I think most optometrists who own practices operate with the premise of trying to not hire more staff members. We may not even realize this instinct exists, but the natural tendency is to view staff as an expense and we want to hold down expenses. Managing more employees is also more work. Indeed, based on my consulting work with ODs, staff management is the most challenging aspect of practice management. If you are a growth-minded OD, I think this instinct is wrong and you should try to change your point of view.
The staff expense
Other than cost of goods, staff payroll is your largest expense, often running about 23% of collected gross revenue. That is a big number that hits your practice bank account twice per month, so it is only natural to want to minimize it. But thinking that way is missing an important growth opportunity. Of course, one can certainly have too much staff and we never want to be wasteful with our resources, but thinking small can lead to stifling your opportunities. Up to a point, hiring more staff does not cost the practice anything because typically revenue production increases more than the cost of the new employee.
Exactly how the revenue increases is not always clear, so it requires a bit of a leap of faith, but that is how businesses grow; the owner takes a slight risk. To give you a little confidence to just hire more staff, here are a few ways that revenue can easily increase:
Your office will sell more optical products if staff members are not rushed.
You will delegate more procedures, which can lead to seeing more patients per day.
Customer service improves, which will increase your word-of-mouth referrals and increase patient demand.
Adopt a pro-staff attitude
Managing a larger staff may be more work for the owner and manager, but there are several factors that make the management easier and life in the office better. Consider these advantages of a larger staff:
Less stress because there are enough people to handle the busy times. Staffing for the busy times allows your practice to function at a high level with ease. If the owner is disciplined, staff can be trained to handle many other administrative duties during the slower times.
Better cross training. It is a great feeling when most of your job descriptions have multiple people who can perform them. Instead of one optician, you could have three or more. Most offices only need one insurance coordinator, but you could have a second person trained as a back-up.
More convenient hours for patients. This is a big practice builder. Offices with a smaller staff often have hours that allow for all employees to work every day. That can mean there are no evening or Saturday hours and the office may be closed on a weekday or half day. That may seem great at first, but having a big enough staff to let the office be open more hours per week results in greater revenue production and happier patients.
Better coverage when employees are sick or on vacation. This is big and it is a strong reason to work toward a larger staff. It seems like someone is always calling off for some reason, but the larger the staff, the less you have to feel the effects.
Better coverage when someone quits. More staff allows you to have some depth so more than one person can learn various job duties. You will have enough people for the practice to operate well until you find a new employee.
Gain some leverage when managing staff. If you are staffed very thin, employees know this and they have all the power. They may not care to try new projects or they may ignore the policy on punctuality. Having plenty of staff puts the owner in a position to actually dismiss someone if job performance is poor enough.
Get over the hump of not having enough staff and put yourself in a position to grow your practice.
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.