Staff Management

Empower Employees to Solve Problems, Free Up OD Time

By Mike Rothschild, OD

May 4, 2016


When a staff is empowered to make decisions and solve problems, it frees up the doctor’s time to serve patients and build the practice.


ORIENT NEW HIRES. In training new hires, concentrate on the culture and mission of the practice, rather than onrules and regulations.

CREATE CULTURE OF CONTINUOUS LEARNING. Give freedom to make a mistake, and to use best judgment when serving patients.

SET GENERAL GUIDELINES. Establish general protocols for interacting with patients. The goal: Every patient should leave feeling satisfied andpositive toward the practice.

Empowering your staff to make decisions in serving patients, and in operating the practice, is key to a successful practice. The practice owner is usually the doctor working in the exam room in the back. It’s your support staff that will most heavily interact with patients and manage the daily operations of the office. In my practice, staff are trained and empowered to make important decisions in serving patients.

Deliver Comprehensive New Hire Orientation

We have 14 people on staff, and they all began with an extensive, two-day orientation program. I think it is important to not concentrate on rules and regulations at the beginning of a job. First, we talk about the values and the mission. We review what makes us different, why patients choose us and why it is critical to continue to work to earn patients’ trust. We have a policy manual that has information about vacation and benefits, but the main rule is to continue to work toward the mission. We don’t need a ton of rules, because we put a lot of energy into making sure everyone knows the vision.

Each staff meeting at West Georgia Eye Care begins with a staff-led reading of the practice mission statement.

Begin Employees in a Position that Enables the Most Learning

All of our employees begin as technicians. We find that is the best place to begin because it puts them in the exam room with the doctor. The doctor can get to know the new employee and better evaluate their strengths. Also, all aspects of our office take place in the exam room. In addition to the examination of the patient, we talk about eyewear options, treatment options, and we discuss money sometimes, too.

Create Culture of Continuous Learning

Empowerment is simply the freedom to make a mistake and learn from those mistakes. We communicate a lot with our employees, and always strive to revolve conversations around our values. We have well established processes to do the things that we do everyday, and encourage the team to make judgement calls when necessary.

Empowerment hinges on your team of employees feeling safe at work. If they are always worried about being reprimanded, or getting in trouble, they will always have their guard up. They will be defensive when confronted and more likely to try to cover up mistakes. If they feel safe, they can do what they feel is right and ask for help. When a mistake is made, they will bring it up to the team and help everyone learn from it.

Our rule is that if you don’t know what to do, do what you think is best, then ask if you were right or wrong. If you might hurt a patient, get help. Most people think that if you don’t know what to do, ask someone. But that leads to a lack of empowerment. It is the same as saying, “Get out of my way dummy, I will do it.” Patients lose confidence quickly if someone has to keep excusing themselves because they don’t know what to do.

But saying, “Do what you think is best, then we will talk about it,” presents a non-threatening pathway to grow.

Establish General Guidelines in Patient Interaction

Our policy is to never lose a patient. Instant patient pacification is always used when necessary. No limits. We have a conflict resolution technique that is taught during our orientation program.

As soon as we teach the method we use for conflict resolution, we empower staff to make decisions. It takes practice, but you simply have to let go. Building trust begins by simply asking the question, “What would you do?” And then following that up with, “It sounds good to me.” Next time you can say, “Do what you think is best and let me know how it goes.” And finally you say, “I trust you to do what is best.”
A: Apologize. Say I’m sorry, and certainly don’t point the finger to someone else in the office or a vendor. Even if the lab sends the wrong lens, it is our fault as far as the patient is concerned. Take it.
B: Be Empathetic. Look at if from the patient’s perspective. Instead of looking at them as the lady who always complains about her glasses, view it from the perspective of someone who just wants to see clearly andneeds help.
C: Correct. Fix the problem, whatever it is. We ban the phrase, “I can’t.” We are only allowed to say what you can do about the issue.
D: Document. Through our quality assurance review program, we record patient complaints and dissatisfaction to work at making ourselves better and to pay special attention to those patients next time.

Solicit Feedback & Ideas from Employees & Reward Them

“Man supports what he creates,” it has been said. So, to truly empower a team, systems must be created to make sure employees feel heard and listened to. We have short daily meetings facilitated by each member of our team on a rotating basis. We have a longer meeting each week with predetermined reports given by various staff members. And twice a year, we go on office retreats for planning sessions where carefully designed exercises get input from all members of the team.

We have ample opportunity to discuss everything. The entire team has salary adjustments once per year. This is done for everyone at the same time to keep it simple. We have created a worksheet and formula to consider how much everyone’s salary will be adjusted. It is based on the company’s overall performance, as well as the staff member’s performance, longevity, responsibility, dependability and availability.

>>Click HERE to Download the Salary Adjustment Worksheet>>

Bonus systems as a whole are typically ineffective after the first few times the bonuses are issued. We adopted the policy from the book Drive by Daniel Pink. We look for reasons to surprise the staff with bonuses after they have accomplished something great. We also usually make this a nice gift that is non-monetary. For instance, if we sell a lot of sunglasses during our big summer promotion, we gift a free pair to the staff.

Mike Rothschild, OD, is founder and president of West Georgia Eye Care in Carrollton, Ga., and founder of To contact him:

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