Several colleagues and I were recently discussing some of the common aggravations of owning and operating a business when the conversation quickly turned to the frustrations of managing employees. When I shared my repeated dissatisfaction with a member of my staff, a friend commented that I seemed to be a good motivator, but a bad manager.
I was initially stunned by his observation, but after some thought I had to admit my friend had a point. I realized that part of the problem is that I spend too much time working in my business instead of on my business. I knew I needed to improve my management style so I asked myself,
“How can I become a better manager?”
I began my pursuit by reading several books and discovered some great advice in It's OK to Be the Boss by Bruce Tulgan. The author contends that there is an epidemic of under-management in business today. When an employee doesn't do what is expected of him or her, it's tempting to blame the employee. But often the real problem lies with the manager. It is the manager's job to tell employees what is expected, to train them to do their jobs well, and then to monitor their performance to make certain it happens.
Many managers take a “hands off” approach. But while we would like to believe that employees will do what we want them to do, how can we expect them to know what that is unless we tell them? How do we do that? Here are a few tips from Tulgan's book:
Manage every day. Most of us are so busy with our “real work,” that is seeing patients, that we think of management work as an extra burden. We avoid daily managing the way a lot of people avoid daily exercise and manage only when the situation becomes critical. As a result, employees get out of shape, and it's not until problems get out of control that we spring into action.
If we want employees to stay “in shape,” we have to manage them regularly. Daily management doesn't necessarily mean micromanaging; it just means giving employees feedback on a regular basis so they know if their job performance is meeting our expectations.
Tell people what to do—and how. It's amazing how many managers believe they shouldn't tell people how to do their jobs. An employee may know what needs to be done, but disagree with the manager's vision of what is expected from their performance. Many managers hesitate to give orders because they don't want to “boss people around.” But that's exactly what a boss is supposed to do.
Employees need written job descriptions that are very specific so they know exactly what is expected of them. Every practice should have a check list of “standard operating procedures,” such as that the phone must be answered on the first ring or patients must be greeted within seconds of walking in the door. When we tell employees what we want done and exactly how we want them to do it over and over again, they will start doing what we want them to do the way we want them to do it.
Track performance every step of the way. Most of us track things like hours worked, days off, number of hearing instruments sold, and return-for-credit or exchange rates. But none of those things really tells us how well an employee is doing their job.
One of the best ways to monitor an employee's performance is to watch the person. Listening to the way a receptionist answers the phone or how an audiologist interacts with a patient can tell us more about an employee's performance than a bunch of surveys ever will.
If you hear or see something that doesn't live up to your standards, take the employee aside and explain how you expect the situation to be handled in the future. Performance reviews should be conducted at least annually and pay increases should be based on the outcomes of those reviews.
Solve small problems before they become big. No one likes confrontations with employees. Therefore, it's tempting not to bring up small problems with employees, like leaving a patient on hold for five minutes. But remember, as the saying goes, “There is no such thing as a small problem.” No problem is so small it should be ignored, because small problems fester and become big problems. If you talk to employees about the details of their work on a regular basis, then talking about small problems should be routine and not uncomfortable or confrontational.
As business owners and managers, we need to accept the responsibility of being the boss and act accordingly. An undisciplined workplace is not a healthy environment for employees or managers. Take control today. As long as you are the boss, you might as well be a good one!