The Staffing Plunge
How do you know if you're understaffed?
BY NEIL B.
GAILMARD, O.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.O.
Chief Optometric Editor
As a management consultant, I get to see behind the scenes of many practices. These practices are generally strong and healthy, but the owners are still interested in faster growth or bigger bottom lines.
Every practice is different, but one aspect that needs improving in nearly every one is staffing. No big surprise to you, I'm sure. Most O.D.s who own practices say managing staff is their most difficult, time-consuming task.
Don't skimp on staff
I'm not just referring to improving existing staff; I believe most practices need larger staffs. Because the management aspects of staffing are so daunting, I think many doctors believe a larger staff equals more headaches. But you can't build a successful practice, large or small, without excellent people.
Some doctors have given up because they haven't had good luck finding or keeping good staff. Others plan to add staff when the practice gets busier. Quite often, doctors fear taking the next step because they think their costs will increase too much. In my experience, adding another staff member is just what these practices need -- now.
In my 25 years of practice, I went from a single part-time employee to our current staff of 33; most of the time was spent somewhere in between. Never once did I ever experience a drain on cash flow because of increased payroll.
Adding staff strengthens your practice in two often-overlooked ways:
- Increased productivity. Whenever I added a new technician (or receptionist, or optician), productivity went up.
An extra employee might allow delegation of more pre-testing procedures, or more time for the caller who may schedule an appointment, or better care of the patient in the dispensary who's considering two pairs of glasses. For me, productivity always went up more than the salary of the employee.
- Improved customer service. A larger staff reduces stress, which improves morale. If a staffer is sick or on vacation, the office still functions well. With continued excellent customer service, we get more new patient referrals -- a major source of growth. This leads us back to productivity.
Low unemployment makes it harder to attract and keep good staff. It's a lot of work to run help wanted ads, conduct interviews, hold training meetings and maintain an organizational culture that nurtures morale. But I felt that staffing was so important to practice growth that I majored in human resource management in business school.
For your own practice to succeed with staff matters, you may need to schedule specific time each week for staff management, or bring in a full- time practice administrator who can concentrate on staffing. It may even take higher pay rates and more benefits to maintain an excellent staff. A great staff drives the entire practice, and it's worth the effort to invest in this area of your practice.
You may contact Dr.
Optometric Management, Issue: June 2001