Article Date: 12/1/2012


Solving the Top Challenges in Staff Management

Use these tips to juggle your practice’s staffing needs.

If you find it challenging to manage your staff, you are not alone. My experience, along with an informal polling of my clients, concludes that while the fingerprint of each practice is as unique as its individual doctors and staff members, staff management challenges are commonly shared.

This article provides you with practical solutions for the top staff management challenges optometrists face.

“I just can’t find good employees.”

Hiring employees takes valuable time and is made more difficult when one considers the potential problems that may arise if the new hire does not work out.

To solve this challenge, consider the following:

Advertising. Some years ago, one of the most effective ways to find a good employee was newspaper “wanted ads.” Today, advertising for employees through the newspaper is often a waste of time and money. Websites, such as Facebook, Linkedln, and Craigslist have become the primary tools used to recruit and screen potential employees. Using social media is also quite effective in recruiting individuals who have the necessary technology knowledge that is becoming more crucial in our hiring decisions.

Be very specific about the attributes you are looking for, such as experience, certification or licensure, along with education requirements and hours of availability when advertising with social media. Posting a non-specific employment ad results in a large number of unqualified résumés.

Word of mouth remains a valid source of recruitment. Ask your staff whether they know anyone who may be a good fit in your office. When someone provides you with exceptional customer service, give him/her your business card and let him/her know that you are looking for people with great customer service skills to train for a career in eye care.

Interviewing. Keep these tips in mind when you are interviewing candidates:

Prepare for the interview by reviewing the résumé closely.

Let the applicant talk at least 70% of the interview time.

Ask for clarification in areas that concern you, such as gaps in employment.

Schedule the interview for a time when you have plenty of uninterrupted time so that you do not have to rush.

Be patient. Wait for the right person even if you are anxious to fill the opening.

Hire for attitude, and then train for success.

Hiring. Once the decision is made, it is important to set clear expectations, such as attendance and the length of time that should be necessary to perform job duties and expectations. Make certain the new employee understands what is needed to be a successful and productive member of your team by providing written goals that are frequently reviewed with you or the office manager.

“How do I keep my staff motivated?”

True motivation occurs when people are engaged in the vision, not just the process. Staff members are motivated when they are recognized as a valuable contributor to the success of the practice.

This past summer, prior to a scheduled staff coaching session with 19 optometrists, I searched for patient reviews and took a look at each doctor’s website. In the positive patient reviews 100% mentioned staff, however, only three of these practices mentioned staff on their website. While I am sure this was not the case, the perception could be that the patients recognized the staff as being a part of the practice more than the doctor does.

Consider these tips on creating a culture of valuable contributors on staff:

Ask for thoughts, opinions and suggestions after you have created an environment where the employee feels safe giving feedback. It is important to provide several options for staff feedback, as some will not be comfortable speaking up during a staff meeting or coming to you. While it may seem a bit old-fashioned, a simple suggestion box in the break room may be a very effective way to get feedback that you might not otherwise hear.

Take each staff member to lunch quarterly. Use this time to catch up with them personally and to let them know that you value them as a person and employee.

Involve individual staff members in decision-making that is directly related to their daily work. This includes the purchasing of new software and equipment as well as determining which optical lab to use.

Set aside time to meet with the staff as a group regularly. Ask each person to report on their area of expertise.

Gently push employees out of their comfort zones occasionally. Ask them to learn a new skill or make a presentation to the rest of the staff. Don’t forget to congratulate their success.

Give a sincere “thank you” every time it is deserved. This is even more important at the end of a difficult day.

“What is the most effective way to deal with negative staff behavior?”

Nothing kills staff morale more quickly than unaddressed problems. Interpersonal quarrels, performance issues and hostilities between departments have a negative impact on employee motivation and enthusiasm. Additionally, ignoring a problem quickly leads to lost respect for the leader, resulting in ineffective leadership.

Let’s take a look at a three examples of situations that can quickly become toxic to staff morale and discuss solutions:

1. The biller told the optician that she is tired of fixing his mistakes and that he needs to do a better job getting the right information in the computer. The optician is very offended, as he believes that he rarely makes a mistake and the biller is making too much of an issue of it when he does.

Solution: Schedule a meeting with the optician, biller and yourself, stating the purpose of the meeting as determining how each person can assist the other in making his or her job easier. During the meeting, allow the two individuals to come to an agreement with as little involvement from you as possible.

2. One technician is convinced that she does the majority of pre-testing, because the other technician spends too much time chatting with the patient.

Solution: Get the facts first. If the chatty technician is creating extra workload have a discussion with her. Compliment her on wanting to be friendly with the patients, but explain that lengthy conversations keep them waiting longer than they should. Show her that you value her ability to be friendly and sociable by asking her to greet patients at the door during the next trunk show or other event.

3. The front desk staff feels that the technicians should help more with answering the phone. The technicians complain that the front desk staff takes too long to get the chart ready. This creates bottlenecks in the back office patient flow.

Solution: Give each group a chance to view the other job from a different perspective. Make time for each front desk member to spend the day following a technician, and let each technician spend a day at the front desk.

There are many possibilities for negative behavior. Each situation requires individual thought and action and sometimes a good amount of creativity. The key points to remember are to meet the problem head-on, showing professionalism and respect to each person involved while reinforcing that the negative behavior is counterproductive to the success of the practice and the care of the patients.

“It is difficult for my long-term employees to keep up with new technology.”

It is not unusual for an older work force to experience changes in technology differently than those who cut their first teeth on a computer mouse. If you determine that the employee is uncomfortable with new technology, go the extra mile for this person who has been loyal to your practice.

Specifically, invest in additional training hours with a trainer from the company where you purchased the technology. Remind the employee of the value that he/she brings to the practice and give reassurance that you will be patient as he/she becomes comfortable with the change.

“What is the best way to address less than acceptable staff actions?”

There are two categories of unacceptable staff actions: intentional and unintentional. Each should be addressed differently.

An intentional unacceptable action is one that an employee takes even though he or she knows that it is against office policy, such as Internet surfing, texting or frequently arriving to work late. Intentional behavior should be addressed quickly and consistently, following the company’s disciplinary action policy.

Unintentional unacceptable actions can be a little more challenging to address.

For example, you may have a receptionist who has a tendency to reverse numbers, causing wrong phone numbers to be listed in the patient record. While the action is not intentional, it has a direct effect on your ability to care for the patient and needs to be addressed. Discuss the situation privately with the receptionist. It may be that she has a learning disability that is causing the mistake, or maybe she feels that her mistakes are because she is too rushed to check her work. Whatever the case may be, develop an action plan with a set timeline to help her succeed in her job duties.

A more efficient practice

While there is no question that your employees are your greatest asset, at times they can be your greatest challenge.

Allowing your staff to be valuable contributors while holding them accountable for their roles in the success of the practice has a positive impact on your business. OM


Rebecca L. Johnson is the president of Eye-Train4You, a staff coaching and development company that specializes in eyecare. E-mail her at, or send comments to

Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: December 2012, page(s): 37 38 39