Many optometrists and office managers don't get around to supervising staff members in action and giving them feedback on job performance. It's understandable: a) we're all busy and b) criticism can feel like a confrontation and it can cause a drop in staff morale in some cases. Nevertheless, the biggest management challenge I hear from ODs and managers has to do with staffing. And a major reason for low production can be traced back to staff who make errors or who have poor attitudes.
Many ODs who own practices believe they should simply communicate their vision of the practice to the staff and then let them go do it. In my experience, that will lead to disappointing results. Staff members do not innately know how to do their jobs very well. Some may do well and some won't. Staff members frequently change the procedures to meet their personal needs. They need ongoing supervision and training by someone who has the best interest of the practice at heart. If the OD is too busy seeing patients, which should be the case, then an office manager is needed. We need an active manager.
One formal review per year or even per quarter is simply not enough feedback! In fact, I don't even like scheduled employee reviews. They often result in a raise that may not be deserved. We should be talking to our staff on nearly a daily basis. This separates the job feedback from the idea of a raise. Frequent communication, on both the good and bad aspects of job performance, helps employees improve and prevents them from becoming overly sensitive about receiving criticism.
Don't forget the good things
As employers, we need to be careful that we don't always focus on the deficiencies of job performance. We must balance that with praise and acknowledgement of good work. We all know this, but it can be very easy to overlook.
Make a point of reviewing your patient surveys during staff meetings and be sure to single out any good surveys that mention a staff member by name. Print these and display them on a bulletin board or pass it along to the person mentioned.
Simply telling employees that they did a great job with a certain task or with a specific patient does wonders for your office culture and staff morale.
To be sure we notice good performance in my practice, I implemented a program where we give away $10 Target gift cards to employees when they do a great job. We have three managers in the practice and each one gets one gift card each week and they have to give it away when they see good work. So that is twelve good deeds per month that we recognize. I like Target cards for this because Starbucks can feel a bit indulgent for some people. We used to make a presentation about this at a staff meeting, but that sometimes became too competitive so we now give the reward one-on-one without the peer pressure.
Staff training is like coaching
I believe the training never stops for staff. None of us will ever be perfect, so we will continue to try to improve. If we look at on-the-job criticism as a form of training and if we present it in a constructive manner, it does not have to be unpleasant. This management style requires that staff members have a boss who actually observes their day-to-day work. That is often not the case with optometric staff, but I believe it results in the best job performance. It means virtually all offices should have a manager, because the doctor can't do it unless the practice is brand new or very small.
I view the manager's role as similar to a coach. The manager is a teacher in many respects. When an error is made or when a situation is not handled well, it is the manager's job to use that opportunity to teach the employee to do better next time. Of course, it would also be a mistake to micro-manage every aspect of job performance. The manager must allow for some independent thinking and know when to step in and when to stay out. And there should be many levels of correction or discipline with an employee; at first starting out extremely understanding and caring and gradually becoming more serious if the same issue continues to be a problem.
The manager also has a boss, typically the practice owner. Ideally, the practice owner will train the manager on how to become a better at that job. Managers don't always do everything perfectly either.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor,Optometric Management Tip of the Week