When I informed a few colleagues that I had recently purchased a practice, thus becoming a business owner, one of the first things they said after congratulations was "Good luck with staffing." One colleague actually chuckled and said that he thought finding optometry staff was the hardest part of being a business owner.
After having owned a practice now for six months, I have seen firsthand the struggles regarding staffing: making sure there is enough coverage, finding the right new people to join our team, having the right people in the right positions, keeping the office running smooth and efficiently. It’s a lot to keep track of, and it’s vital to running a proficient, profitable business.
How to make, and keep, your optometry staff happy and fulfilled
Of all things related to staff, I have come to believe that the most important aspect is this: Surround yourself with people who love the work they do, want to work, and want to see you succeed. But how does one do this? Sure, it sounds simple, but to really make your staff feel like they belong, to get them to take ownership in your practice, you need to be communicating with your staff regularly.
In his book The Truth About Employee Engagement, Patrick Lencioni lays out what he sees as the three reasons why staff become dissatisfied with their job and the business suffers. This book is a fantastic read written in "fable" form, with a fictional story with characters and plots that are easy to follow and relatable to anyone in business. Whether you are an owning OD or associate OD, the take home message is the same: what our staff need from us, and how this crucial piece of our practice needs to be fostered in order to keep a positive work environment.
The three main reasons people become dissatisfied with their job are a sense of anonymity, the inability to measure their work, and the feeling that they aren’t making a difference. Ultimately, this can cause your practice to look bad and lose revenue!
People want to be known. If you come to work every day and feel like the people around you don't really know you, and they don't seek to learn more about you, you are going to feel out of place. You may know that Suzie is a good optician, but when was the last time you really tried to get to know her? If she has kids, how are they doing? What are their dreams and goals? What does she do when she leaves the office at night? What did she do last weekend? What was the last movie she saw? If she were to choose a Pandora station for the practice, what would it be?
I've made it a point to ask each staff member every day what they did the night before. Whether it was going out to eat, or doing an exercise class, or just cleaning up the house, these conversations build trust and commitment, but of course, it has to be genuine and not forced. You truly need to care about what the people around you are doing and what they are interested in.
At the beginning of the year, I sat down with each staff member and asked them for two professional goals for the year and two personal goals. This really allowed me access to what the staff member thinks is most important in their life. Once I heard these things, I went on to ask "And how can we (the practice collectively) help you achieve those goals?” This is yet one other example of showing that you are interested in what is interesting to your staff. To help them achieve something they are working on, whether it's becoming a better optician by learning more about optics, or to lose that extra 15 pounds, or to simply be more focused at work, this is where conversations amongst peers and friends abolishes anonymity.
Maybe as the associate doctor or the owning doctor, each and every day brings you closer to a goal of your own. Maybe that is to become a million dollar practice. Maybe that is to establish yourself as the dry eye specialist or myopia control specialist in your area.
Maybe you have personal and professional goals that you are tracking, but are you doing this for your staff? Put yourself in their position: they show up to work each day, educate the patients on the reasons why you prescribed what you prescribed, and then that either translates into a sale or not. Every day, this is how they work for you and build their practice. But what are they working toward? If you do not direct them or lay it out to them, very soon it will seem like just one big wheel, endless days of doing the same thing, without a goal.
And these goals need to be written, achievable goals. The staff need to know what they are working toward, and be able to see that they are making progress toward it. Imagine in a football game where after two hours, the winner of the game was whoever the ref subjectively thought did a better job. No, at the end of the game, the team with the most points wins the game. Everyone in the game and watching the game know that. So we need to be explicit in our goals.
We have a white erase board in the breakroom that has our current goals listed, and we update it regularly to show our progress on reaching our goals. We track annual supply sales, retention rate, and monthly gross production, just to name a few, and make that info available to everyone. This is how we track our production and cohesiveness as a team. For the staff to earn their quarterly bonus, they need to hit certain growth benchmarks.
Staff look at this board every day, and can either say "Wow, we are doing great. We will have no problem reaching our goal today," or it might be the opposite with "We haven't had a great week, and we need to step it up or we aren't going to reach goal this month." Either situation provides valuable measurable feedback on how we are performing as a group.
I sat down with one of my opticians last week and asked how important it really was to her after doing this 30 years. I wondered if maybe the longer you have been doing this work, perhaps it wasn't as important to have clear cut goals. But of course, she said, it’s extremely important to provide direction and feedback on her personal work. As she sees that we are hitting goals, she knows that she is doing her job well.
I’ve also begin to share monthly profit and loss statement statistics with the staff. For example, you may say “Great job last month staff. Our cost of goods last month was right at 24%. That’s right where we want to be. But our variable costs were a little higher than we want. We were at 19% last month. We did need to bring on a few new computers, and I’m glad we replaced those office chairs, but my goal this month is to reduce spending in that area.” These percentages are also written on the whiteboard in the staff break room. Allowing the staff to really see how what is going on in the books, I believe, is vital for them to be able to make smart choices in the future to keep costs down.
The last one is a feeling of your work not really affecting someone. Luckily, in the field of optometry, this one is pretty easy. We are helping our patients. But it is also so much more than that. Yes, we are providing contacts to that high school freshman to see, but we are also prescribing self-confidence and a visual solution so that -3.00 myope doesn't have to play basketball with glasses. We are not just prescribing a digital progressive lens to that 55 year old female, we are prescribing the means for which to see her grandchildren grow up and be a part of their lives. We are not simply doing Vision Therapy, we are providing the means for that patient to achieve their goals of reading at the same speed and fluency as their peers.
We are blessed to work in such a rewarding career that patients tell their friends and family about the amazing experience they had, and recommend that they come see us as well!
While staffing has its challenges, be sure to spend time making sure your staff are appreciated, have direction, and understand the reason for your business decisions. By doing so, you instill trust and understanding, allowing them to help grow your business better than ever before.
What have you found makes your staff LOVE working for you? Tell us in the comments below!