Great Staff: How Do You Find Them and Keep Them?

Here’s a hint: They share your practice’s core values.


Great Staff: How Do You Find Them and Keep Them?

Here’s a hint: It’s all about your practice’s core values.


The moment a guest arrives in our office, the curtain goes up and they expect the best production of Vision Source Tifton. And just like a Broadway show, our guests (or patients, if it makes you feel more comfortable) do not care about our difficult morning with children or a snoring spouse who kept us awake. The team must act as if everything is great. If we choose the wrong people for our team, things do not go well.

While we spend a great deal of time on processes and checklists, we do not take care of guests with these — we take care of them with people. How do we find these people? The key is to find the people who are, as the Ritz Carlton says, “Ladies and Gentlemen serving of Ladies and Gentlemen.”

Can you change them?

This is not an easy proposition. When you interview a prospective team member, you may say to yourself, “Self, this person has worked with my biggest competitor. The best teachers trained him. His attitude may be poor, but I can change him.”

Well, guess what: You can’t. I have learned this lesson the hard way. I am not saying people can’t change. But why spend all the time and money to find a great team member, educate them and then spend more time and money to “change” them when you could first start with a “changed” individual?

In his book How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In (HarperCollins 2009), author Jim Collins discusses six characteristics of having the right people in key seats. Number one is the right people fit with the organization’s core values. How do you get your team to share your practice’s core values? Well, you don’t. You find and select people who already have your values as part of their “DNA.” Then, you make sure they have the right tools to perform their tasks. Next, you hang on to them with your dear life.

The good news: These people really do exist. I have eight wonderful teammates: Aubree (four years), Brandy (three years), Dawn (six years), Helen (12 years), Kollette (seven years), Loretta (eight years), Patricia (seven years) and Rosa (one year) and a fantastic associate, Dr. Jennifer Schussele (one year). It was not easy finding them. We tried the usual tools, such as newspaper and journal ads, but the best teammates came from two sources: my friends and colleagues and our teammates’ friends and colleagues.

How We Advertised for a New O.D.

“Come and get to know your neighbors in our charming community that offers much more than your average small town. Get to know your patients who will greet you with a smile each time you see them at the park, the grocery store, at church or when you are out to eat. Come and see a place where you want to start or raise your family. See a practice where traditional caring meets the latest in state-of-the-art technology, diagnosis and treatment of the eye. Come and see how your quality of life will be enhanced in our practice.”

Friendly help

One evening, I told my wife, Kristin, that there should be a way to ask friends and colleagues for names of people they did not hire recently only because they had no positions available. She replied, “Why don’t you just send a blanket e-mail to all your buddies in Tifton?” So I followed her advice. (See “Letter to Friends and Colleagues,” page 20.)

The results were phenomenal. I thought it would be a bother, but in 2012, businesses in Tifton laid off people they wanted to keep but could not, due to the economic downturn.

My biggest problem became that I had too many quality applicants (23). We interviewed 10 and I could have selected at least three for our one position.

The key to success was conducting a specific search. Where ads list the same things — job responsibilities, pay, benefits, advancement and so on — my letter told the story of who we wanted. You could almost see the person if you closed your eyes. (We took the same approach when searching for an associate doctor. See “How We Advertised for a New O.D.” on page 18 for ad copy.)

Narrowing the field

The process of culling through candidates was not easy. We stuck to a set of criteria for those whom we would interview. Only you can decide your criteria, but I surprised my team with the idea that the candidate should have not worked in our industry. This seems counterintuitive for hiring a clinical team member, but I wanted to spend time on people skills, attitude and work ethic.

Longevity was also important. I did not consider candidates who worked at more than one position for less than two years unless it was obviously due to a relocation.

Our field narrowed to 10. We then conducted phone interview, which left four candidates. The first showed up in Daisy Duke’s and a tank top. (Was that a learning experience or 10 minutes I will never get back?) The other three, however, really stood out.

Focus on behavior

My interview questions are more behavioral-based, something I learned through the Disney Institute ( You can find examples by conducting a Web search on “behavioral-based interview questions.” The candidates’ answers show how they cognitively and ethically reason.

For example, ask candidates about a disagreement with a teammate in which they felt strongly enough to defend their side. Then, ask how they tried to convince the colleague that their way was better. Here, you want candidates to show a little backbone and how they initiate positive confrontation. You might also ask candidates how they do more than required at their job. The answers reflect the candidates’ initiative.

I always ask about previous jobs; why they left, what they would have changed, what they miss and so on. Do they take the high road when answering? Time spent bad-mouthing the previous teammates, job or leadership is a sign of a poisoned apple (Disney talk, a la Snow White). You want a person who has ideas of how to improve rather than one who just lets the job happen to them.

The last two questions I always ask: “When you lay your head at night and you think to yourself it was a good day, what is it that made it a good day?” and “If I call to offer you a chance to move on to the next level, what will be your answer?”

A week later, I invite the candidates to undergo two different assessments. The first is a cognitive reasoning assessment so I can make sure they are going to be challenged and can handle the new position. The second, a leadership skills assessment, identifies leadership style and lets me know how the candidates fit with my team. If someone exhibits weak leadership skills, we put them at the back of the line of candidates.

Recruting Letter to Friends and Colleagues

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I appreciate you taking the time to consider how you can help me and my practice. I am in search for a new member to join our team at Vision Source Tifton as we continue to grow. This individual is someone who would have the ability to serve our patients in a caring manner. Someone who understands that the patients’ time is more valuable than their own. A person who is genuinely excited to see people come into their place of work.

It should be someone who would have a commitment to excellence in customer service and believes that the food they are putting in their mouths was paid for by the person who walks through the front door of the practice each day. Most of all, someone who would be considered a lady or gentleman that would take care of ladies and gentlemen. The potential team member is not required to have any formal training but this person MUST have an attitude of genuine caring and service.

If you know this individual, would you kindly have them contact me at any of the ways seen below in my signature. I have specifically chosen you in help for me because I value your judgment of individuals on the basis of their character and their attitudes. Please feel free to forward this email to anyone you feel would be able to help us at Vision Source Tifton.

God bless you and kindest regards,

The internship

Candidates who make it this far return to spend time with us as a paid consultant/intern. They see our office from the inside for three days. I want them to get a good look at what they are getting into. We have already discussed and agreed on a salary so, yes, I pay them what they would be paid if they worked with us. This also gives us time to see how everyone gets along. I tell the interns two things on their first day:

► This will be the hardest job you have ever had. I hope it truly challenges you professionally and personally.

► Everybody has to get along. If you don’t, you will have to get along somewhere else.

Two things are most important about the internship: First, it allows the candidate and the rest of the team to get to know one another and make sure they can play well together.

Second, it gives candidates the opportunity to absorb our culture. To understand our level of care, the candidates’ first task is to have an eye examination carried out by our team. Even if they were our guests in the past, things change and it is important to see the latest “show” performed by the practice. The candidates experience the entire production cycle and give us feedback. It also shows how observant and creative they are.

Next, we extend the employment offer. I know the candidate will most likely accept because I asked him/her in the initial interview. Once the offer is accepted, the difficult thing is to tell someone they don’t have a position with us. I hate letting people down but I hate uncertainty worse, so I tell them as soon as possible.

Orientation: culture first

My boyhood friend and idol, Mike Rothschild, founder of, adapted an orientation program from a hotel group. We spend the full first day making the hire feel very comfortable and letting him/her know it is ok to make mistakes, just not the same one twice. At the end of that first day, I acknowledge that our practice has flaws, just like any organization. I let him/her know he/she will not see perfection, but we are in the relentless pursuit of perfection. After 21 days, I repeat the orientation to see where they are in their growth.

A new member of the family

Earlier, I listed the amount of years our team members have dedicated to our practice. This is large part of their life, and we don’t have a lot of turnover. We teach each other, challenge each other and love each other unconditionally. Yes, we fight like any family, but our respect for each does not let that tear us apart. It follows our core values:

► Treat all with grace and love.

► Create and deliver a WOW experience.

► Be a family.

► Create fun and positivity.

► Seek growth and know-ledge.

► Humbly serve.

Your staffing efforts will succeed when you identify and hire team members who share in your values. OM

images Dr. McElroy is the president and CEO of Vision Source-Tifton, a group primary care and contact lens practice located in Tifton, Ga., and a member of the Vision Source network. E-mail him at, or send comments to