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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor April 18, 2012 - Tip #529 
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How to Tell If You Need More Staff

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Last week, I wrote about the practice-building power of adding staff members. This week, let's look at the issue of deciding when your practice is ready for an additional employee and how to find the right one.

Observe the practice for two weeks
We can talk about rules of thumb and practice metrics, but the best way to determine if you need another staff member is to observe your practice in action. All practices have random ups and downs in patient flow and it is important to analyze staffing over a long enough period for that to even out.

It's OK if staff members are extremely busy for a while, as long as the activity settles down to a normal pace so staff have time to complete the administrative aspects of the job. Mistakes happen too often when people are rushed and stressed. It's also OK for staff to have some time to socialize with co-workers on the job, as long as it is not excessive. Where that work demand line should fall is a judgment call that the practice owner and manager have to make. I would think about the overall vision of the practice as that judgment is made. If your practice is designed on the basis of excellent customer service, I would move the line to having more staff available even if you have to raise your fees. If the goal of the practice is basic eye care at low prices, I would favor fewer employees.

I often hear doctors and managers say they would not need an additional employee if the current staff would just not call off so much. But the fact is that staff members do call off and that is the norm that must be factored in. Not every day will be staffed perfectly, but most days should be.

Other changes that call for more staff
In addition to adding staff to keep up with growth, you might want to make a change to your usual practice model. Some of these changes may require another employee. There is some normal business risk when you make a proactive change, but the risk is extremely small and there is great upside potential. Change stimulates growth. Here are some examples of strategies that require more staff, but also produce much more revenue.

  • You have a plan to delegate more. This is always a good move. Even if you don't have a lot of patient demand, I would try to compress the patients you have now into fewer days so you can use the other days to build the practice.
  • You want to expand your marketing reach. The doctor and manager may intend to do more but never get around to it. You could hire a new front desk staff person and assign the side job of Director of Marketing. She owns this new role and spends dedicated time on community outreach, social media, email marketing and more.
  • You are hiring a new doctor. This is a wonderful step that greatly increases patient volume and revenue. This additional technician will pay for herself immediately.
  • You have a staff member who you want to dismiss. Never a pleasant task, but if you have tried to rehabilitate a problem staff member with no success and are ready to part ways, consider hiring a replacement employee first. Let the new person get onboard, fully trained and proven to be a keeper, and then you can let the other one go. You will have a larger payroll for a few weeks, but you will avoid a difficult period of being understaffed.

How to find candidates
Craig's List has become the standard for employment ads. It is an excellent resource, along with other online services that specialize in employment. There are also some optical industry employment websites. The cost is low and these services really work, so be sure to list your job opening there. If you don't get a good response with these web-based services, place an ad in your local newspaper. While this is more expensive, many people still look in the paper when they are seeking job opportunities and the newspaper will run your ad in an online and print version.

One other good way to find the right person is to be on the lookout when you are dining out or shopping in retail stores. If you work with someone who takes very good care of you and obviously "gets it", give him or her your business card and say you are always looking for employees who provide great service like this and ask the person to call if she wants to make a career change. Of course, you will have to train this person to have optical skills, but finding the right person is more important than the skills.

I like to give the name of my practice and address in the employment ad and ask people to apply in person during normal business hours. We can tell a lot by just looking at the candidate and having them complete our own employment application. My office manager calls the ones who look good to come in for an interview. After that process is completed, I meet with the manager to review the best candidates. I may do a second interview myself, or just formulate a wage and job offer. The manager calls the applicant back and makes the offer.

Best wishes for continued success,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week

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Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.

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