Article Date: 5/1/2006

fix this practice
Big Staff Equals Big Headaches
Practice growth can be both exciting and problematic.
RICHARD S. KATTOUF, O.D., D.O.S

Q: As a solo practitioner, my income reached one million for the first time in 28 years. My problem is staff. Departments are at odds, employees snap at each other and don't follow standard operating procedures and morale is low. I am more stressed and less happy than at any time in my career. Help!

   Dr. V. G. Hackim, via E-Mail

A: First, allow me to congratulate you on your achievements. As a solo practitioner with one million gross, you're in an elite group.

Practice growth inevitably necessitates more staff. A larger staff can create a management nightmare. Doctors find themselves in the exam room more with less time to assure staff is staying within the bounds of office policy procedures. Individual personalities may clash within departments. These types of human dynamics in the workplace are morale busters. create tension and stress in all departments.

Flying blind

Another common staffing behavior is "department phobia" (a term I made-up). The employees who exhibit this behavior, have blinders on when it comes to anything outside their own workstations. For example, the optical department is over-loaded with patients and there aren't enough frame stylists (opticians) to handle the crowd. Front office staff is in a temporary down time, yet no one steps out of their department to assist. This creates feuds among departments, destroys the team concept, long wait periods and inconveniences patients. 

Few employees are self-starters who take on responsibility, have awareness and common sense. It is unfortunate but true that these behavior patterns occur due to lack of oversight and management.  

Nice guys finish last

Dr. S. Sorsee called my company for a consultation and disclosed staffing issues as I have discussed. After observing his staff, meeting with them both as a group and one-on-one, I determined that this group had no boundaries. There were arguments, cliques, departmental feuds, excessive tardiness, improper language and discussions in front of patients and tremendous time embezzlements — for starters. Dr. Sorsee was "nice to a fault." He enabled negative behavior.

The doctor would never be a hands-on manager, so I appointed two supervisors: one for optical and one for front desk and technicians. I gave the them three months to demonstrate their managerial skills. I spelled out their duties and was available by e-mail, fax and phone to assist along the way. As they showed they could handle management responsibilities, I empowered them to make decisions on their own. Each department now has a "state patrolman" with the knowledge and authority to control behavioral patterns as defined by the office's standard operating procedures. The results have been tremendous.

It was necessary to terminate three "anchors" and replace them with team performers. The result for Dr. Sorsee is an organization that exhibits high morale, professionalism, efficiency and productivity. He is smiles and enjoys his practice more than ever.

Optometric practices are professional businesses that require employees with varied dynamics. It is your duty to have checks, balances and controls to assure the operation runs smoothly with minimal stress.

DR. KATTOUF IS PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER OF TWO MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING COMPANIES. FOR INFORMATION, CALL (800) 745-EYES OR E-MAIL HIM AT ADVANCEDEYECARE@HOTMAIL.COM. THE INFORMATION IN THIS COLUMN IS BASED ON ACTUAL CONSULTING FILES.



Optometric Management, Issue: May 2006