Is it time for an Office Manager?

How do you know it's time for an Office Manager in your dental practice? And even more, how to you find the right person for the job and make sure you do it right?

When talking with my clients about managers over the years I hear the same word over and over. Trust. How can I trust someone to manage my business as well as I do? How can I trust them not to steal from me, or run off good employees, or make expensive mistakes? The truth is, we've all been burned. Our trust has been broken. Sometimes it was because of a bad choice in who we trusted, but more often what I see is that we didn't handle things correctly and created a situation where we got hurt. Yep. Broken trust hurts.

The biggest mistake you can make though, is letting that one bad experience teach you the wrong lesson. The lesson isn't that you should never trust again! Nope. The lesson is to do it better. Get clear about what you need and what you won't stand for then make a plan to make it happen. Don't give up. A good Office Manager can change your business and change your life. I've seen it over and over again.

Ok, so let's say I'm with you, Ada, but where do I start? I'm glad you asked! Here are some tried and true ways to get started.

Dental Practice Goals

#1 - Know your goals.

It's the number one driver of what kind of manager you need and what you'll need to empower and train them to do. Where do you want to go? Do you want to grow your practice? More new patients, high conversion rates, lower attrition, adding an associate. All of these goals will drive what kind of manager you need. Write your goals down. You need a manager that completely "gets" what your goals are and is bought in to them too. Look for someone on your staff who has shown loyalty and enthusiasm and promote them or search for candidates that have a proven track record in accomplishing these kinds of goals before.

#2 - Get real with your trust issues.

Write down every single fear you have when it comes to delegation and empowerment. If embezzlement has been an issue in your past, put it on the list. If you've had bad managers run off good people, put it on the list. This list becomes your blueprint for creating the delegation and training structure you'll put in place to roll out over time.

#3 - Timeline.

That's right. This isn't going to happen over night! You know your goals, and you know your fears. So the next step is a timeline. Write down a list of 20-40 things you want your Office Manager to do for you. This is your list, no-one else needs to see it so get very real with what you want on there. Hate handling staff disputes? Put it on the list. Want to leave at the end of the day and not think about work until the next morning when you get there. Write it down! Staff evaluations, marketing, budgets, handling reps, scheduling lunch and learns, hiring and firing. Anything you don't want to do or shouldn't be doing (let's be real here, you didn't dream of becoming a manager you dreamt of being a doctor).

Take that list and circle the first 5 things you can trust to give away. Then implement those 5 things over the next month or quarter. Once they have proven themselves in those areas move on to the next 1 or 3 or 5 items on the lis and so on.

#4 - Get and give a lot of feedback.

There's an art to giving feedback. Timely, precise, and open to discussion. I suggest a weekly meeting with your new Office Manager where you discuss the items you're working on and give feedback. It can be 30 minutes or an hour. If possible, go off-site so there won't be distractions and ears. Ask them what they need from you to accomplish the tasks and then give it to them! Don't be stingy. We've already protected you by keeping these items small, so see what they can do when they have your support and know what you want from them.

#5 - Anticipate failure and have a plan.

They WILL FAIL. You did, too. That's how people learn. They will make a decision that doesn't match what you want. Know that ahead of time, remember we're keeping these things small to reduce your risk and give you the chance to see how they deal with the failure. More importantly we're giving you space to find your footing in how to deal with their failures. Failure is where you get to teach them.

Their failures will highlight areas where you weren't clear about your process or priorities. Don't lose your temper or shame them. Be gracious and remember the mistakes you made along the way. Share some of those failures with them and what you learned. Not only will this teach them, but it will build trust between you both so when they do mess things up you're the first place they turn for guidance. That's what you want. Remember that African proverb? It holds true in the dental office: If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. You're building your dream business and are in it for the long haul.

#6 - Protect yourself.

Yep. I like to employ random audits and secret shoppers on the regular. The audits need to happen after business hours or on the weekend. The secret shoppers must always be kept a secret and should be done at regular intervals. Have your accountant come in and give some basic lessons in book keeping to your manager, even before you hand that item off. Start building the foundation of trust, accountability, and open access to pertinent information.

Pro Tip: Pull a report (any report you want) and run over it with them about once a month. Show them you check their work. Trust me, they want you to. They hope you're looking at what they do to catch any mistakes and help them do it better moving forward.

#7 - Hire only the best.

I once had a doctor look me straight in the face and say: "I know I should probably hire someone with an MBA to manage my practice, but they'd be too smart. I wouldn't be able to trust them." Before you laugh at him for basically saying he only wants to hire stupid people to run his multi-doctor business, or judge his blunt honesty, slow down. You've probably had the same thought! Or you've thought you couldn't afford them. Also wrong.

That way of thinking is exactly why we get lack luster performance from our lack luster performers and stay stuck right where we are. You have to hire the best and train them consistently. Good, driven people always perform better when they have a purpose and the support to accomplish that purpose. You definitely don't want the best and smartest working for your competitor, you want them working for you! Find the best, train them, and watch what happens when their fuel gets added to your fire!

Hit the road! Know when to fire the wrong fit.

#8 - Know when to call it quits.

If you find your instincts telling you that you don't trust them, you don't enjoy working with them, or the progress is just too slow and you don't know that they'll ever be where you need them to be, have a plan and let them go. Before you do though, make sure you've honestly assessed that it isn't your old baggage popping up to sabotage your success. This one can be tricky, so be real and talk to your most trusted confidants.

Your plan needs to include replacement, not just letting them go and taking it all back on your own shoulders. Trust me here. This one has bitten many of my clients on the tail. You'd be surprised how quickly you adjust to having the freedom to only do what you love and are good at. Taking all that stuff back on can be a real health and vitality killer. And, you'll be too busy in those tasks to dedicate the time and effort needed to find their replacement. Start the search prior to letting them go and have someone lined up to smooth the transition. Give a good severance package, and move on! Just make sure you take your lessons with you.

Long story short. If you're reading this, it's time for an Office Manager and now you know how to make it happen!