VIEWPOINT: Empowering Staff

True empowerment. When it works, it really works.

True Empowerment
When it works, it really works.

Are you as tired of hearing the word "empowerment" as I am?" I admit that this bit of corporate jargon has been so overused it became cliché years ago.

But whether you want to call it empowering, using staff members to their fullest -- or even delegating, this tool is a necessity for any practice that needs more staffing help.

What's holding you back?

If you're like most doctors, your number-one frustration is staffing issues -- managing, training and hiring qualified staff. But rethinking your own staff members' unique qualities and reassigning duties or increasing staffers' responsibilities might just be the answer you hadn't considered.

I recently spoke with Nena Price, a practice management consultant who's worked in the optometric field for 13 years, to get her insights into making true empowerment work.

"I think empowerment is more difficult today because it's difficult enough to find good, qualified staff -- let alone find great people who will grow and shape the practice," she says.

But it can be done, and done well. Here, she gives some suggestions:

  • First, you must have trust. You need to have the utmost trust in a person to carry out your goals and ideals for your practice.
  • Resist the urge to micromanage. Many doctors do this because they're unsure about a situation.
  • Ready the person for the task. Approach an employee, ask for help and spell out exactly what's needed. Don't just hand off the job and assume the person can do it.
  • Get adequate training for the employee. Send the person for appropriate training, check back with her on a regular basis at first to assess progress, and then less frequently.
  • Consider a temporary employee. It's better to have a temp working in your practice than to have a poor full-time staff member.
  • Deconstruct the job if you can't find the one right person to handle it. Sometimes it's worth breaking down a task into several parts and assigning several people different pieces of the job, depending on their strengths.

Picking the right personality

After you determine the types of tasks you want to delegate, carefully assess who on staff would handle the responsibility best.

Look for the following qualities:

  • good common sense
  • reliability
  • a quick learner.

Also, consider opting for a person who's worked successfully at the practice for at least 1 year. Just because you hit it right off the bat with a certain person's personality, doesn't mean that she'll work. Everyone needs time to prove themselves.

And remember, sometimes it pays to just take a chance on a person.