What To Do When Staff Says No
Communication is key to keep employees
and your practice up to standard.
BOYLES, Managing Editor
successful optometrists credit a portion of their accomplishments to their staff.
But what do you do when a staff member isn't performing to standards? It can often
be difficult to admonish people you rely on and value so heavily. "Optometric practices
are often small and have a family-like atmosphere. It's hard to give negative feedback
to someone you feel close to," says consultant Marilee Blackwell, president of Blackwell
Dealing with staff issues before they become a significant problem,
however, can help assure your practice runs smoothly. Here, veteran managers offer
tips on resolving conflict within your staff.
Starting on the right foot
The best way to avoid serious problems with staff members is to
keep potentially troublesome employees from entering the office in the first place,
says Andrew Gurwood, O.D., Associate Professor of Clinical Sciences at Pennsylvania
College of Optometry in Philadelphia. "Call all references before making a decision
to hire a job candidate. A hasty or wrong decision will cost time, materials and
patients," he says.
An accurate job description is necessary for your staff members.
Bob Levoy, O.D. of Rosyln, N.Y., author of "201 Secrets of a High Performance Optometric
Practice," says the most common complaint he hears from optometric staff is that
the job is not what it was described to be upon hiring. "At the root of the problem
is a failure to have a written job description," says Dr. Levoy. He suggests asking
current employees to make a list of all the tasks for which they are responsible.
Next, ask them to rank those tasks in order of importance. "Then, compare each list
to a list of your own for the same job. A high percentage of such lists that I have
seen differ from each other, from mildly to profoundly," he says.
It's also good to note that each employees' job description has
the potential to change. Optom-etrist Milton Hom of Azusa, Calif., suggests telling
staff, "This is your job description, but it can change in the future. We do appreciate
employees that are flexible." He adds, "Employees actually like to hear these things
at the outset."
Heading them off at the pass
Orientation and training can also make or break a staff member's
level of performance. Make sure all staff receives a copy of your employee handbook.
Dr. Gurwood says this should contain the employee's job description, review periods,
dress code, expectations, violations and consequences. Give new staff members some
time to review the office policies and go over anything that's unclear so that all
questions are answered during the honeymoon period.
make sure that staff receive adequate training. "Staff need to know how something
is done properly to establish a baseline of competence," says Dr. Gurwood. "An employee
cannot be held accountable to a standard they have not been shown."
Even with the best interview, training and orientation procedures
in place, you may still encounter issues. This happens for myriad reasons, and must
be dealt with on an individual basis. Some examples include:
Optometrist Jay Petersma of Johnston, Iowa, recommends using time clock software
that requires employees to log in and onto the PC. Keep accurate records to address
problems in this area.
This can be a tough issue to address, but it can also have a significant impact
on how patients view your practice. "Hold a staff meeting devoted to image so no
one feels singled out," says Dr. Petersma. "Affirm expectations like aroma, dress
code, breath, etc. and tell employees you and/or the manager will be particular
and point out all infractions for a few weeks until it's ingrained."
Internet and phone use. Your office policies should clearly address this issue so
there is no confusion. "Set up web browsers' parental control options to only allow
users to visit Web sites the office needs for business purposes," says Dr. Petersma.
You can add a supervisor password to allow new sites on a case-by-case basis until
they are added to the approved list. Remove e-mail clients and instant messenger
capabilities from all PCs in the office. Dr. Petersma also suggests setting-up a
PC and telephone in the break area where employees can surf the web or make personal
calls during breaks and at lunchtime.
incentives. Be sure all sales representatives know to confirm distribution of all
complimentary merchandise or incentives with you and/or the office manager.
It's likely that most of your staff will never create serious
performance issues, but there are those employees whose performance and attitude
can impact your whole practice. (For more on the effects of negative staff behavior,
see "Fix This Practice," page 26.) Evaluate all staff issues in context, says Jerry
Hayes, O.D. owner and president of Hayes Consulting. Is the problem occurring with
a new employee or a long-time staff member? Is his or her job description clear?
Is the manager doing an adequate job? These are all things you must take into consideration.
Repeated mistakes can affect business and must be addressed. Positive
and negative feedback are key to helping staff improve. "Many employers make the
mistake of only telling people the good things or only the bad things. It's imperative
to do both," says Ms. Blackwell. Many managers are concerned, however, that too
much negative feedback can result in staff feeling unappreciated. Combat this by
trying to balance the positive with the negative. When you must point out a staff
member's mistake, try also to point out something he or she has done well.
Ms. Blackwell also says it's important to give feedback on the
same day the behavior occurred so that it's fresh on everyone's minds. Dr. Gurwood
agrees, "Waiting too long after an incident or avoiding conflict in hopes an undesirable
behavior will somehow just evaporate are common mistakes. Time simply clouds the
record and sends an implicit message that the offense was not severe enough to warrant
Consultant Gary Gerber, O.D., president of the Power Practice,
employs the concept of positive reinforcement we all learned about in Psych 101.
When you catch a staff member doing something well, immediately praise (reward)
him or her for doing so. For example, one of your technicians writes a lab order
incorrectly. If this was a one-time thing and not a repetitive problem, Dr. Gerber
suggests taking the employee aside to quietly discuss the problem. First, let the
staff member know mistakes are human. Then, point out the error and explain why
it's important to do it right the first time. In this case, "If the order had been
sent to the lab as is, the patient would have suffered a needless delay and inconvenience
in waiting for her glasses."
In the future, when the employee performs the task as you requested,
affirm the changed behavior, says Dr. Gerber. "After she writes up the next lab
order correctly, tell her so. 'Lisa, that's exactly what I was referring to this
morning. That helps me so much.'" Thank employees for their help to let them know
that you value their participation.
Dr. Hayes notes that some employees act out when harboring resentment
towards the owner/manager. Their passive/ aggressive behavior is a way to express
dissatisfaction with something about their job. "This could be an otherwise good
worker who just doesn't know how to confront the boss on an issue that's really
bothersome," says Dr. Hayes. This kind of resentful behavior often stems from unfulfilled
promises on the part of the employer, such as being passed over for a raise or promotion.
"In a case like this, the employee is trying to bring things to a head so they will
have a chance to clear the air with their employer. Try to win this employee's confidence
and discover what's bothering him or her," he suggests.
While most staff members will respond and improve with good training
and positive reinforcement, you may occasionally encounter resistance. For extreme
circumstances where a staff member's behavior has a major impact, Ms. Blackwell
advises going through the counseling process with staff. "This means that you give
a verbal warning and you and the employee agree on the date the problem will be
resolved. A second warning is written and signed by the employee," she says.
Document warnings during an employee's performance review, or
at any time you feel it's warranted. Keep in mind, also, that should you decide
to let an employee go, this kind of documentation can protect you from legal action.
"Firing for cause requires documentation, especially because disgruntled employees
can claim harassment, ignorance, discrimination and other offenses," warns Dr. Gurwood.
We hope most of your staff says "yes" on a regular basis. But
if and when they don't, try employing these techniques for managing difficult moments.
Optometric Management, Issue: December 2005