Optometric Management Tip # 484   -   Wednesday, June 01, 2011
More on Office Managers

In Tip #482, I wrote about how important it is for every practice to have an office manager. I received many questions and comments in response to that article, which I really appreciate. This week, I will address some of those concerns and issues.

Duties of a manager

Thanks for the tips on office managers, but I wish you would be a little more specific on their duties. Mine tends to sit in her office.

I don't want to define the duties too specifically because the needs of practices vary and so does the skill level of the manager and the comfort level of the owner. I think the duties should evolve over time and the doctor should seek to give the manager more and more responsibilities. I do not believe that a manager should spend all of his/her time in a private office. If the practice is very large and there is that much administration, then an assistant manager or another administrator may be needed. I would like to see the manager spend 25 to 50% of the time in the clinic, at the front desk and in the optical supervising and observing staff members. You may need to have a private chat with the manager to review her current duties and help her delegate more to others. Discuss the tasks that she is working on and realign her priorities to mesh with your goals.

The transition

Could you expand on the most effective way to promote an existing employee to manager and make a lasting and positive transition?

First, talk with the employee you have in mind and make sure she wants the job and understands the duties. Explain to the employee that the good of the practice must be her primary responsibility and that she will have to separate friendships with staff members while at work and maybe even outside of work. Explain that the job may involve difficult challenges with patients or staff members who have complaints. Point out that she may work with patients very seldom and her duties will be administrative.

If all that goes well and you have a good candidate for the job, hold a staff meeting and explain to all employees that the office has grown to the point that you need a manager. Proudly announce your selection and note that this person is now the supervisor of everyone else in the office. Ask your staff to go to the manager with questions and concerns from now on and ask them to help make the transition easy for her. Observe the staff interactions and step in if needed to have a private discussion with any employees who have trouble with the new role. Understand that some staff may feel a little jealousy or insecurity for a while, but just reassure them.

Hire from within or out?

Do I want someone with managerial training?

I would look at your current staff first and decide if there are any good managerial candidates and if there is already a manager by default without the official title. If you have a natural leader who has the respect of the staff and who you like to work with, go with him or her. If not, advertise in the usual places for office manager position available, managerial experience or training required. It is nice to have optical experience, but it is not a necessity. Finding a smart person who will be patient and empathetic with staff, and who understands the importance of great customer service is more important. The manager can always go to an optician or the doctor with eye care questions.

I have read articles that state that having a manager is not the right way to go and everybody should be on a level playing field what do you think?

I disagree with that philosophy. I prefer a direct management style more than one where everyone participates. I have a vision for how I want the practice to operate and while there is room for some individual personalities, I believe we will be more successful if I design a system and train the staff to follow it. In a participative management style, you will have employees deciding how the practice should operate, but they may care more about their own wants and needs than the patient's.

Pay level

I won't quote an actual dollar range in this forum, but managers are usually one of the higher paid employees in an eye care practice. I think the pay should be commensurate with what the employee has been earning if he or she is already employed in the practice. A slight raise might accompany a promotion, but more raises should come after some success on the job has been achieved. Like any job, wages are based on the value and experience the person brings.

Best wishes for continued success,

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