ODs Patricia Fulmer and Alan Glazier, of ODs on Facebook, sat down at Vision Expo East to discuss methods and tips on how to effectively manage optometric staff.
How do you know when you have good staff? How do you recognize that, and how do you keep them?
“My best advice for building a strong staff early on is, pay attention to red flags,” says Glazier. You have to learn your staff’s strengths and weaknesses, and be comfortable moving them into different positions in order to take advantage of those. But you also have to be comfortable letting people go: one toxic person can make the whole office toxic very quickly.
On the other hand, Glazier adds, “One really great person can build a culture of people around them.” So encouraging a healthy office culture is paramount, and this means working with your staff to make your practice a place where they are proud to work.
How do you navigate hiring when you have an immediate need for a new employee? And how do you get the right person to buy in to your practice?
“Settling is never a good thing in business, in any way,” says Glazier. “If somebody’s holding you back, that doesn’t work at all.” It’s better to work a little harder for a little longer than to hire the wrong person too quickly.
“You always want to make people feel valuable and feel that they’re needed,” Glazier adds. This means compensating them at the level they’re comfortable with. He also recommends making sure that they’re comfortable coming to work every day, which can mean things like taking into account your employees’ commutes.
“You really want to create an environment that is conducive to a friendly, stress-free workplace,” says Glazier. This will keep employees invested in your practice in the long haul.
As an OD, how can you contribute to staff motivation every day?
“People feel loved and rewarded in different ways,” says Glazier. It’s important to make sure to communicate your appreciation to practice staff—and to learn the ways that most effectively communicate that appreciation.
“Have you heard of that book, The Five Love Languages? There’s the five love languages of business, too!” Glazier laughs. “I think you can apply each of those! The way you feel rewarded in a relationship does go through to the way you feel rewarded at work.”
“What we’re talkin about here—staff management, also known as HR—is the hardest part of any business. It’s also, often, the worst part of any business; it’s the thing that creates the most stress for you, the most anxiety. Dealing with people is not easy.”
While you should make an effort to know your staff as individuals, it’s important to keep a respectful difference between ODs and staff. Friendships in the office between ODs and staff can lead to good working relationships, but they can also potentially lead to awkwardness and jealousy. So it’s important for everyone to be respectful, regardless of whether they’re friends or not.
If motivation in the office is dropping, how do you get it back?
“In any situation where something is underperforming in your office, you have to get to the source of it,” says Glazier. “If it’s staff underperforming, you have review.”
In a good office culture, colleagues will notice when their coworkers are having a difficult time, and will check in with each other. With a good office manager, you’ll be able to rebalance workloads and responsibilities so motivation and productivity return to normal. But sometimes problems arise that can’t be fixed, and that’s when you have to seriously consider letting people go.
When this happens, it’s important to check in with your staff to make sure that their motivation levels are holding steady. If your office is short on personnel, people will have to pick up extra responsibilities, but it’s important to make sure that they know you appreciate their extra work.
“Give the new person a chance,” Glazier says. You can’t let your staff haze new employees; your practice isn’t an exclusive club or a fraternity, but a workplace.
How do young ODs need to go about establishing respect with staff while working with a team?
“It’s very important, when establishing respect with everybody, that you show people the same respect that you expect back,” Glazier says. Doctors can’t put on airs, or be rude or demanding: that can create a toxic workplace.
“I won’t tolerate that, and when I hire people I tell them what’s expected of them in terms of treating the employees that care about the practice like they’re a part of the practice, and not beneath them,” insists Glazier.
“Your staff will underperform for you if you don’t treat them well, and will overperform for you if you treat them well,” says Glazier. “Fit in that equation, and you can’t go wrong.”
A big part of that means working with your office manager to make sure communication in the office is flowing clearly. You have to be cognizant not just of your employees’ relations with each other, but your relationship with them.
What would you say is the best way to start training staff?
“It all boils down to your culture,” says Glazier. “Everything that happens in your practice should fit in your culture.” This is something you should work on with your office manager, including resources for your employees that document expectations for working relationships and how the office culture should function.
Glazier recommends that every new practice owner read about office culture and how to create a strong one, so that they can be most prepared to manage staff and other doctors.