Best Practice Management
I Hereby Dub Thee “Office Manager”

Do you employ an Office Manager? I ask that because there is a common misconception that an employee once dubbed “Office Manager” (absent sword tapping ceremonies), will properly manage the practice. Some do, of course. However, truth be known, unless these individuals have a management background and training, are given the proper tools and authority to set and enforce policy, suffering may befall the realm. Still, most accept their newly-designated “managerhood” with the best of intentions. Once knighted, however, in many cases, their qualifications fall short, reality sets in, and history shows they will slowly but surely fail. Not their fault. There are several reasons WHY it happens. For one, you think…your assistant is excellent at what he/she does, so that must mean this individual would make an excellent manager. Two, they know the ins and outs of the practice and they have the length of employment to prove it; and three, as manager, many believe they can be placed on salary and avoid paying overtime.

An Office Manager is a very useful addition to medium to large practices. But there is a vast divide between calling an existing employee an Office Manager and s/he really serving as one.

None of those are plausible explanations that justify bumping them into management. If they are excellent at what they do, it is likely because they ENJOY doing it. Would they feel the same and be as effective if they are transferred to a new position that takes them away from that? Next, just because they are familiar with the inner workings of the practice, doesn’t mean they can handle or manage them appropriately. Finally, there are specific requirements regarding classification of employees and overtime pay. Doctors who ‘create’ a salaried position to eliminate overtime risk violation of Federal Law. There are specific requirements regarding classification of employees and overtime pay.  It is not simply,  “salary” vs “hourly” – it is “exempt” vs “non-exempt”. Classification is not determined by an employee’s job title; rather their actual job duties. Most “in-name-only office managers” do not have nearly the necessary level of responsibilities or wage requirements as set forth by the Department of Labor. I can expand on this topic in a future article.

A bona fide office manager job description entails managing both office and staff functions and comes with a very extensive delineation of duties.* It is a full time position; there should be no expectations that they can perform (with any success) two jobs on a regular basis, except to pitch in when necessary.

I am working with a client who re-assigned her “excellent clinical staffer” to fill the recently vacated Office Manager position. Among the challenges they are now facing - Unproductive staff meetings, communication breakdown, defiance of authority, drama, whining and complaints, insolence, disregard for policy, no consequences, on and on… Trying to reign in staff has been unsuccessful thus far, leading to a frustrated, doubting, and burned out rookie manager, who by the way, reverts to doing some clinical work (reminder…that which she enjoys?)

This example is not an isolated incident! There are benefits to selecting a long-term staffer as Office Manager. Yet it becomes more and more evident that choices based solely on his or her time with the practice, or performance history is not the ultimate benchmark. Although there have been instances of successful transition it is not often enough to claim a winning strategy.

It's much easier to teach employees clinical or front office skills rather than abilities like leadership, analytical skills, enthusiasm, and problem-solving.

I enthusiastically support hiring for character, train for skills. Look first to someone who has management qualifications. Not necessarily a diploma or actual work history, but qualifications like personality, motivation, and willingness to learn. It's much easier to teach employees clinical or front office skills rather than abilities like leadership, analytical skills, enthusiasm, and problem-solving. If you maintain that hiring from within the practice is still your smartest move (despite knowing potential setbacks), avoid subjecting your new, re-positioned manager to potential failure. Here are some basic start-up approaches you and your new manager should consider:

  • See and be Seen - Managers sitting in their office cannot effectively observe daily office operations, roles, and performances. By being visibly present, they can acknowledge staff accomplishments, verbally and genuinely praise them for jobs well done, ask them (and listen to!) their suggestions on how tasks can be streamlined, offer constructive comments, and point out things they do right rather than focus on things they do wrong, etc. If a multi-practice, the manager needs to visit all offices on a regular basis.
  • Cross-Train - Curtail some of the drama and criticisms by temporarily re-positioning staff to jobs other than their own in the practice. Stepping into the shoes of a co-worker (even briefly) allows them to appreciate the responsibilities of others and understand that other roles in the practice are no more or less important than their own.
  • Give Them Authority - Assure the new manager that he/she has full authority to perform or be involved in all management duties, including (but not limited to) annual employee reviews, hiring, firing, setting policy, discipline, etc.
  • Let Go - Genuine respect from staff is critical to the manager’s success. It is earned by their ability to manage and that cannot happen if the doctor continues to step in and take charge. Help your new manager BE the manager. Discuss expected outcomes and be supportive, then let go and let them do their job! Do not micromanage.
  • Provide Needed Training - Provide necessary help/tools they need to succeed by encouraging outside professional management training. It will give them more confidence and teach them how to best handle everyday “on-the-job” situations.

Come out of the Dark Ages. Be the Knight (or Lady) in Shining Armor. Do the Noble thing. Reward your newly appointed Office Manager with more than just a title. Give them a chance for Victory! Hazzah! If they succeed, everyone wins!

*If anyone would like to receive a copy of a comprehensive Office Manager Job description, please email lynn@soshms.com and put “OM Job Description-Present” in the title.