There are two vital questions every practice owner needs to answer: how are we different to our competitors, and why would patients come to see us? While there are many important factors to consider when we try to answer these questions, two elements of your practice consistently come up as being essential; the right product and the right people.
Staff are a key asset in your practice. You must attract and retain the best, and ensure they have the best chance to give you the results you are looking for. As a manager, it’s also your job to clear the blocks and impediments that prevent your staff from looking after patients, and to make sure they have the resources they need to get the job done.
Much of your practice’s competitive advantage comes down to what you and your staff know and can do for your patients to satisfy their needs and wants
You can’t afford to be losing staff. It’s expensive and reduces your service capability in a significant way.
EDUCATE YOUR STAFF
Knowledge is a vital resource. Much of your practice’s competitive advantage comes down to what you and your staff know and can do for your patients to satisfy their needs and wants, and to reduce the risks they encounter when buying optical products and services.
This means that the people who work in your practice need to be the very best they can be, in fact better than anybody else. In short, education is essential.
Education for staff is an investment. It is not cheap, but as Derek Bok, former President of Harvard University said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”.
Along with gaining the competitive advantage, there are many other significant benefits of educated staff.
Knowledgeable and highly trained staff are very hard for competitors to duplicate and this lies at the very heart of success. Education improves staff retention and motivation. It drives income generation, it optimises patient service and satisfaction, and enables responsibilities and workload to be shared. You become an attractive employer. The list goes on.
Ideally, through assessment and careful planning, you will tailor education and learning to the needs of your group and individuals. There are many ways to deliver education, and your staff will respect you for investing in their professional skills and expertise – the opportunity to learn and develop is a powerful retention factor.
ORGANISE YOUR STAFF
Like any team, be it in sport or in an optometry practice, organisation is important. Don’t be like many practices and mistake multi-skilling for multi-tasking. It is essential that your staff have a comprehensive knowledge of the job at hand, and have completed the technical training required. It’s also important that they are capable of undertaking a range of tasks and jobs within the practice, as this will provide flexibility and allow your practice to adapt to changing circumstances. But don’t make the mistake of having all your staff doing all the jobs, all of the time.
ENGAGE, MOTIVATE AND REWARD
As much as your patients need your attention, so too do your staff – and this is a vital part of retaining their loyalty and service. Your job is to create a work environment nobody wants to leave.
Taking the time to personally thank employees for doing a good job and listening to their concerns or suggestions will keep morale high; and you might learn something important for your practice in the process.
Don’t be afraid to provide specific feedback about employee performance as most employees want to know how they can improve, and deserve to be recognised for their positive contributions. As an extension to this, recognise, reward, and promote people according to their performance; and deal with low and marginal performers so that they either improve or leave.
It’s also important to involve employees in decisions, especially those that directly affect them. Take time for team- and morale-building meetings and activities, and celebrate the successes of the practice and of individuals.
SIX TIPS FOR ENGAGEMENT AND RETENTION
- Optical experience is very important but the attributes of the individual will be the reason they succeed or leave – personal development is as important as technical learning,
- Get the remuneration right. Most of the time pay is not a long-term motivator, but if it’s not right, it is a very effective demotivator. Offer a fair and appropriate benefits package which allows for a desirable work/life balance. Make sure these benefits are explained and the deal is understood by your employees,
- Consider a compensation program that gives the team increased rewards for achievement. Try linking increases to actual goals, performance and employees’ direct contributions to your bottom line. A tangible acknowledgement of their contribution is always appreciated,
- Your employees want to enjoy the work that they do. Ensure that their work environment is fun and engaging, as well as productive and professional,
- Provide opportunities within the practice for cross-training and career, educational or technical advancement, and
- Pay close attention to diversity issues. Each employee in your practice is unique and needs to be treated according to his or her values.
Practices often lose sight of the value of their staff and the cost of staff turnover. When you consider the investment required to hire and train new staff, and the positive results such investments can have on business performance, the value of investing to educate and retain staff becomes essential. Building mutually beneficial relationships will pay big dividends in loyalty and performance.
Mark Overton is the CEO of Ideology Consulting. Mr Overton has science and business qualifications and, for over 30 years, has consulted to or worked with clients that include optometry practices, major public hospitals, federal government, medical research institutions, and professional associations. Mr Overton lectures at Flinders University and Queensland University of Technology.