One of the saddest mistakes ODs can make in the management of their practices is not meeting with staff members often enough. As a consultant, I’ve heard all the excuses for why doctors no longer hold regular staff meetings, but none of them hold water.
In this article, I’ll present some new ideas for what to talk about at your staff meetings, although I can’t say strongly enough that worrying about what to talk about misses the whole point. It does not really matter what you and your staff talk about at meetings; I’m sure you’ll come up with plenty of topics if you just get together on a regular basis. What matters most is that you talk. When you do, you’ll create an organizational culture that will be good for your practice.
When and how often
I’ll leave it to you and your staff to decide when to hold the staff meetings, but I will say you should not hesitate to close off the appointment schedule for an hour per week during normal business hours to allow for staff meetings. This is obviously a work time for employees so they should be paid for the time in attendance. I feel strongly that you should meet once per week and it is helpful to hold the meetings on the same day and time each week, so it becomes the normal routine. Many practices also meet for a brief morning huddle every day, but I think a longer, in-depth meeting is still needed weekly.
Doctors and managers
It is quite common for doctors and managers to observe aspects of the practice that need to be improved and staff meetings can certainly be used for announcements about policies and for training of staff. You may want to keep notes all week long of items to discuss at the next meeting. I do not recommend that you single-out any employees or embarrass anyone at staff meetings. Some communication is better one-on-one if it only applies to one person. Other discussions work well for the whole group.
A great way to start staff meetings, possibly after some general announcements, is to ask questions of the staff. This is also a good way to make the meeting not always one-sided with the doctor and manager doing all the talking. There are many aspects of the practice that staff know more about than anyone else. You don’t need to have the answers to your own questions; you can often figure out solutions as you get staff input.
I recommend that someone take notes at meetings. This will help with following up on issues and the notes can be read by anyone who misses the meeting. In some cases, if you are brainstorming, you can take notes on a large paper easel or white board. Someone can take photos of the boards with their smart phone for a record before erasing them.
Here are some possible questions to get you started:
How could we improve the profitability of the practice?
It’s OK to let staff know that the practice is a business and, like any business, you need to continuously increase profit.
There are only four big ways to make more money: see more patients per day, sell more things to each patient, raise fees and reduce expenses. See if your employees come up with these.
How could we sell multiple pairs of glasses sat the same time?
Do staff bring up the idea now?
Are opticians too busy to bring up a second pair?
What discount do you offer?
How could we improve efficiency?
What are the bottlenecks that often slow down the process?
What are some examples of waste in the office, in time or money?
What are some of the most common errors we all make?
In optical measurements?
What are some of the hardest questions patients ask you?
What questions do we get that we don’t have a good answer for or the answer is not what the patient hopes to hear?
What are a few things that we do that make patients unhappy, uncomfortable or embarrassed?
If we get a complaint, what is it likely to be about?
What can you do to prevent and resolve the unpleasant experiences?
What data should we measure? How can we measure these things?
Metrics like these are good: Rx retention rate, multiple pair sales as a percentage, and percentage of contact lens patients who buy a full year supply.
Staff members are more likely to support what they help to invent. Try not to deliver edicts, but enlist staff to find solutions with you.
One other good exercise for staff meetings is to have a virtual walk-through for a typical patient visit to the office. Start with the first phone call for an appointment, and then review every step, every communication through the exam, everything the patient sees and any dispensing of products. As you discuss every step, consider how well you are doing it and if it can be improved.