Article Date: 6/1/2002

Staffing Solutions
A Good Person Matters
Character counts when looking for the right person to fill the job.
BY CLARKE D. NEWMAN, O.D., F.A.A.O.

In basketball, the adage is, "You can't coach height." It means that good coaching can make a tall player better, but the best coaching can't make a short person taller, and in basketball, height matters -- a lot.

In optometry, good training can make a good person a staff member, but the best training can't make a staff member a good person, and in optometric staffing, a good person matters -- a lot.

ILLUSTRATION BY NANCY HARRISON

The hiring quandary

We don't hire employees; we hire staff members. We hire people. This truism seems almost ridiculously obvious. However, it's a lot harder to do it right than you may think. I'll bet that there isn't a doc reading this article who hasn't seriously messed up in hiring at least one staff member. I know I have.

The tough part is identifying good people from a pool of strangers bent on making a good first impression. Layer on top of that state and federal regulations limiting what you can ask in an interview, and finding good people becomes a daunting task. No wonder we sometimes make mistakes.

Recognizing tested traits

So, how can we increase our chances of hiring good people? As Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People says, "Begin with the end in mind." We envision what makes a good staffer, but we must envision what makes a good optometric staffer.

I've identified three traits that make for good optometric people:

1. "High emotional tone." These people are engaging, vivacious and enthusiastic. High emotional tone is contagious -- it infects other staff members as well as your patients. And patients who experience high emotional tone become loyal and spend money.

Emotional tone is difficult to fake and is the easiest trait to identify in an interview. I think that lack of this trait should serve as a deal breaker in an interview.

2. Flexible and group oriented. There's no "I" in the word team and your staff is a team. People demonstrate their personal strengths during an interview, so you have to draw out ways in which the applicant can help improve the team. Discuss teamwork in the interview. A group-oriented person will feed off of it; a selfish person will try to re-direct the spotlight back on himself.

3. Mature. Yes, someone can be mature and have a high emotional tone, but it's a delicate balance. Maturity speaks to dependability and professionalism. This trait is the hardest to assess in an interview, so you need references.

A good barometer for maturity is whether or not the applicant has a history of tardiness. Getting to work on time incorporates several aspects of maturity, from sense of duty to self discipline. Most previous employers are reluctant to provide information about former employees because of the risk of litigation, but they'll tell you if a person was habitually late.

Hiring the best

Resist your temptation to hire the most experienced person. Try to hire the best person. A great technician who isn't a mature, group-oriented person with high emotional tone can scare away more patients than the most incompetent nice guy. Yes, you may have to train someone who has the personality but less experience, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Otherwise, you may find yourself trying to coach height.

DR. NEWMAN IS IN SOLO PRACTICE AT THE PLAZA VISION CENTER IN DALLAS, TEXAS. HE'S A DIPLOMATE IN THE CORNEA AND CONTACT LENS SECTION OF THE AAO.

 


Optometric Management, Issue: June 2002