Article Date: 10/1/2004

fix this practice
Friendly Disaster
Making friends with staff might seem like a good idea, but it's really not.
By Richard S. Kattouf, O.D.

Q As a new independent practitioner, I felt it was best to be friends with my staff. It's my opinion that most staffers are crossing the line and taking advantage of me. What have I done wrong and what can I do to remedy this growing problem?

Dr. Evelyn D. Snelson, Via e-mail

A: Staffing problems are certainly in the top five that are brought before my consulting companies in O.D. and in M.D. offices. Doctors/owners of practices must have a definite line of demarcation between ownership and friendship. It's positive for doctors to mentor, give advice and to lend an ear to all staffers. This type of behavior exhibits leadership and respect.

However, when the doctor participates in the everyday "huddling conversation" of staff, huge problems will arise. Huddling is the normal chit-chat employees exhibit when they discuss dating, marital problems and children. Once doctors participate in the "social speak," act as a friend and spend time with staffers after work hours, they totally loose control of employees. Here's what often follows:

In short, the staff controls the doctor.

Structure, organization and specific consequences to negative behavior are key to staff develop- ment. The "friendship" approach guarantees loss of control.

Just ask Dr. Hale

Dr. Hale contacted my consulting company with numerous management problems. He hired me to perform an on-site consultation and in evaluating the scheduling of his 13 staffers, I asked why so many different starting and ending times existed. Dr. Hale explained that he had allowed each staffer to participate in their personal schedule.

The organization of this office was out of control. Employees were coming and going with little or no communication between each other. This chaos delayed orders and staff weren't returning phone calls in a timely manner. Proper staffing during the lunch period was also a daily problem.

Dr. Hale enabled this type of behavior and participation. He and his spouse told me that they regularly allowed the staff to call Dr. Hale by his first name, even in front of patients. Dr. Hale and his wife had both crossed the line from owner to friend. The result: The staff was taking advantage of them.

Re-evaluating the relationship

The solution that I put into place for Dr. Hale's office was as follows:

► The owners took over scheduling. I explained to the staff that we couldn't and wouldn't continue to accommodate every want and need. We posted monthly schedules.

► I developed a "Request" form for employees to use if they wanted to request a change in their schedule. I told the staff that ownership would read the request, but that they were responsible for finding another employee to work in their place. The owners would make the final decision.

► No more doctor/owner participation in the "friendship" talking and socializing.

► The staff would always address Dr. Hale as "Doctor Hale."

► All staff requests were required in writing.

The new direction was a difficult change in behavior for both owners and staff.

Who's the boss?

All good consultations direct positive change in behavior. Dr. Hale's practice benefited greatly by developing a business that exhibited superior organizational skills, less stress and increased profits.

Ask yourself this question: "Am I controlling my staff, or are they controlling me?"

Dr. Kattouf is president and founder of two management and consulting companies.  For information, call (800) 745-EYES or e-mail him at The information in this column is based on actual consulting files.


Optometric Management, Issue: October 2004