fix this practice
Making friends with staff might seem like
a good idea, but it's really not.
Richard S. Kattouf, O.D.
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
Dr. Evelyn D. Snelson, Via e-mail
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:
- The staff calls the doctor by his/her first
- They request special, individual schedules.
(They consider themselves a friend and expect the doctor to accommodate
their wants and needs.) Note: You can't operate a business with each
employee dictating her work schedule.
- Staff requests a greater number of paid days
- Staff demands for higher wages without merit
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
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
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 email@example.com.
The information in this column is based on actual consulting files.
Optometric Management, Issue: October 2004