Discussions among business managers can get rather lively, especially when the topic turns to employees. I am always secretly pleased to learn that, regardless of their type of business, managers are often frustrated by their employees. This seems to be a chronic problem among employers. During a particularly rousing exchange recently, a colleague commented, “Why is it that my employees seem to be just as busy when the practice is slow as when we are swamped with patients?” I have to admit I've noticed the same thing and wondered,
“How can I be certain that employees are spending their time—actually my time—on business and not on busy-ness?”
Employees often do things a certain way out of habit. But such habits may actually be reducing their productivity. Do we judge our employees' performance by how much they have to do or by what they have accomplished? Convincing an employee that their busy-ness is not really contributing to achieving the goals of the business is not an easy task, but it's crucial because unproductive employees are costly to a practice. When an employee's performance is not contributing to keeping current patients or attracting new ones, it's time to reassess their job description.
From my own experience and from research, I've learned that the following steps can be helpful in assessing and improving employee productivity.
Step 1. Create specific, written job descriptions for every employee
The first step is creating some structure in the workplace. Employees need written and detailed job descriptions that delineate the duties, responsibilities, and reporting relationships of a particular job. These are necessary to make employees understand exactly what their employer wants them to do.
An employee's performance has to be measured by what is necessary to run an effective and profitable business—not by what the employee likes to do. Many times, employees gravitate toward certain tasks or do not complete a task because they really aren't certain what is expected of them or how their employer wants the job done. Managers are often superstars at noticing when things aren't done right, but they may fail to take the time to tell employees exactly what is expected of them.
Step 2. Have written consequences when jobs aren't completed
A written job description is the first step, but it must be accompanied by the outcome you will use to determine if the job is being completed successfully. As a follow-up to the written job description, you must determine, in advance, the consequences if the job is not completed satisfactorily. When an employee fails to adhere to the job description, your feedback should be specific. For instance, say, “You did not follow our accounts receivable procedures with Mr. Jones. Our policy requires patients to pay in full at the time of their fitting,” not “You need to follow procedures.”
Effective feedback is focused on a specific behavior. When employees don't meet deadlines or follow written policies, you need to enforce negative consequences. Bad behavior that goes unchallenged will be repeated.
When it's necessary to remind employees of their job description, it may help to start the conversation with a compliment. For example, “You did a great job with the reports, but they were a week late. In the future, I expect them on time.” You want good employees to know they are appreciated, but at the same time you want them to know that failing to follow written protocol is not an option if they want to keep their job.
Regular assessment is key
Regular employee assessment is essential not only to highlight problem areas that may require additional training or supervision, but also to provide positive feedback and recognition to employees who are performing well. It will be difficult to keep employees on course if you don't remind them where they are going and how you want them to get there. It's not unusual for a manager to discover that the job being performed isn't in synch with the job description. An employee may be underperforming or even performing beyond expectations, but no one's noticed.
Make sure that communication between you and your employees is not always one way. Your employees are on the front lines of the business, so they may be aware of problems before you are. Make it a habit to ask for and consider their advice. Encouraging employees to contribute their suggestions can make them feel more invested in the business.
It's human nature that employees won't spend every single second of their day working. If kept under control, down time isn't a bad thing. Allowing employees some time to breathe may actually increase productivity. Bill Gates used to schedule a twice-yearly “Think Week” to foster employee creativity.
While the average hearing healthcare practitioner may not be trained on how to manage employees, a few written guidelines will help ensure that employees focus on business and not just busy-ness.