Exclusive Date: May 7, 2014
Finding the Perfect Office Manager
I wrote that title to get your attention, but I actually think it is nearly impossible to find a perfect manager. Of course, none of us are truly perfect in any endeavor, but even if we don’t take the term literally, I think great managers are made, not found.
Many optometrists want to hire that special person who can take over the business aspects of the practice and the staff management issues so they can concentrate on seeing patients. Many ODs who own their practices want to delegate the business side to a well-paid and competent person so they do not have to think about it. Unfortunately, my experience in consulting tells me that is not usually the best philosophy. Oh, there are a few rare cases where a manager leads a practice to greatness by herself or himself, but far more often, practices that are extremely successful have a doctor/owner who is also involved with the business and with leadership.
We need someone to know a little bit about everything
I often talk to doctors who want to delegate or outsource most administrative aspects of the practice. They would love to buy their way out of operating the practice themselves. These are often smart, ambitious doctors who want to use their time and skills to treat eye problems and have a personal life. Many have grown their practices fairly quickly but they have reached a choke point where the business seems out of control.
The problem with delegating and outsourcing the management is that you put this important task in the hands of people you don’t know and they may let you down. Employees, including managers and insurance coordinators, will eventually quit. Outsourcing firms may start out doing a good job, but they could have some staff turnover and the service suffers. These failings can occur slowly and by the time the practice owner realizes what happened, there can be a serious loss of profit and damage to the practice reputation. If the practice owner knows nothing about the tasks at hand, he or she can become desperate for help and that is not a good situation.
I prefer the doctor/owner, sometimes with a partner or spouse, to learn everything in the practice. These are the only people who are permanent! We need this core group to be able to train others, including the manager. I think it is ideal for the doctor to know something about areas that many doctors do not really like, such as optical dispensing, frame buying, lab ordering procedures, setting fees, insurance billing, daily bank deposits, staff management, accounts receivable and accounts payable.
It may seem like a very tall order for the owning OD to see all the patients and learn everything about the business operations, but it is really not so bad. I think we simply have to organize our time to be more efficient with clinical eye care. See the same number of patients in fewer days of the week and spend some days on management.
The phases of a practice
As the practice grows through phases, from start-up to medium size to high production, the need for the doctor/owner to know everything diminishes. The owner can increasingly depend on others because the staff is getting larger and there can be some redundancy built in when multiple staff members all know the same task. I don’t like it when there is only one person in a practice who knows how to do something important and complex (and is not the owner).
I believe strongly in delegation as the practice grows, but it is still best if the doctor/owner knows the basics about everything. This serves the owner well as he or she monitors the practice and reviews employee performance. And in a tough pinch, which usually happens eventually, the doctor can train a new employee or at least know the resources for where to go for help.
Train your own manager
This same philosophy fits perfectly with my preferred method for finding a great manager. I’d like the practice owner to find someone who has all the skills and traits you would expect in a manager. She or he could be someone already working in the practice or could be hired from outside. I want someone who is compassionate, patient and caring about staff members and understands the importance of great customer service. Beyond that, I’d prefer someone with managerial experience, great computer skills and generally intelligent. A college degree is desirable as is optical training, although not a requirement in my book.
Once you make the selection, I think it is the responsibility of the practice owner to train the manager. This training occurs over years of working together and typically results in a gradual increase in responsibility. Managers don’t start their job knowing everything.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week