Optometric Management Tip # 535   -   Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Your Staff: Cross-Train or Departmentalize?

As you analyze and refine your practice operations, consider the job descriptions of your staff. Is it better to cross-train your staff or to assign staff to more specific job duties? How you decide on this can make a huge difference in your practice efficiency and on patient satisfaction.

Your practice in phases
The answer to my question is not as easy as you might think at first. I look at the optometric practice in phases and I believe the best staffing strategy varies depending on the phase. I've been through all these phases in my practice and here is the model I followed at different times:

Here are some typical departments to consider as your practice moves through the growth phases.

In addition to these departments, other special areas include: contact lens department, insurance department, office manager, frame buyer, and marketing specialist.

The formation of departments can happen gradually, with staff learning advanced techniques in specific areas over time. As new employees are hired, the department of need is identified and candidates with appropriate skills and experiences are recruited.

When these departments grow to include more staff, it may make sense to appoint a department manager. Typically, there is already a general office manager in place at this point, and the practice can benefit from a group of assistant managers who can fill in when the general manager is off work or busy with other matters. The practice may have extended office hours and need supervision at times and the department manager can become an assistant manager. This approach also recognizes strong contributions from staff members who have performed well by promoting them.

One of the disadvantages of departments is there can be some competition and lack of cooperation between staff members in different areas. Usually this is not a problem if the practice has developed a culture of teamwork and fosters mutual respect among coworkers.

Best wishes for continued success,

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