Certain patterns seem to arise in chiropractic practices repeatedly.
Consider the following two accounts of doctors who are struggling:
Sarah’s story: Sarah has been in practice for 12 years. Her office manager, Margo, has been with her for the last six.
During the first two years of her employment, Margo was energetic, happy, and full of suggestions— seemingly able to read Sarah’s mind. But since then, Margo has become apathetic, complacent, and careless. Sarah has tried talking with Margo, but they always get interrupted and never finish the conversation.
Jeff’s story: Jeff has had a successful 20-year career and currently operates two practices. But he can’t seem to hire or retain good staff. His history is filled with lawsuits involving past associates and employees who stayed less than six months and left on bad terms. Jeff is bitter and defensive. He’s finding it increasingly difficult to stay positive and focused on his practice.
Do either of these scenarios sound familiar? Unfortunately, situations such as these are all too common in the profession. You spent years acquiring skills to take care of people, not learning to manage a staff. And an inability to manage your staff can kill your practice and all that you’ve worked so hard to accomplish. The following tips can help avoid that outcome.
Make a mental adjustment
How do you think about hiring and managing your staff? Is it a burden or a privilege? Do you dread interactions with your team, or do they fill you with energy and creativity? Are you resentful of time spent in training and meetings, or do you relish the opportunity to continually enhance the skills of your team?
Whatever your thoughts and feelings are about being an employer, where do they come from? You are the foundation of your practice. If there’s an issue in any area, evaluate the situation with brutal honesty. If you need to change your mindset, look at managing your staff as a way of serving your patients.
Go back to square one
Imagine you’re a brand-new employee in your practice. What processes and procedures are in place to recruit, hire, onboard, and train you? If you don’t have written procedures in place, then create a systematized and structured process. Ask a mentor or trusted colleague for guidance, hire a consultant or coach, or look into practice management systems if you don’t have the time or skills to develop your employment procedures.
The result should be written job descriptions, policy and employment manuals, and practice processes. The more specifically you define your needs, the more likely you’ll be to find employees who match them.
Train and train some more
You didn’t become a proficient and skilled adjuster after taking one class. It took patience, repetition, and years of practice. Likewise, your staff may need extensive training and practice to become a rock-star team. Be patient. Give them the tools they need to succeed.
Provide regular training so they can run your practice exactly the way you want. If training isn’t your forte, outsource it. Hold monthly, quarterly, and annual training on a variety of topics including office policies and procedures, operating office equipment, answering frequently asked questions, personal growth, customer service, and job-related skills such as billing, coding, and software use.
Jeff’s story: Jeff never seems to have time to train his staff. He figures new employees can pick up skills as they go along, or be trained by the existing staff. Really, how hard is it to answer the phone or take a payment? He has no job descriptions, no employee manuals, and no training systems in place. Sometimes he holds training sessions during staff meetings, but these are usually the result of a recent mistake. His staff are stressed out and defensive, an attitude that bleeds into their patient interactions.
Encourage honest communication
Typically, frontline employees are the first to know when something isn’t working in any business. Their feedback can be invaluable for the growth and development of your practice, if you’ll listen to them. Can your staff approach you and talk to you about anything, or do they have to tip-toe around you?
Sarah’s story: Margot is unhappy with the way the practice is expanding. In the early days, she felt like part of a close-knit team with a mission. But the practice takes on more staff, there are inconsistencies in training and processes. And whenever Margo tries to express her thoughts to Sarah, something else takes priority. Margo has resigned herself to accept that her once noble mission is gone.
Appreciate your team often
Your team is the first and last impression people have of your practice. They can make or break your business. If you’ve hired and trained them well, they’ll return your investment many times over. When they go above and beyond, come in early or stay late, run a personal errand for you, or make it through a tough day, express genuine appreciation in a way that’s meaningful to them.
Sarah’s story: Sarah scheduled a time to meet with Margot for an uninterrupted conversation. She was amazed at the insight and feedback Margot was able to provide. As a result, she has changed several things in the practice to get it back on track. Margot has been thrilled with the changes, feels valued and respected, and is becoming her normal, happy self again.
Jeff’s story: Jeff stopped making excuses and blaming previous employees. He hired a practice management company to provide a comprehensive employment structure for his team. He has been able to weed out those who aren’t a good fit in his new interviewing process, and his new scheduled trainings are bringing his employees to a higher level of effectiveness.
As a practice owner, you have two sets of customers: your patients, and your staff. If you spend as much care and consideration taking care of your team as you do with your patients, they’ll take care of you and your practice for years to come.
Kelley Mulhern, DC, is a healthcare marketing consultant, professional speaker, and the author of Community Connections! Relationship Marketing for Healthcare Professionals. She uses her expertise to help other healthcare professionals build the practices—and lives—of their dreams. She can be contacted through drkelleypendleton.com or through firstname.lastname@example.org.