By Anthony Record
August 14, 2019
The management part of owning a practice usually doesn’t come naturally to optometrists, who typically choose their profession because of a love of ocular science and helping people.
However, your ability to manage people can make or break your practice. Here are common management mistakes made by practice owners, and what should be done instead.
Let’s take the advice of legendary University of Alabama football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, who once said: “When you make a mistake there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it and don’t repeat it.”
Here is a list of the five of the most common mistakes practice owners and managers make, and advice on how to avoid them:
Not Learning How to Become an Effective Manager
Most ECPs find themselves in ownership, or management, positions for one of two reasons: financial resources or technical ability. We open or buy a practice because we inherited money or convinced a bank to loan us the bulk of the funds. We get promoted to practice manager because we are a good optician and/or salesperson.
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That’s OK, except none of those advantages prepare someone for what they sometimes realize far too late – that management is a completely separate skill set. The best optometrists…the best opticians…the best ophthalmic technicians…virtually none of them know what it takes to be an effective, respected leader – much less have they sought out specific training to learn. A few things you can do to learn about management: read business books and publications like this one, attend educational seminars at optical conferences and find a mentor who has successfully managed a practice for years.
Failing to Clarify Expectations
Rather than clearly explaining to staff members what is expected of them, many owners engage in an activity I like to call “Managing by Telepathy.” Worse, when well-meaning managers go in a direction different than what the practice owner desired, they blame the manager.
Unless “Expert Mind Reader” was listed as a qualification on that manager’s resume, whose fault is it really? On day one, the owner should have met with the new practice manager and said something like, “This is what is expected, these are the goals we need to achieve (listed in order of importance), this is what needs to change, this is what needs to go, and here are the tools available to you to help achieve what needs to be done.”
If you haven’t had a similar conversation with your practice manager(s) in which your expectations were fully explained, you don’t have a right to expect a thing.
Holding People Accountable Via an Authoritarian Leadership Style
These days a strict, authoritarian management style is usually met with resistance, and is unacceptable in most organizations. Managers who make rules simply for rules’ sake often fail at their job.
That said, rules should be made if necessary, and if they are necessary, they ought to be enforced – fairly and consistently. If not, several dangerous messages are sent: First, to the offending party the message is that he or she can get away with it. Second, to all the other staff members the message is that their adherence to the rule is not valued or appreciated.
The inconsistency also sends the message to the entire staff that rules are not important, and in fact, can be broken. True or not, non-enforcement may also send another less-obvious message: The manager is ineffective, lacks a backbone or is playing favorites. Remember: Rules are like meetings – you should only have them if they are necessary; but if they are necessary, they need to be followed.
Lack of Documentation
If it ain’t documented, it didn’t happen. Just accept that as true, because in the eyes of the law, a professional boss, your employees and any serious-minded HR manager, that’s the way it is.
Start what I like to call a Manager’s Diary. Whenever something extraordinarily good or bad happens, it needs to be documented. Additionally, even on days when nothing extraordinarily good or bad happens with any particular employee, a manager should take two or three minutes to memorialize something that happened that day. If, for no other reason, this should be done to develop the habit of documentation.
Doing so will help with # 3 (above), and your diary will also be an invaluable tool in making performance reviews more accurate and meaningful. It can also be a critical tool to demonstrate impartiality and consistency in the event that an employee must be fired.
Realize that in most instances no other human being will probably ever need to (or should) see your documentation, but as you create entries in it you should do so thinking that other people will see it – your boss, other employees and maybe a jury. With that in mind, you need only follow one rule when it comes to what you write: Make sure everything you write in your documentation is 100 percent objective. Nothing subjective should ever be written. This is so critical I will give you two examples.
Example #1: Never write: “Annie was rude and disrespectful to a patient this morning.” That statement is too subjective and is simply your interpretation of what you saw, or what was reported to you.
Instead, you should write: “This morning, one of our patients (Mary Johnson) told me that Annie said to her, ‘Next time, why don’t you try showing up on time for your appointment,’ and then she slammed the glass door in her face. This is the second patient complaint I have received about Annie. (The last one was on March 24, 2019.)”
Example #2: Never write: “Ginny has been lazy and slacking on her responsibilities.”
Instead write: “Ginny was late three times this pay period (July 5 she was seven minutes late, July 9 she was two minutes late and July 9 she was eleven minutes late). Additionally, her weekly reports have been filed 48 hours late and have all been incomplete. I have scheduled a coaching session with her for tomorrow at 3:00 pm.”
Unilaterally Making All Decisions
A manager is the final arbiter – the decider if you will. But a focused manager always remembers the adage, “More involvement, more commitment…no involvement, no commitment.” Ask for ideas. Get employees involved in as many things as you can like goal setting, rule making…everything.
There will be times when you will have to make a quick, unilateral decision. That’s why you should ask for input whenever you can. It will give your team a sense of involvement and ownership. If you make a habit of involving the team most of the time, it will make the times you can’t much more palatable.
What is the most serious management mistake you have made, what did you learn and how are you avoiding making that same mistake again?