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Snowball your way into effective delegation


Learn how coordination, cooperation, and communication make up the components of successful delegation.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Eye Catching: Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Donna Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or UBM Medica.

Whenever I hear an owner or manager complain about an employee missing a deadline, I smile and wonder if they understand their role in delegation. Daily you carry around the knowledge that it’s up to you to keep the practice in the black and ensure employees and patients are happy. You don’t have time to do everything yourself or micromanage employees.

Imagine pushing a small snowball to the top of a hill and watching it gain size and speed down the other side, taking on a life of its own – this is an allegory for delegation in a practice. You see, many of the employees in a doctor’s office didn’t take organizational development classes in college and have never been indoctrinated by a large corporation on the expectations and steps involved in receiving a delegated task.

Barking out an imperative “Because I said so” with a deadline is a thing of the past. Knowing how to present information and ideas in a way others understand enables employees to be considerably more effective and likely to meet your deadline.

Suppose you want your lead optician to complete a 25-file spot check because you want to adjust your fees. Instead of threating opticians with dire consequences (i.e., “If this project isn’t finished by Friday…”) brush up on your delegation skills instead.

Handing out an assignment should be considered a pre-delegation event. Delegation conversations should focus on the expected end result, major policy ground rules, identifying steps requiring coordination with team members, and intermediate checkpoint expectations.




The coordination responsibilities inherent with collecting raw data for 25 recent optical patients may not be obvious to the optician who optimistically agreed to your deadlines. Often, the raw data collected will have to be re-explained and discussed every few days. Collecting charges and revenue for 25 patients takes coordination between departments.

Let’s suppose your insurance department has never really understood how to post that big check and divide it between patients.

The good news is that the optician has discovered a training need. The bad news is the snowball’s progress toward the top of the hill has been stopped.

Without this type of coordination, it will be almost impossible for your optician to tell you the difference between the retail price of a sale and collections.


Don’t presume the lead optician’s assistant understands how to calculate shipping and handling costs for lenses and new frames.  This is particularly challenging for practices that don’t use a purchase order system of tracking product.

An element of cooperation is listening. Run up that hill and help the optician out. Perhaps over lunch, learn how things are going and see if there are any sticking spots. This not only shows that you are a team player, but cheers the optician on toward the top of the hill.




Clear assignments and recognition are needed if people are to be comfortable with what they are expected to do. If assignments and expectations are not clear, people will tend to blame each other, or outsiders, for incomplete or improper task completion.

The clearer you are when communicating the definitions of any tasks and its responsibilities the more productive the individual will become. In a sense, throughout your career, you are delegating everything that has to do with a successful practice to first one employee and then another over and over again.

How are your delegation skills?

Are you getting the idea that delegation is more than just telling someone what to do and having him or her repeat it back to you? Delegation is a complex, often emotional, process involving two or more people. Human interaction is a significant piece of practice success, so the skills to enhance related activities will be central to the financial strength of the practice.

Each optician you hire has different abilities, insights, and levels of confidence, anxieties and habits. New hires need to be challenged. They need to have a chance to achieve and to be recognized. Plus, the brighter and more dedicated the employees, they need to perceive at least some sense of control over their area of responsibility.

How do you know if you understand the process? The snowball analogy is pretty apt, because the power of compounding has taken hold. You took a handful of snow, rolled it into a ball, and then started to roll that ball up the hill. At some point, you asked an employee to take over and they continued up to the steep top.

Over time, and under the watchful eye of the employee, the snowball reaches the top and begins its descent. It eventually becomes bigger and bigger as it accumulates more and more snow.

In practice management, the hope is to eventually turn that once-small snowball into a self-propelling machine. You’ll push that snowball along yourself, adding fresh snow as you go. But eventually the snowball rolls all by itself.

Doctors voice a desire to delegate, and employees tell me they are willing to assume more responsibilities. But somehow it devolves into endless meetings and reporting with little progress toward stated goals.

Once that thing is rolling downhill all by itself, you’ll be alleviated from a lot of work. And that’s where you want to eventually be!

Your employees are just as excited as you. They rightly feel worthy of the responsibility. Delegation is not only beneficial to the “delegatees” but is also necessary for the full effectiveness and efficiency of the “delegator.” 

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