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Five-step leadership system supports patient workflow, staff efficiency


System works well to get office employees moving in the right direction

Reviewed by Derek A. Preece, MBA

For any practice striving for greatness, its fortunes are closely tied to its people. As a result, it is imperative for management to put staff in the best position to succeed. Derek A. Preece, MBA, discussed five ways to manage a successful practice. The system works well to get employees moving in the right direction.

It also can be effective in handling difficult employee situations. Virtually every practice has systems in place for checking patients in, and working up patients, as well as for billing and collections.

“When I ask practice administrators if they have a system for leading their staff, they often give me a blank look,” he said. “Practices have systems for everything else, but almost never do they have a system for managing staff.”

A “system” is a step-by-step method for accomplishing work. Systems help us make sure that we are doing everything we need to do to be successful. If there is a problem, the system can be reviewed to determine where a breakdown is occurring. Consistency can be developed.

“A system for leadership will help you lead your employees appropriately,” Preece noted. “It helps define what your responsibility is as an administrator and it helps to limit that responsibility.” Here is the five-step system that Preece cited:

1). Provide the tools

While virtually every office provides computers, equipment and phones, Preece noted that improvements can be made in forms and processes, improving communications between departments.

2). Provide the training

Training is key because it helps physicians or practice administrators reveal their expectations to employees.

“You let them know what you expect them to get out of the training,” Preece explained.

Training concepts such as “spaced repetition” can be used to help staff get a handle on new tasks. Spaced repetition incorporates training that is repeated over several weeks or months to provide employees time to absorb the new processes and put them into action.

Managers should model appropriate interactions between staff and patients to set an example. Most practices find that they need to teach people skills to their staff in addition to the business tasks they are required to perform.

RELATED: Small practices can succeed with patient-first focus3). Set goals

Setting goals, Preece explained, is done to give employees direction and help them measure progress. A lack of goals can lead to frustration among staff. He said employees can be tasked with setting their own goals. “You can’t make them accountable unless you have written goals,” he said. “If you let the employees set their own goals, they will usually be pretty ambitious.”

The physician or administrator can approve the goals and offer guidance. Allowing the employees to set the goals offers a sense of accomplishment.

4). Be a resource

A key step, according to Preece, is becoming a resource for the staff. “Employees need to feel they can come to you,” he said. “You have to listen, be open-minded and be trustworthy.”

Overreaction to a problem could shut off the flow of communication, so make sure responses to bad news are measured and appropriate. As a resource, physicians or administrators should offer support, and training. They should not take over their work.

“You do not want to take the monkey on your back,” Preece explained. “If employees find that when they come to you with a difficult task, you reward them by relieving them of that responsibility, you are incentivizing them to do that.”

5). Hold staff accountable

The final step is holding employees accountable. While deadlines are set for goals, moving forward is just as important as accomplishing the goals.

“The deadline is needed to make sure we move toward accomplishing goals,” Preece said. “But don’t get stuck on whether specific deadlines are met or not, since most timelines are set without perfect knowledge of future events. It is more important to focus on how much progress is made.”

Employees can chart progress toward their goals in writing. This creates a paper trail that physicians can review, and a higher level of accountability.

“Provide feedback to offer correction when necessary and commendation whenever possible,” Preece added. “I have found during more than 40 years of managing people, if I am truly thankful for the work they do, they will bend over backwards to accomplish what needs to be done.”

There are five steps to employee responsibility for staff members:

  • Use the tools that are provided

  • Apply the training they receive

  • Set and accomplish goals

  • Ask for help when needed

  • Be accountable for progress towards goals with the steps, administrators and physicians will be able to weed out underperforming employees.

Poor performing employees do not like to set goals or be held accountable. They will often decide to leave rather than face the pressure of performing well. The system also can determine if an employee is in the wrong position. The five-step leadership system helps to keep staff members happy and engaged.

“As the leader of the practice, if you apply the five-step leadership system, you will have motivated employees,” Preece concluded. “You also will achieve practice success as you get your entire staff aligned with your objectives through setting and accomplishing their own goals.”

RELATED: Practical tips, pearls help ease patients’ financial burdens


Derek A. Preece, MBA
E: dpreece@bmsconsulting.com
This article was adapted from Preece’s presentation at the American Academy of Ophthalmic Executives annual meeting. He has no financial interests or relationships to disclose. Allergan is a client of BSM Consulting.

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