We know that a great practice depends upon a great staff, but exactly how does a doctor/owner achieve a great staff? Some offices have staff members who have a true spirit of helping each other and trying, while other offices have employees who try to do less and leave more work to their co-workers. The latter frequently presents with an attitude like “that’s not my job.” The latter may also be plagued with staff members who often call off work or show up late.
The easy answer might be to hire the right people and I certainly agree with that, but if you have experience in owning and operating a practice, you know that is easier said than done. And even if you could identify the “right people” from an interview/hiring process, I have found that even good people can be pulled into poor behavior if the office culture leads them that way. Also, most practices have staff turnover at some point, so the mix of employee personalities changes over time.
Read on for advice on how to inspire the teamwork you want to see in your staff.
Not easy to build the culture
Let’s acknowledge that building a positive organizational culture and a staff team that is cohesive and supportive is no easy task. It starts with the practice owner caring and trying. Some owners may wonder if they should even bother, but I think they should because a great staff is the key to practice success.
Office culture refers to the unwritten rules of the organization. The leaders of the organization create the culture, but don’t assume that the leaders are always the doctor or the manager. Strong staff members can also be leaders and in the absence of a doctor and manager who act as leaders, other staff members could fill that void in a negative way. The doctor and office manager should work to become good leaders and to foster the values and processes that provide a great work environment.
Steps to follow to become a better leader
• Foster open and frequent communication. This starts with weekly staff meetings that encourage employees to participate. It also means creating time for the owner or manager to meet with individual employees to listen to their concerns and to ask questions of them. But communication is not always positive. Owners or managers must also take the time to tell employees when they make errors or could improve in other ways. This news can be delivered in a sensitive manner, but it must be done.
• Fairness. When employees perceive that they are not treated fairly, they describe it as favoritism. They can easily think that the practice owner or manager is giving special advantages to some employees for personal reasons. The reality is that the employee may not have all the information or may misunderstand, but smart leaders will care a great deal about the fairness issue. One way to greatly increase fairness is to have policies in writing. Have the basic rules of employment in an office manual and add to it as new policies are decided.
• Exceptions. Even though you have rules, the day-to-day challenges of people’s lives require some exceptions to be made. Employees value that and it makes your practice a good place to work, but you must provide the exceptions fairly. Ask yourself if you would say yes to any employee in a similar situation. Do not have favorites among your staff. This is especially difficult if family members of the owner are employees.
• Never take anything away. When you need to make a change that the whole staff (or an individual) will perceive as negative, either don’t do it or give them a benefit that is just as good as what you are taking. Compromises and make-up gestures can work wonders.
• Explain why. Take the time to explain your thinking when you want to make a change or when you must say no. It is easy for practice leaders to think it is none of the employee’s business, but silence is interpreted as not caring.
• Gratitude and praise. Congratulate and thank employees for a job well done. Give plenty of praise.
• How should you handle the employee who is lazy and waits for others to do a job? Your office culture can help create better teamwork, but ultimately, your practice needs an active supervisor. Staff members need a boss. Ideally, that is an office manager and not the doctor, but this person is empowered to supervise and direct staff members. Employees will not always have the right priority on the job, but a manager can give them a friendly reminder to get back to work or take the next work-up.
• All of this can be summed up by the owner caring and trying on an ongoing basis. Even if the outcome is not perfect, employees can tell if you care about fairness in the workplace and that makes a huge difference.
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.