What's in it for you when changing your practice?

November 15, 2007

Making changes in a practice ultimately can improve the office environment and inspire personal growth. Nevertheless, change can induce fear of failure in some employees, and should be approached in several steps. Explaining why the change is taking place, clearly identifying the benefits, identifying perceived obstacles, developing a plan to implement the change and sticking with it, measuring the outcomes of the change, and maintaining open lines of communication all can help employees feel more comfortable with the new approach.

Key Points

Everyone wants to have a better practice environment and make more money. The keys to achieving both goals are growth and improvement.

The opportunity to grow personally and improve the practice environment, said John Marvin, of Texas State Optical, Houston, can benefit an ophthalmology practice in several ways-employees can grow and evolve to operate like a team and the level of service and care rises for patients.

But achieving change takes several steps. The first step is understanding why the change is being implemented and focusing on that. Have a method approach-develop a plan to influence change; measure that change frequently; create an environment of encouragement and support so everyone can enjoy the results of making that change and understand what else needs to be done.

"A lot of times it's like the devil we know is better than the one we don't," said Marvin. "That fear is built around the sense that I'm going to lose something of value."

Leaving that fear unchecked can lead to misunderstanding, lack of trust, or apathy. Not confronting those attitudes creates failure and reaction to change rather than affecting change.

Marvin recommends getting the staff together to write down any obstacles they perceive, then discuss each one to disavow the imagined obstacles and find solutions to the real problems.

"Decisions are made real by action," said Marvin. "Actions communicate louder than any words. When people see action and what you've done, it creates confidence and credibility among the staff.

"Even if it's not a success, there is a sense of accomplishment because we've done something, we took action," said Marvin. "That feeds achievement."

One way to knock down obstacles is to cross-train staff members, giving them an appreciation for the work of their fellow co-workers. Take people out of the insurance department and put them at the front desk, for example. Organize social activities. Create family bonds and a team mentality.

Have a plan

Once obstacles have been identified and dealt with, it's time to develop a plan to implement the changes. Marvin said that outside resources and assistance can help a practice come up with an implementation plan.

"Someone from the outside has a better, less myopic view of the practice," said Marvin. "It can be beneficial for them to come in and help you define what you're going to accomplish. Be consistent, persistent, and always follow through with what you're trying to accomplish, taking step by step by step. Then, make adjustments."

It's also a good idea at this point to take inventory of what a practice needs, in terms of education, training, and resources. Marvin said that although it's nice to get away, education and training is most effective when done in the office.

"There is no better place to help people become better than in the office," said Marvin. "Equip people with the skills they need to do their job better, or the interpersonal skills to communicate."

Maintaining open lines of communication also is a key to successful growth. Marvin said it takes saying something 10 to 15 times, and in many different ways, before people hear it. Meetings, newsletters, talking points, and e-mail communications all are options for communicating ideas and strategies.

Sharing small victories is another powerful tool often overlooked. Marvin said the health and fitness and weight loss industries learned a long time ago that sharing little victories-think before and after photos-could have a powerful effect on building confidence and credibility.

"They may not mean a lot to us, but they can mean a lot to the people around you," said Marvin.