Drive practice growth - set staff goals, monitor progress toward objectives

March 1, 2011

Do your employees know what you expect of them?

Do your employees know what you expect of them? Do they understand how their jobs relate to the well being of your practice? These are important questions that every optometrist in private practice must ask.

If your practice is to succeed, you must set goals for employees, help them achieve those goals throughout the year and link the goals to the practice's overall business strategy.

"The purpose of setting goals is to drive results across your [practice]," said Stacey Bearden, a senior associate who specializes in performance management at Mercer LLC, a global human resources consulting firm.

The first step: Determine how each job contributes to the overall success of the practice, Bearden said. Then, identify what results and behaviors you need from employees so that they can contribute effectively.

Suppose, for example, you want to grow your patient base by 20% this year. One goal for the receptionist may be to offer excellent customer service by answering the phone within three rings or by welcoming each patient to the office. Likewise, a goal for the dispensary staff may be to personalize customer service by asking each patient at least three questions.

Each employee goal should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Aligned, Realistic, and Time-framed. For example, an employee goal may be to dispense more frames in 2010 than last year. A SMART goal: Dispense 20% more frames each month in 2010 compared with the same month last year.

Another employee goal might be to promote the practice's new senior services by targeting new markets. A SMART goal: Market the new senior services by visiting at least three different health-care facilities each month.

Each goal should be challenging but attainable. If you set goals too high, Bearden said, employees will expect to fail. If you set them too low, employees won't be motivated to perform, enhance their skills or change problem behaviors.

The biggest mistakes you can make are to not set any employee goals or to create too many. Either way, she said, employees won't know how to prioritize. For example, a job may require that an employee complete paperwork and help patients. If the employee doesn't have any goals, she may not know that customer service is a priority and spend most of her time on the paperwork.

Focus for success

If an employee has too many goals, the question becomes which is the most important: Servicing customers? Performing inventory? Ordering supplies? Meeting with vendors? If you do not clearly spell out goals, the employee must make uninformed decisions that may not align with your overall business strategy. Bearden suggested setting no more than 10 goals so that employees know what they need to accomplish and in what order.

One more suggestion: Encourage employees to participate in creating their performance goals. Discuss your expectations and how the employee's job fits into the business plan. Also ask employees about their aspirations or career goals. If employees are involved in setting their own goals, they'll be more motivated to perform, Bearden said.