Article Date: 11/1/2003

staffing solutions
Associate Relationships
Consider an "expectations exchange" to keep the air clear.
By Bob Levoy, O.D.

Optometrists often have unrealistic expectations about recently hired associates -- and vice versa. These one-sided, unspoken expectations often lead to disappointment and resentment on both sides. Each person bases these expectations on the presumption that the other will cooperate in a plan that they've never actually sat down and discussed.

He said/she said

When two or more people enter into a business relationship, they do so with entirely different agendas. Even worse, they never articulate these agendas and, invariably, one or both individuals gets a big surprise when things don't turn out as expected.

More specifically, optometrists, for example, complain that recently hired associates:

► Haven't networked with ophthalmologists, primary care physicians, etc., who could make referrals to the practice

► Focus too much on one aspect of the practice (i.e., contact lenses)

► Spend too much time with patients

► Haven't taken a business interest in the practice.

And when you talk with associates, they too have complaints about surprises. These include:

► The pressure to see more patients and to produce more revenue

► Nighttime and weekend coverage of the practice

► The slow progress of increased compensation, benefits and eventual partnership

► The lack of a voice in such matters as the establishment of office policies, purchase of equipment and hiring decisions.


No Name, Big Impact


"We live in a culture, especially at work, that prefers harmony over discord, agreement over dissent, speed over deliberation," writes Leslie A. Perlow, associate professor at the Harvard Business School in her book, When You Say Yes But Mean No (Crown Business, 2003).

From the workplace to home, she says, we tend to avoid conflict in the belief that doing so will preserve harmony and productivity. Yet the result is usually the opposite: Without confron- tation, problems persist and even worsen. Perlow dubs this phenomenon "the problem that has no name."

One of the costs of silencing conflict, Perlow says, is the effect it has on our motivation and engagement. When work relationships are marked by pent-up frustration, our work suffers. She claims the problem is "highly costly" for individuals and businesses.


The failure to have discussions about such matters is understandable. An O.D. who's anxious to find an associate doesn't want to scare off a good candidate by making excessive demands about the future any more than a prospective associate wants to jeopardize a good career opportunity by doing the same. Yet without discussing such expectations at the start, it's unlikely that everyone will end up "on the same page." Disappointment -- for one or both parties -- is inevitable.

Try this

At the outset, initiate an "expectations exchange" with a prospective associate. State your priorities, expectations and what timetable you have in mind. Have the associate do the same. Negotiation may be necessary to reach an agreement.

Also consider drafting a letter that spells out your understanding of the arrangement. It won't ensure compliance, but it might eliminate the vagueness that often leads to misunderstandings.



Optometric Management, Issue: November 2003