Article Date: 3/1/2011

A Policy for Letting Go of Employees
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A Policy for Letting Go of Employees

Does your practice continue to accept marginally effective performance?

Gary Gerber, O.D.

I recently gave a presentation on strategies for staff retention. Afterward, a doctor said, “I have the opposite problem. I have two staff members who have worked for me for nearly seven years and are still marginally effective employees. What do you think I should do?”

I asked him, “after hearing what I said today, and other things you've probably tried, do you think they will ever turn the corner?”

“I doubt it,” he said. “I've tried a lot of things—training, bonuses, sending them to C.E. courses. None of that has helped.”

“So, what will you do now?”

“I guess I'll give them just one more shot,” he replied.

Slow to fire

Yes, this is a true story and in various different iterations, one I've heard many, many times before. Optometrists tend to be incredibly resistant to firing staff members and resistant to my human resources mantra of “Hire slow, fire fast.” I've had clients who didn't fire staff even after they caught them stealing!

“We're so short staffed, I can't afford to let her go,” was the excuse. Really? If they assaulted a patient, would that be enough cause for dismissal?

Short of committing a crime, when is the time to let a poor-performing staff member go? I think we'd agree it's less than seven years. But is seven days too soon? Is seven weeks too long? And how, exactly, do we define “poor-performing staff?”

Just as O.D.'s need to continually take C.E. courses to remain licensed and will get “fired” if they don't take the requisite C.E., the same concept should apply to employees. Not necessarily to be licensed, but to give some indication of their continued ability to optimally perform the jobs they were hired to do. And, with new hires, this process should start with the first day of employment.

From the start

Inform new employees that in the weeks that follow (I'd recommend about two), they'll be given a proficiency exam that they must pass, or face a remedial process. Tell this to the prospective employee. Make the test multiple choice. In advance of testing, present the information to the employee in a clear and concise format. Design the test so that if the employee reads the information, it will be nearly impossible to fail. That way, passing the test ensures they have most likely read and understood the information.

For example, all employees can be given a document that explains the difference between an O.D. and an ophthalmologist. Your multiple choice test would have the exact definitions as each of the two choices. You can use the same process for current employees, and have them re-tested periodically—typically about once a year.

Using ongoing testing assures your employees' knowledge base stays up-to-date and reflects changes in your practice, such as new procedures, technology or products. State laws may vary on such testing, but generally, if the test questions relate to the daily requirements of the position, you're off to a good start.

You may ask:

“But what if a veteran employee doesn't pass the test?”

While you have discretion to handle that, I strongly recommend you have a policy that is enforced equally among all employees. Failing a test doesn't have to equate to termination, but it should be added to the decision mix in the same amount of all employees. OM


Optometric Management, Issue: March 2011