Optometric Management Tip # 546   -   Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Quick, when was your last staff meeting?

As I consult with optometrists, I'm amazed at how many do not hold regular staff meetings! I hear all kinds of reasons, such as "We have a small staff" or the more honest (but faulty) "We don't have anything to talk about." I often hear a more vague response like "We used to have them more often, but (fill-in various excuses)." Staff meetings are one of those factors that are an absolute must if you want to build a successful practice. I'll go a step further and say you need to hold staff meetings at least weekly. Read on to find out why this is so important and how to go about holding meetings.

Leadership and management
A successful eye care practice needs management and leadership, and they both occur at staff meetings. Management guru Peter Drucker said "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." The former is tactical and the latter is strategic, but both are vitally important to your practice!

Some parts of your staff meeting may be dedicated to doing things right, such as how we schedule an appointment, how we begin the eye exam or how we dispense eyewear. This is a form of training, in a way, and training should be continuous. It involves talking about how we currently do things and then considering if there may be a better way.

Other aspects of the staff meeting may be directed at doing the right things. This could be in the form of feedback from staff after asking them questions. If you try, you can come up with dozens of questions that would create excellent dialogue at your staff meetings and would help you to refine your practice goals. Here are a few to get you started: Unless your practice is perfect, you need to communicate with your staff frequently to improve as many aspects as possible. To refine your vision and your goals, you should be in touch with your staff to help you understand the wants and needs of your market. I strongly recommend that you choose a specific day of the week and time and make that your staff meeting time. Block off the schedule and hold a meeting every week. Start now by blocking off the patient schedule for the next ten weeks.

When to hold meetings
The when and how of your meetings are not nearly as important as just having them, so I'm a big believer in doing the meetings any way you wish and any way that works. There are differences in management style and in personalities, and the doctors, owners and managers can determine what works best. Here are some ideas to consider: What to cover
If you seem to have trouble coming up with items to discuss at meetings, I think you should dig deeper into how people communicate in your practice. Take a hard look at the culture in your practice that might make people overly shy about speaking. I'm sure there are issues in your practice that can be improved, so there really is plenty to talk about! This situation makes me think the doctor and staff members are holding back. Perhaps the staff feels that the doctor does not want to know or need to know some of the problems that occur. Perhaps the doctor feels that he or she does not need any input on what would be good for the practice in the future. Maybe the practice is not in a growth mode and no one is working on marketing or customer service. In any case, change this culture into one where everyone is working to improve the practice and no one is too embarrassed to try.

Industry sales reps can be excellent speakers and give your meetings a refreshing change, but you will need to be selective. Most representatives will give an excellent presentation and will stick to your time frame, but I insist on talking with them in advance about what they will cover. Will she use PowerPoint? Are there handouts or other props? Generally speaking, most of these presentations would be better if they were shorter. The standard corporate slides can be quite boring and non-productive!

Do you need an agenda in advance?
I go back to my earlier statement of following your own style. I prefer the staff meeting to be flexible and open to any topics from anyone (unless there is a special program, as with a sales rep). But many offices prepare an agenda and circulate it a few days in advance and that is fine too. I keep a running list of topics to talk about all week long and so do our key staff members. I don't circulate my list, but I bring it to the meeting.

I have a 15 minute meeting before the staff meeting with our doctors and managers. This allows all of us to review items we would like to discuss and whoever leads the meeting (often me, but not always) can manage the flow of topics and call on people to present ideas.

Many offices have a morning huddle, which is a very short meeting at a specific time every day to discuss the events of the day and any other items of interest. This meeting could be as short as five minutes, but it makes for excellent staff communication and patient service.
Best wishes for continued success,

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