4.27.07 - Issue # 268 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

When Your Rising Star’s a Dud
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Anyone who has managed employees for any length of time has seen it. The rising star with all the potential to succeed is promoted to a new position and fails. Why does it happen? How does it happen? It’s agonizing for the employee and it’s certainly no treat for the doctor either. After all, this is someone you were sure you could count on. She/he showed all the signs of being truly excellent. But, as many dentists have discovered, a promotion doesn’t guarantee that your rising star will become a superstar. Just ask Dr. Morton. 

Carolyn had been a business employee in Dr. Morton’s practice for just over a year when the office manager left and Dr. Morton promoted her to the position. Carolyn, Dr. Morton thought, would be ideal. She was bright, enthusiastic, seemed to be very good with patients, and got along great with the rest of the staff. Her title was business assistant, but her role had been more of “helper” to the previous office manager. Nonetheless, Dr. Morton felt confident that Carolyn would rise to the challenge. After all, she had indicated that she was interested in taking on more responsibility and seemed to bring some good experience to the position.

Additionally, Dr. Morton thought this would be an ideal time to implement a few administrative changes. She wanted Carolyn to take the lead in shoring up some key practice systems, including: overhead, personnel policies, cash flow, and recall for starters. Yes, indeed, Carolyn was going to be busy in her new role.

For Carolyn, this was certainly a case of “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.” Yes, the salary was appealing. She wanted additional responsibility and the chance to tackle new challenges, but Dr. Morton didn’t mention any plans to train her in the new position. Sure, she’d been on staff long enough to understand how the office worked and Dr. Morton’s preferences, but how would she develop these policies and systems? Who would guide her? She knew she couldn’t expect Dr. Morton to answer her every question, after all it was her responsibility now. Time to sink or swim. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be long before Carolyn felt the pinch of what would turn out to be cement shoes.

The first few months were tumultuous. Carolyn was winging it. The doctor said she wanted better management of cash flow, so Carolyn implemented a new collections policy. She was intent on proving her worth by increasing revenues immediately. The policy itself was not the problem, rather, it was the approach. Carolyn did not implement a system to inform patients in advance of the policy change. Consequently, many were surprised and a little irritated that they didn’t get at least some explanation for why the policy was changing.

What’s more, in Carolyn’s mind, a policy is a policy and it is up to the office manager to enforce it. Patients were further annoyed. Not only had the new rule been sprung on them, but the new office manager was utterly and completely inflexible in her enforcement of it. Needless to say, the phones began to ring and Dr. Morton was busy fielding calls from unhappy patients. 

Patient relations were strained and staff relations weren’t much better. Co-worker Carolyn, that nice girl who was originally hired to help out at the front desk, was now controlling Carolyn, large and in-charge and unilaterally defining personnel policies. Worse yet, she would immediately go on the defensive should someone hint that her approach could use a little softening. Her standard response was, “Well, I’m the office manager, and Doctor expects me to get these things done.” Carolyn was not holding up well under the pressure. The staff was ready to mutiny. The doctor was concerned but chalked it up to that ‘ol learning curve thing.

Over the next 12 months, staff turnover spiked and Carolyn herself eventually quit in frustration. It was a painful lesson for Dr. Morton who came to realize that just because someone is bright, energetic, enthusiastic, and seemingly competent in one position is no guarantee that they will succeed in another.

Next week, put your superstars in the best light.

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com.

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