As I consult with optometrists, I'm amazed at how many do not hold regular staff meetings! I hear all kinds of reasons, such as "We have a small staff" or the more honest (but faulty) "We don't have anything to talk about." I often hear a more vague response like "We used to have them more often, but (fill-in various excuses)." Staff meetings are one of those factors that are an absolute must if you want to build a successful practice. I'll go a step further and say you need to hold staff meetings at least weekly. Read on to find out why this is so important and how to go about holding meetings.
Leadership and management
A successful eye care practice needs management and leadership, and they both occur at staff meetings. Management guru Peter Drucker said "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." The former is tactical and the latter is strategic, but both are vitally important to your practice!
Some parts of your staff meeting may be dedicated to doing things right, such as how we schedule an appointment, how we begin the eye exam or how we dispense eyewear. This is a form of training, in a way, and training should be continuous. It involves talking about how we currently do things and then considering if there may be a better way.
Other aspects of the staff meeting may be directed at doing the right things. This could be in the form of feedback from staff after asking them questions. If you try, you can come up with dozens of questions that would create excellent dialogue at your staff meetings and would help you to refine your practice goals. Here are a few to get you started:
What insurance plans do callers ask us about the most? Is this changing? Are there some that we don't accept?
What are some of the most difficult questions people ask over the phone?
When patients decide to not get glasses from our office, what are some reasons they give you?
Why don't more patients buy a full year supply of contact lenses?
Is our eye exam too long, too short or just right?
Unless your practice is perfect, you need to communicate with your staff frequently to improve as many aspects as possible. To refine your vision and your goals, you should be in touch with your staff to help you understand the wants and needs of your market. I strongly recommend that you choose a specific day of the week and time and make that your staff meeting time. Block off the schedule and hold a meeting every week. Start now by blocking off the patient schedule for the next ten weeks.
When to hold meetings
The when and how of your meetings are not nearly as important as just having them, so I'm a big believer in doing the meetings any way you wish and any way that works. There are differences in management style and in personalities, and the doctors, owners and managers can determine what works best. Here are some ideas to consider:
I think a regular day and time is important. It helps people plan and it makes the meeting more likely to take place.
Select a day when most staff members are present to work. I would not make an employee come in on a scheduled day off, because the meeting is every week, but I'd like to have as many people there as possible.
For multiple offices, I would have weekly meetings for each office, but perhaps everyone can meet together monthly if the distance is not too far.
Invariably, some people will be absent. That's no reason to not meet. Have someone take notes and post them in the office. Any staff members who miss the meeting must read the minutes and initial them. The minutes are kept in a binder or scanned into a PC as a record of topics covered and decisions made.
I prefer to hold staff meetings during regular business hours, but this is not a hard and fast rule. I would tend to not hold meetings after office hours because employees are tired and they want to go home to their families.
I prefer to not lock the office door and let the phones go to voice mail during normal business hours (9 to 5). This would be a good reason to hold the meeting at 8am in my opinion. My office meets in two shifts from 9am to 10am on Monday morning. The doctors and managers meet with the business office staff first, while the technicians and opticians handle the phones and walk-ins. We switch staff groups about half way through and the business office handles the front desk.
What to cover
If you seem to have trouble coming up with items to discuss at meetings, I think you should dig deeper into how people communicate in your practice. Take a hard look at the culture in your practice that might make people overly shy about speaking. I'm sure there are issues in your practice that can be improved, so there really is plenty to talk about! This situation makes me think the doctor and staff members are holding back. Perhaps the staff feels that the doctor does not want to know or need to know some of the problems that occur. Perhaps the doctor feels that he or she does not need any input on what would be good for the practice in the future. Maybe the practice is not in a growth mode and no one is working on marketing or customer service. In any case, change this culture into one where everyone is working to improve the practice and no one is too embarrassed to try.
Industry sales reps can be excellent speakers and give your meetings a refreshing change, but you will need to be selective. Most representatives will give an excellent presentation and will stick to your time frame, but I insist on talking with them in advance about what they will cover. Will she use PowerPoint? Are there handouts or other props? Generally speaking, most of these presentations would be better if they were shorter. The standard corporate slides can be quite boring and non-productive!
Do you need an agenda in advance?
I go back to my earlier statement of following your own style. I prefer the staff meeting to be flexible and open to any topics from anyone (unless there is a special program, as with a sales rep). But many offices prepare an agenda and circulate it a few days in advance and that is fine too. I keep a running list of topics to talk about all week long and so do our key staff members. I don't circulate my list, but I bring it to the meeting.
I have a 15 minute meeting before the staff meeting with our doctors and managers. This allows all of us to review items we would like to discuss and whoever leads the meeting (often me, but not always) can manage the flow of topics and call on people to present ideas.
Many offices have a morning huddle, which is a very short meeting at a specific time every day to discuss the events of the day and any other items of interest. This meeting could be as short as five minutes, but it makes for excellent staff communication and patient service.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.