The Solution to Staff Management Problems? Better Communication
December 26, 2018
By Steve Vargo, OD, MBA
Hands down the #1 challenge I hear from practice owners is staff management. It’s not even close. Practice owners and managers often see themselves as fire fighters, spending their work days dealing with a continual stream of spontaneous eruptions. I’ve found that both the cause and solution almost always involve the same thing – communication!
In a typical optometry practice, the OD spends the majority of the day in the exam lane, separate from the staff. And quite frankly, many ODs don’t particularly enjoy the "people management" side of operating a practice. While many practices have an office manager, not all managers exhibit the same strengths with managing people. When a leadership void develops in any organization, a lack of communication is often at the root of many of the problems that occur. Some examples are employees who are unclear on responsibilities and priorities, ongoing mistakes that go unaddressed, infrequent job performance feedback, and even a lack of listening to employee concerns. Communication is a two-way street!
I will propose two suggestions to help avoid most of the staff management challenges I hear:
First, discontinue all "hoping" and "assuming" when it comes to staff management. I assumed she knew what I meant. I hoped he would have improved by now. She said she had experience, so I assumed she knew how to do the job. I hoped by now he would make fewer mistakes.
These are phrases I frequently hear. When I ask if anyone has met with the employee to candidly discuss the issues, often times the answer is no. I suspect a desire to avoid confrontation is often the reason these discussions don’t take place, but where communication and feedback are lacking you have to consider the following question, "Does the employee know he or she is underperforming?"
This naturally leads us into the second part: communicate more often with your team. Hold regular check-ins to better understand what’s happening and keep everyone on track. Employees need to be very clear on job expectations and be given direct feedback on what they are doing great (this is information they need to continue doing these things) and also areas that need improvement. I find that managers who schedule time to meet frequently one-on-one with employees experience far fewer staff management problems than other offices. These meetings allow for clarifying expectations, answering questions, listening to the employee’s concerns and working through problems. These meetings will not feel "confrontational" when your employees begin to understand the goal is to be supportive and help them succeed in their role.
If your pushback for not having these meetings is time, then consider how much time you are spending putting out all the fires that resulted from not having these meetings. It’s more work on the front end but will likely save you time on the back end. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a well-documented study at Google found that the most effective managers are those who frequently make time to meet with employees one-on-one.
To quote George Bernard Shaw, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
Dr. Vargo serves as Optometric Practice Management Consultant for IDOC. A published author and speaker with more than 15 years clinical experience, he is now a full-time consultant advising ODs in all areas of practice management and optometric office operations. For questions or comments about this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.