As the old saying goes, if I had a nickel for every time I heard a doctor tell me that I didn’t know his or her staff, I’d have a lot of nickels.

That remark is usually the cul­­mination of a doctor telling me something along these lines:

“At our last office meeting, we discussed that patients need to be called the same day their contact lenses come in. I’ve outlined this protocol to my staff repeatedly, but they only follow it for a few days before reverting to doing it only occasionally. It’s so frustrating.”

After hearing that I’ll ask, “On a scale of one to 10, how important is it that your staff do this consistently?”

“It’s extremely important—it’s like a 12! That’s why I continue to ask them to do it!”

“Well, you need to sit your entire staff down at your next meeting and make it clear that it’s a 12. If they can’t get it done, and there isn’t a good reason—not an excuse, but a legitimate reason—why they can’t, then they’ll have to seek work elsewhere.”

“What? Are you actually telling me that if my staff doesn’t do what they’re supposed to do, I’m supposed to fire them?”

“Yes, I am.”

“But, Gary, you don’t know my staff. They’ll find 100 reasons for why my idea is a bad one or 200 excuses for why they can’t get the task done.”

And round and round the conversation goes.

It’s Up to You
The essence of most “staff” problems isn’t truly a problem with the staff at all. Instead, these problems are often due to a lack of two things repeatedly seen by our consultants in the majority of offices with which we work.

First, there are no clear systems or processes in place that spell out exactly how and when specific tasks must be completed. In this case, calling the patient when their lenses arrive should be connected to opening the box of contact lenses.

If this is already the procedure and the task is still not being done consistently, then we have arrived at the second most common observation—a lack of leadership.

Being a leader doesn’t solely mean being a hatchet man or woman and firing people who don’t do what they should. It means that you have to possess the ability to clearly communicate what needs to be done, and why those tasks must be done.

In this case, notifying patients should be tied to your practice’s mission of providing exemplary customer service.
If that’s something in your practice’s DNA and a part of every fiber of everything your staff does, you have a greater likelihood of successfully completing any task. It also forces you to make sure that tasks that you are assigning to your staff are aligned with your practice’s vision and values, and not solely there because you thought to yourself, “Well, I guess that seems like a good idea.”

Next, you have to decide and believe that the task at hand is really a “12.” If so, and it’s consistently not being done, your next job as a leader is to determine whether your staff’s reasons (or, in many cases, excuses) for not completing tasks are valid. If the reasons are in fact legitimate, and the task is really important to you, clear any obstacles that may prevent your staff from succeeding.

Once you’ve done that, if things are still not being completed, then it’s time to wield the hatchet. I know, it’s uncomfortable, but if what you’re asking to be done is highly important and aligned with your values, you are left with two choices: continue stressing and complaining about it or hire someone else who can get the job done.

I Feel Your Pain
I do know your staff. I’ve been there, done that and have the experience and scars to prove it. Lead your staff consistently, firmly and fairly—it’ll create a far more enjoyable and successful environment for everyone involved.