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Last week’s tip on delegation generated lots of reader email, which I truly appreciate. In most
cases, our colleagues confirmed the importance of delegation, by sharing successful experiences.
A few readers said they were overcoming some of the hang-ups that I described as myths, and they
were taking positive steps to delegate more. Several readers said they believed in delegation in
theory, but brought up staff management issues as a major factor holding them back. Their point:
finding, training and keeping good employees is difficult.
Keeping in mind that this newsletter is read by eye care professionals of all kinds, including
technicians, assistants and office managers, all I can say about staff management problems is “I
concur.” Staffing an eye care practice is one of the most challenging aspects of practice
administration. But it’s also one that optometrists must learn to embrace and excel in. Rather
than throwing in the towel and trying to minimize staffing, I recommend becoming a better manager
and leader. The job of staff management is complex, time-consuming and never-ending, but it goes
with the territory of owning a business, and the rewards are far greater than the drawbacks.
Like we have done in so many aspects of business management, optometrists must become
self-educated in human resource management. Since master’s degree programs exist in this field,
we certainly aren’t going to cover it completely in this newsletter or even in an optometric CE
lecture, but we can get better at it. Experience is a wonderful teacher, and there are many good
books available at your local bookstore. In the spirit of offering concise and practical tips,
I’ll present a few ideas here that have proven to work in my practice.
Finding job candidates
First, don’t give up. I’ve talked to many ODs about staffing problems and I’ll hear how difficult
it is to fill an existing opening. I’ll ask about the help-wanted ad in the local paper only to
find that there is no ad running. I don’t get that. If I needed a new employee I would not stop
running an ad until I found someone. I’d also look to other sources, such as current employees
who may know someone, local vocational schools (an optometric tech course may be too good to be
true, but medical assisting courses are plentiful) and even your own patient base (you can tell a
lot about intelligence, attitude and personality during an eye exam).
The number of job applicants you’ll receive depends on the type of job opening you have available.
If you’re looking for an administrative aide or receptionist, the applicant pool is much larger
than if you’re looking for an optician or optometric technician. An ad for a receptionist should
bring dozens of applications, while an ad with “technical experience required” will bring a much
smaller number. Of course, geographical location makes a big difference as well, but I’ve nearly
always been able to find plenty of employees with excellent prior technical experience, or formal
classroom training, in clinical eye care, optical dispensing or optical lab work. With a basis
in any of those areas, we can train for our practice needs.
There were a few times in my 28-year practice history where I could not find a suitable
experienced applicant for a technical position, and then I simply hired the best person I could
who was interested in the field and I trained him or her myself. That’s time consuming and I
don’t recommend it, but if there is no other option, that’s what I’d do.
Personality and attitude
Personality and attitude is a more important trait than technical knowledge anyway, because you
really can’t train that. You may be able to bring out the best in an employee through good
leadership and guidance, but I’ve found that much of a person’s behavior is innate. Some people
smile easily and are fair-minded and friendly, while some are naturally insecure, egotistical or
defensive. Finding the right person is a function of the interview, although I’ll admit that
applicants today seem to know how to put on their best face during an interview, and their true
nature may only show up after they start work.
Applicants for non-technical jobs, like receptionist, simply must have that winning personality.
I’d also like to see prior front desk experience, computer skills, and experience handling money,
but this applicant must smile easily and enjoy people.
The 5-second screening
When I’m seeking a new staff member, our newspaper want ad asks interested parties to apply in
person at my office. This gives us a chance to see the applicants in person and have them
complete our standard job application form in their own handwriting. We quickly learn a great
deal from this procedure.
I designate a senior receptionist on our staff, or our office manager, to be available to greet
walk-in applicants, give them our form and a clipboard and direct them to the waiting area. This
5-second interaction plus a quick glance at the completed application tells us a great deal.
We evaluate the applicant’s appearance and dress. Granted, this is just a drop-in visit,
not a scheduled interview, but that’s the beauty of it. We get to see the real person. You can
tell a lot about a person based on clothing, hairstyle, make-up, hygiene, tattoos and piercings.
We evaluate personality and demeanor. Smiling, friendliness, and body language are all
factors we look for while the applicant is least expecting us to do so.
How long does it take to complete the application form? Either way too long or in a big rush,
tells us a lot.
How are the handwriting and the spelling? Have you ever seen an applicant misspell optician
or optometry? I have. Is the application sloppy with many mistakes and cross outs? We may be
able to get past such problems, but it’s a good clue about education and thoroughness.
The actual content of the application, especially previous job experience, is extremely
helpful in screening applicants and selecting those who should be interviewed. We also accept
pre-printed résumés and staple it to our application form.
If the applicant seems promising after this 5-second screening, our staff person will ask if he
or she can stay for an interview on the spot. Our office manager will generally conduct this
initial interview, but the doctor could just as easily do it. It may only take about 15 minutes.
We generally tell the candidate we will be in touch after we have seen additional applicants, but
occasionally we will make a job offer right after the interview, if the candidate is very strong.
Next week, I’ll cover staff training and employee turnover.