What to consider when hiring office manager

Many office managers at optometric practices are not properly trained to handle management situations.

Those scenarios are something that Mary E. Schmidt has seen time and time again. So, 2 years ago, Schmidt-president and founder of EyeSystems Consulting, Pleasant Hill, CA-created a seminar, "Skills for the First Time Manager," which she presented recently at International Vision Expo West. According to Schmidt, the goal of the seminar is to help office managers better understand their role and identify key areas of responsibility that may have been overlooked.

"The program is designed so office managers can implement things quickly and efficiently," said Schmidt. "It includes specifics on what office managers should evaluate, and areas that should be foremost in their awareness."

1 Clearly communicate to employees what is expected of them. Managers must write thorough job descriptions for each position, said Schmidt, then verbally explain job tasks and daily priorities. For example, front desk receptionists need to answer the phone within two rings or greet customers within 5 seconds of them walking through the front door. Likewise, opticians need to educate patients on lens technology and frame material.

During her workshop, Schmidt distributes a 10-page handout that described traditional positions at an optometry practice. She suggested that office managers distribute it to their employees, asking them to check off the responsibilities they perform. The manager can then analyze the information, looking for gaps or duplication in services and identify who is and isn't carrying their weight.

"It's a great way for the office manager to get a grasp of what staff is really doing," she said, adding that all job tasks must be measurable. "Few office managers have these structures in place."

2 Train employees. Many employees in the optical industry don't feel properly trained to perform their job, said Schmidt. "We throw people into situations without giving them the how-to's," she explained.

She recommended that office managers quiz employees about the practice. For example, ask the technician if she knows why specific eye tests are conducted or how they impact patients. Or ask the front desk receptionist why the resident optometrist is a good optometrist. But don't be surprised if they don't respond. Many don't have the information needed to perform to their potential.

That's why managers need to identify areas of weakness for each staff member, then create learning goals along with timelines to accomplish those goals.

But ridiculing employees for their lack knowledge is taboo. "You want people to feel safe enough to say, 'You know, I've never really been good at adjusting nose pads. Can I take a frame adjusting class?'" she said. "I'd much rather have them admit their lack of understanding than fake it with patients."

3 Create performance objectives for staff. Not many office managers create long-term goals. Instead, Schmidt explained, they focus on the here and now by putting out fires or resolving issues that require immediate attention.

To help managers through the process of setting performance objectives, use the acronym SMARTER-objectives must be Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon by the employee, Realistic, Time-defined, identify Extra-effort activities, and Related to the practice's overall goals.

4 Develop job profiles. A typical profile, or description, focuses on skills demanded by a specific job. Identifying essential personality traits, however, is crucial. Consider a shy person being hired for the front desk. She may be well equipped to answer phones or process paperwork, but fail miserably at greeting customers, no matter how well she is trained. The same holds true for the office manager. What skills and personality characteristics are desired for this position?

Schmidt identified four personality types in the business world:

When considering a candidate for office manager, optometrists should steer clear of individuals who fit the first two categories-helpers and facilitators. These people tend to simply follow directions or keep the ball rolling forward by observing others. If optometrists really want someone to take the reins of their practice, they must select someone from the last two personality types-leaders, who implement fresh ideas and move people forward, or drivers, who are innovators, create change, and alter a practice's working environment.

Most office managers who attend Schmidt's seminar are appreciative of the training, because it's designed to improve their job performance. Appreciative as well are optometrists, who later see that their practices are being run like a well-oiled machine.

"It offers peace of mind," said Schmidt. "Optometrists can come to their office, see patients, go home, and have confidence in knowing that their practice is well run."