I'm surprised that so many private practices do not have office managers. Or some practices have them (also known by other titles such as team leaders, department coordinators, and practice administrators), but the manager really has little or no authority to direct others. I think a true office manager is a vital factor for a fast-growing and efficient practice. In this tip, I'll describe why you need a manager with full authority to manage.
Is staff management a challenge?
Staff management ranks as the most difficult issue I hear about from ECPs who own practices. It ranges from employees not showing up for work on time to battles with co-workers to texting on the job to generally poor attitudes. Many employees are not really horrible, but they are not great either. They have no enthusiasm; the spark that elevates a practice from average to great is missing. Yet many of these ECPs don't have a real manager on duty. The doctor hopes that after telling the staff how to do the job, they will carry out the vision. The hope is that they will do the right thing. Usually, an incentive program is in place which pays a small bonus if certain goals are met.
Unfortunately, in the real world, most employees need more structure than this. They need supervision. But in many practices, the doctor is the only person with real authority and he or she is in the exam room. An office manager has many roles in most offices, but most important is making sure the rest of the staff is productive and projects the best image.
Not just a payroll expense
It might seem that promoting an employee to manager or hiring a new person for that role will cause an increase in payroll and a decrease in net income. That's why many ECPs continue to drift along with minimal management year after year. Trust me; it's not true. A good office manager will greatly increase practice profitability by accomplishing the following:
Vastly improved customer service. A manager will be sure staff members go where they're needed. If employees don't respond to a patient in optical or if there is no one at the front desk, the situation is remedied.
Continuous training. The manager is like a coach and when she sees or hears something that was not done perfectly, it can be a learning moment for the employee.
Better performance. When staff members know that someone is watching and may indeed pull them aside and correct them, they try harder.
Fewer squabbles. Managers play a key role by being a good listener and letting employees vent some frustration. Not every complaint needs to be acted upon; sometimes an understanding ear is enough.
Greater productivity. A little social interaction among staff members can be a good thing, but they often take it too far. A supervisor is needed to communicate, often with a just look, to stop the chit-chat and get to work. Employees may all have side jobs and managers can make sure they get done.
Handling administrative tasks so the doctor doesn't have to. From bookkeeping to staff scheduling to patient communications, there are many jobs the manager can handle which lets the doctor work at a higher level and develop the vision of the practice.
Those factors contribute to practice growth in many different ways, but there is no doubt that the manager's salary is covered many times over. Every eye care practice, large or small, should have a manager.
Smaller practices can have a manager who has a dual role. She might be manager and optician or manager and receptionist. But the goal is for the manager to become a full time administrator and not work directly with patients. It is a great achievement when your practice is large enough to need a full time manager.
I like to leave the exact duties of the manager rather unstructured. I want it to evolve over time as I learn the person's strengths and as she gains respect from the staff. As my trust in the manager grows, so will the duties of the job. Don't try to describe it too fully at the outset.
Authority and responsibility
It can be difficult to tell your staff that they have a new boss, but it's necessary if the manager is to be effective. The doctor/owner must give the authority to the manager by communicating it directly to the other staff. The manager can't take the authority herself. Without the authority to deliver consequences, the manager will not be successful.
As the manager uses her authority, she can be given more responsibility. The practice owner should always maintain supervisory control over the practice finances.
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.