The answer to the question in the title is most likely yes! Most staff members are resistant to change, but some much more than others. Yet change is quite necessary for the health of your practice, just as it is for all businesses. “Innovate or die” is a business quotation often attributed to Tom Peters among others, but no matter who said it, it rings true to me. But what is a practice owner to do if every idea you put forth to improve your practice meets with sharp opposition from a staff that prefers things remain as they are? Read on for ways to gain their support and bring them on board.
What's in it for me?
Practice owners and managers should begin by showing staff members why it is in their best interest to support projects and changes that will increase practice growth and profitability. Let's remember that they are employees in a doctor's office, not entrepreneurs, so they may need some help seeing their role in this. Many people do not think of doctor's offices as businesses at all.
Remind your staff that the practice is a business and it must continue to grow and become more profitable in order to provide money for raises and to make other improvements that will make a better office. A practice that is financially strong can afford better equipment, better computer systems, a larger office space, a better optical with more inventory, and more employment perks. Your practice is the company the staff works for and employees who help the company grow are very highly valued and are rewarded. Helping the practice reach its business goals is the key to career growth for staff. Staff members should see change as a way to advance themselves.
Do not give edicts
The usual way that practice owning ECPs present a new idea is to say “From now on we will... “. This approach may be necessary for small changes in office procedure, but for bigger ideas, resist the tendency to give a command. It is better to explain the reasons why you think the change will be beneficial.
Start with the problem
At a staff meeting, begin by describing a business problem in simple terms to your staff. For example:
The practice has seen very little growth in the past two years. The economy has made people spend less and put off eye care.
Practice profit has decreased as the number of patients with vision plans has increased. Discuss the mandated discounts by vision plans and how much the practice actually is paid for services and products under these plans.
We are seeing more and more people take their contact lens and eyeglass Rx to go. The internet is a growing force that is hard to compete with.
Choose any issue that you want to initiate some change for.
Ask for help solving it
After describing the problem, ask for input on some ways to resolve the issue. Even if you already have an idea you want to work in, your staff can provide extremely valuable advice when they are thinking about the good of the practice. After all, they know some areas of the practice and some aspects of the patient base much better than the ECP. So collaborate with staff. They will be energized by it. Brainstorm. Listen to them. Take notes. And when the time is right, introduce your ideas.
Staff members will support what they help to invent. They have a stake in it.
Predict their fears
As you discuss the plan to implement change, try to see the entire issue from the employee's point of view. What are they likely to be concerned about?
That they will have to work harder.
That they will have more stress.
The new task may be difficult and they may not be able to master it.
They might look foolish to patients or co-workers.
It might not be handled fairly.
Some job perk may be taken away.
Once you envision the factors that could worry some staff, head off those worries with a promise to provide the resources and the support that will make the project a success. Talk about things like:
Additional training will be provided during office hours.
We will hire more staff members if needed. We do not want this to be stressful on anyone because stress works against our goals of excellent customer service.
Here is how we will track things to make sure it is fair...
If patients complain, here is what you can do...
We will purchase more (fill in the blank) as soon as we see that this concept works well.
I'd like to try this as a pilot program and will reassess our results in two weeks.
Collaboration with your staff shows them that you respect their input and you will quickly build a better organizational culture with action like that. As the culture gets stronger, employees are more receptive to change and have better attitudes.
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.