The Optometry Practice Guide to Hiring, Retaining Staff, and Building Culture

May 28, 2021
14 min read
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Hiring a new OD can be a challenging process: according to the 2019 New Graduate Optometrist Report, the average difficulty of finding an OD job is a low 3.5 out of 10. To further support this finding, 51% of ODs reported finding a job before graduation; it took the other 49% a mere three and a half weeks, on average, to land a job. Practice owners find themselves up against stiff competition when looking to add a new associate OD to their practice.

Independent studies have measured a whopping 9,000 full-time-equivalent shortage of ODs, which means optometry practices need to invest in attaining and retaining cream-of-the-crop candidates. By expending the time and money upfront, you can reduce turnover. In the long run, this reduces undesirable costs—opportunity, hiring, and training—as well as the emotional toll that a constant rotation of employees takes on a practice.

Hiring: Finding top talent

Through a proactive hiring process, a practice can avoid hiring candidates only to later find they are not the right fit. Being proactive means:

  • investing in your brand
  • gaining a deep understanding of the hiring process
  • committing to spending the appropriate amount of money in the appropriate places to garner the best applicants

One of the most obvious but often neglected aspects of attracting ideal candidates is presenting a brand they are eager to join. Data indicates 95% of optometrists research a brand before choosing to apply for an open position. Yet, the same study found the average employer only spends $826 per year on “marketing their employer brand.” These same employers rank the importance of their employer brand extremely low, at 6 out of 10.

Hiring is a nonstop activity that requires a comprehension of current hiring difficulties and the ability to fully communicate the ROI (return on investment) that a practice can offer to joining team members.

Once these components are in place, it’s time to invest in connecting with candidates. There are two primary ways to accomplish this: posting on job sites and using a recruiter.

Optometry job sites

Since there are a multitude of job sites out there, you must be strategic in your ad placement. To dodge driving up your vacancy costs by leaving a position empty, consider whether it would be more beneficial to choose generic sites with a broader reach (think LinkedIn or Indeed) or eyecare-specific job boards like Eyes On Eyecare's, which is exclusive to the eyecare industry and automatically re-promotes posted jobs through a network of 10+ eyecare publications, including 20/20 Magazine, Vision Monday, and Review of Optometry, and other websites.

Eyes On Eyecare has helped hundreds of busy practices hire qualified doctors and staff through specialized job board and recruiting services, as well as through our industry-leading network of partner sites, including Review of Optometry, Vision Monday, and 20/20 Magazine. Learn more here.

Use an optometrist recruiter

By utilizing a professional recruiting service, you can count on a dedicated professional whose sole goal is to find the best possible person for your practice. An expert recruiter—especially one with expertise working with optometrists—can actively source ODs who fit your specific requirements, screen candidates, set up interviews, guide you through the offer process, and send your new hire a welcome gift and pertinent information.

Once a bevy of quality candidates have either been recruited or seen your well-placed ad and decided they simply must work for your brand, the interview process begins. Successful hiring requires employers to follow an established interview process that is done the same way every time and carefully qualifies each candidate.

The process can be broken down into four phases:

  1. Screening
  2. Topgrading interview
  3. Skills check interview
  4. The reference check

This lengthier process will result in decreased turnover, which, in turn, leads to less hiring time and lower costs in the long-term.

Let’s break down the interview process:

  • Screening: This initial interview by human resources personnel or a recruiter gives the candidate a brief overview of the company and role and then establishes they meet the basic qualifications. It can be performed either via phone call, video call, or in person. The interviewer passes on their findings, and the employer (or hiring manager) decides whether the potential hire should move on.
  • Topgrading: During this lengthy second phase, the employer should gain a comprehensive knowledge of the candidate’s personality and professional background by looking at their work history chronologically and asking in-depth questions about each past position. This interview should be conducted by a panel of people.
  • Skills Check: Through this assessment, an employer validates the candidate’s skills and ensures they are capable of performing the duties required for the role by having them complete job-specific tasks.

Reference check: This stage can include both a criminal background check and contacting former employers or coworkers to inquire about the candidate’s character, work ethic, skills, and abilities.

This thorough interview process filters out bad candidates so only “A” players are hired.

While the interview process is long, the offer process should be standardized and fast. By using offer templates that are consistent every time, candidates quickly receive an offer of competitive salary and benefits. This ensures you will not lose the top talent to another practice that sent their offer first.

At Eyes On Eyecare, our recruiting is done by people with years of experience recruiting eyecare professionals and ODs. We leverage our network of 40,000 optometrists, including active and passive candidates, to find the perfect fit for your practice. Learn more here.

Retaining staff: Setting the scene for success

Retaining a new hire begins the minute they step through the door and join your team. Since lower turnover leads to an increase in long-term net profits, impact on the community, and the stability and satisfaction of your entire team, it’s critical to make an authentic first impression. This initial impression will be influenced—for better or worse—by two key factors: fundamentals and leadership.

Successful practices possess solid fundamentals, such as operating an idea meritocracy, having a clear mission statement and set of core values, and adhering to a structured onboarding system.

Idea meritocracy

An idea meritocracy is a system that brings together smart, independent thinkers and provides space for them to productively disagree. This brings about the best collective thinking and enables the team to resolve disagreements in a believability-weighted way.

The goal of an idea meritocracy is to empower the team to feel that their opinions matter, which creates a strong feeling of ownership and desire to improve the practice.

An idea meritocracy results in:

  • The team feeling valued and important.
  • An increase in team engagement as they witness their ideas being brought to fruition.
  • The elimination of harmful team politics because ideas are discussed openly and honestly.

Optometry practice mission and values

Great optometry practices hold an unmistakable mission and clear core values, which they share often and revisit regularly.

  • Daily: The established core values are put into practice daily.
  • Weekly: Goals that support the practice’s brand promises are set and met.
  • Monthly: Profit, as it applies throughout the practice, is discussed, and the practice’s adherence to its mission statement is assessed.
  • Annually: The company gives a transparent overview of the past year, including all financials, and looks forward by addressing the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) for the coming year.

Leadership in the optometric practice

Having confident and competent leadership at the helm of any organization is the easiest way to inspire trust and loyalty within the workforce. It is the responsibility of the leadership to communicate and implement the mission and core values. This is done through team meetings and individual issue-based conversations.

Structured meetings—meetings that reoccur on the same cadence, have a clear agenda, and encourage organized participation—are essential. Meetings keep everyone on the same page and enable everyone to get their open and honest thoughts on the table. Meetings permit problems to be addressed quickly and give leaders the opportunity to build trust with their team.

Three must-have meetings are:

  • Monthly review meetings.
  • Quarterly 1:1s with performance reviews.
  • A yearly offsite meeting, which focuses on the year in review and the next year’s plan.

Individual issue-based conversations occur when there is a specific issue to be discussed, examined, and improved upon or fixed altogether. Each team member knows that, as a trusted employee, they will be treated with respect and like grownups during these conversations.

Team members know, if they cause a problem:

  • It will be addressed immediately in a 1:1 conversation.
  • They will learn how their actions impact their team members and the overall success of the organization
  • The leader will work jointly with them to come up with the most solid solutions to remedy the problem.

To keep the practice and the team in sync, all processes should be clearly documented and updated when changes are made. Keep processes digitally organized in an online platform, like Trainual or Google Docs, and make updates in a timely manner as processes change.

To learn additional principles that will inspire your employees to actively contribute to company growth, read Verne Harnish's best-selling book, Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It...and Why the Rest Don't. Harnish outlines his process and explains how by focusing on four major areas—people, strategy, execution, and cash—businesses can learn to dominate their industry while enjoying the climb.

Reading recommendation for fundamentals and leadership: “Scaling Up” by Verne Harnish

Onboarding optometrists and staff

The onboarding process should both motivate and provide comprehensive information on what the recent hire needs to do to succeed in their new role. There should be a distinct onboarding week/ month in which your new hire develops a sense of what is expected of them so no costly errors are made and everything gets started on a good note.

Onboarding should encompass:

  • A motivating and exciting onboarding presentation.
  • A discussion of milestones to achieve with progress results, including checklists of “what to do” to help them understand what’s expected of them.
  • A reflection/debriefing process to handle questions.

If you follow these guidelines for fundamentals, mission/core values, and onboarding, your new hire will see that processes are smooth and the machine is well oiled. Ultimately, they should feel enormous trust from and in their employer.

Building culture: Creating an empowering environment

Culture ranks #1 for what optometrist job seekers feel is most important about an employer’s brand, with 86% of optometrists stating they researched an employer’s brand and culture prior to applying for a job. Furthermore, poor office culture is ranked as the primary reason an employee would leave a job after just two years (see below).

What would cause you to leave a job after only two years?

Source: The 2020 Optometry Millennial Workforce Report

Long-term retention requires creating a company culture that fosters personal and career growth, community involvement, and gives employees a sense of ownership.

Growing your optometry practice

Within a productive optometry practice, team members feel a purpose beyond just making money and view their workplace as a space to grow both personally and professionally. For the practice owner, this entails rewarding your team members for healthy habits and positive lifestyles, acknowledging professional wins, and providing ample opportunities for connection between team members.

Positive lifestyles and habits improve performance, retention, and the patient experience. Encourage these by:

  • Setting in place a reward system for healthy habits.
  • Challenging individuals to grow personally and adopt healthy habits.
  • Celebrating and rewarding these personal growth achievements as a team.

To nurture professional growth, set achievable goals for your team, along with a system of positive reinforcement. This will compel employees to achieve them for themselves, their team, and the organization.

This means:

  • When goals are achieved, they are celebrated.
  • When goals are not hit, there is a process of Pain + Reflection = Progress.
  • When wins occur, small or big, team members are clear that they are responsible.

Your team should feel a shared sense of responsibility to each other. Following our hiring recommendations, wherein personality type and core values play a role, new hires should easily mesh with your current team. And, though work comes first, friendships within the organization should exist.

To foster friendships:

  • Set the office tone of a team who cares for each other’s wellbeing.
  • Host events designed to give team members a venue to develop a bond and find more points of connection.
  • Provide cultural events to let team members learn more about each other.

Community

When employees feel they are building a legacy in their local community, they experience a deeper sense of belonging and purpose—and therefore are more likely to stay long-term. Seeing how the practice impacts the larger community and enabling them to get involved beyond just patient care culminates in personal fulfillment and purpose.

Community involvement can result in:

  • Volunteering: The practice having a yearly charity, donation, or event where people leave the office to give back.
  • Employee esteem: Team members feel that their job helps them be a better person.
  • Revenue: The practice receives PR and patient volume increases.

Ownership

Ideally, new hires will also immediately begin to feel a sense of ownership. This is accomplished by practicing transparency and offering profit sharing or a path to practice ownership.

Transparency means the team sees everything except compensation and performance reports of their coworkers. Therefore, they understand how the business is performing. Each individual understands the value of their performance and what it means for themselves and their team members, so they can make impactful improvements.

Profit sharing plays a significant role in imbuing a feeling of ownership. First, it encourages team members to fundamentally understand the concept of revenue, expenses, and profit. Also, it gives them a grasp of the concept of efficiency, because they understand the financial statements.

The basics of profit sharing are:

  • If the business is profitable, team members will receive a bonus.
  • Retention + Salary + Performance = Profit Share Amount
  • Yearly profit sharing is based on EBITDA % and EBITDA $

If you are offering ownership as an option, make sure there’s a clear pathway that is documented and achievable.

When it comes to growing a business, Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, literally wrote the book. In Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, Hsieh reveals how his set of core values and commitment to company culture catapulted his online shoe retail store to unprecedented growth and success. He shares personal anecdotes, his unique marketing strategy, and corporate philosophy with the goal of helping other businesses thrive.

Recommended Reading for building culture:  Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

Results: The path to a prosperous practice

Ultimately, by hiring and retaining according to these principles, your practice can avoid incurring opportunity, vacancy, and hiring costs from high turnover and low retention. More importantly, your practice will benefit from a pleasant and prosperous environment where both individuals and profits flourish. The end result will be larger long-term net profits, a greater impact on your community, and a practice that attracts not only the best job candidates but patients who recognize a positive practice with a thriving team offering optimal care.

Eyes On Eyecare has helped hundreds of busy practices hire qualified doctors and staff through specialized job board and recruiting services, as well as through our industry-leading network of partner sites, including Review of Optometry, Vision Monday, and 20/20 Magazine. Learn more here.

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About Donna Ison

Donna Ison is the Associate Editor of Eyes on Eyecare. Formerly, she served as editor-in-chief of MD-Update magazine, managing editor of skirt! Magazine Lexington, and a content/copy editor with BobVila.com. She is performance poet, playwright, and the author of two …

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