fully at the outset.

Authority and responsibility
It can be difficult to tell your staff that they have a new boss, but it's necessary if the manager is to be effective.  The doctor/owner must give the authority to the manager by communicating it directly to the other staff.  The manager can't take the authority herself.  Without the authority to deliver consequences, the manager will not be successful. 

As the manager uses her authority, she can be given more responsibility.  The practice owner should always maintain supervisory control over the practice finances.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management