After Vision Expo West and then another practice management conference in Toronto, I'm realizing that many eye care professionals don't have regular weekly staff meetings. I think most practice owners and managers know they should have them, but they just don't get around to making the time. Many doctors used to hold regular meetings but stopped. Now is the time to put weekly meetings back on the books and begin to reap the rewards. I think you need to meet once per week with the whole staff, but daily five minute meetings with key people is also a good idea.
There is no one right or wrong way to hold staff meetings; the important thing is that you meet. I'll offer some guidelines here in an effort to pave the way for you.
I would schedule the meetings for every Monday from 9 to 10am. Just block the appointment schedule in advance so no patients are booked. Go ahead right now and find the first Monday that is empty in that time slot and block it off along with every Monday after that. Once you have it on the books, you are committed and the odds are good you'll actually meet.
Don't worry about the lost revenue from that one hour per week. The improvement in your staff and in your office operation is far more important and well worth the cost. Besides, you really should be able to delegate a little more and still see those patients so production need not be lost.
I don't like to hold staff meetings before work or after hours because employees have families they need to care for. We want to be a good place to work and we're considerate of employees' wants and needs. I also don't like to close the office for routine meetings. It's not good customer service for the patient to find the door locked or voice mail on during normal business hours (Monday through Friday, 9 to 5).
You may be able to meet with your whole staff at once if the office is not very busy during this non-appointed hour and just designate someone to take care of the rare walk-in or phone call. Just work around it. If there is just one doctor and one employee, I would still hold a regular meeting each week. If the practice is larger, you could meet in two shifts like I do. The first session is with the business office staff while the technicians and opticians take care of phones and walk-ins. Then the groups switch places. Some of the items on our agenda may have to be repeated for each group, but many issues are specific to just one department anyway.
I prefer everyone to attend the meetings: practice owners, associate doctors, office managers, lab technicians and staff members. If you have multiple offices, that can be a challenge. Each office can meet with its staff only and the owner may not be able to attend all of the meetings so an office manager may chair the meeting.
You need to meet with your staff on a regular basis to improve communications and to provide leadership on many issues. This is how you improve the culture of your practice and build a better staff. You can inspire and motivate staff to provide better customer service and to have better attitudes.
Here are some examples of how the improved communication can help you manage your practice:
- Work with staff on how to handle customer service issues. Use real examples that occurred in your office.
- Discuss office procedures and review how you do things.
- Announce new events and marketing programs.
- Review administrative procedures such as billing or ordering supplies.
- Provide staff training on clinical or optical procedures. Occasionally, a sales rep may be invited to participate. Or the doctor can explain a technical procedure. An educated staff is a better staff.
- Present new products such as new contact lens designs or new frames that are available.
- Get feedback from staff about patient phone calls, complaints about fees, use and interest in new vision plans, obstacles to making an appointment, walk-in Rxs from other doctors, requests to take spectacle Rxs out, and patient interest in online sales of contact lenses and eyeglasses. There are many things you need to know!
- Brainstorm new ways to grow the practice and improve word of mouth referrals from patients.
Begin by noticing the good and the bad in your office for one week. Carry some note cards with you and jot down things you see and hear that are examples of excellent service and issues that need work.
Take your list to the meeting and ask other key people in your office to bring any times they wish to discuss each week.
- Be sure to focus on some positive actions. Don't overlook all the things your staff does right. If you had a compliment from a patient, share it.
- Don't single anyone out as an example of bad performance. Criticize individuals in private only. You may bring up and work on problems that affect the office as a whole, but keep emotion out of it. Anger is counter-productive.
- Be sure to let others talk. Encourage questions. Ask questions of the group to encourage interaction. Role-playing works well. Invite someone to discuss how they handle certain situations. It may take a few meetings for some staff members to feel confident enough to participate.
- Invite other key staff to bring anything new to the meeting form their departments and also to bring up problems. The doctor or manager can serve as a moderator to prevent the tone of the meeting from becoming too negative. Keep it constructive and positive.
- If you aren't sure how to handle a tough situation, which easily happens, don't be pressured into making a bad decision on the spot. Say you'll think about it and get back to the staff.
If you need ideas for staff meeting content, consider these:
- Ask employees to describe for you one thing they noticed that makes patients unhappy. Overcoming the problem is a great topic.
- Ask staff for help doing a SWOT analysis on the practice: list the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the practice and discuss how to make the most of the good and prevent the bad.
- Review or develop the practice mission statement. What business are you really in? What are your priorities? How well are you living up to the mission?
Let me know what you do at your staff meetings that works well.