The Trouble with “Titles”
When good help is hard to come by and you have what you consider to be a rising star on your staff, it’s understandable that you want to reward them in some way. Perhaps wage increases in your office have been curbed because of the economy, and you haven’t been able to provide as many of those special little perks that you once did to reward team members for excellent performance. Maybe a new title is the way to reward a good employee?
For “Dr. Peter,” awarding one of his staff standouts a new moniker seemed like such a good idea at the time. He had seen a fair amount of employee turnover in the past 18 months, which Dr. Peter attributed to several factors. One left for a better paying position, another wanted to spend more time with her children, a third just wasn’t a good fit for the practice. Dr. Peter heard Julie, the business employee, mention that she felt like she deserved more for all she did for the office.
Julie was a good employee. Dr. Peter saw her as a rising star. She was bright, energetic, and enthusiastic. She was good with the patients and the staff and the kind of employee the practice wanted to keep around. The problem - Dr. Peter didn’t think he could pay her much more. So he reasoned that a new title and new challenges would be the “opportunity” that would keep Julie from trotting out the door to the practice down the street.
When Dr. Peter brought Julie in to his office to tell her that he would like to appoint her as office manager, she was thrilled that Dr. Peter felt she was up for the challenge. Julie’s primary responsibilities are scheduling and confirming appointments, greeting patients, making financial arrangements, etc. However, when she inquired as to how her duties might change, the good doctor didn’t have a good answer. He simply told her he’d like to see what she could do and they would go from there. When she asked if the new position meant an increase in her salary, Dr. Peter was non-committal. Julie was puzzled. What would be the point of being named office manager? Julie wondered silently.
Things went downhill from there. Dr. Peter assumed that because Julie was bright and confident, she could design her role as office manager. But with no direction from the doctor, she was making up her duties as she went along. Julie suggested that she be involved in staff evaluations, but Dr. Peter told her that would not be appropriate. She asked him if he would like her to provide assistance evaluating the financial reports, “No, I can handle that,” was his response. She suggested that the team work together to develop some scheduling objectives. Dr. Peter thought that might be a good idea, but continually put Julie off each time she brought the issue up.
Julie had a title of office manger, but not the responsibility or any decision-making authority. Julie eventually checked out emotionally from the position and then physically from the practice. It was a waste of potential talent that the doctor recognized, but he could not bring himself to relinquish control of certain areas or involve a “subordinate” in a “partnership” role. It’s a concept that some doctors find just entirely too threatening to pursue.
Every employee must have a job description that clearly defines the job, spells out specific skills needed for the position, and outlines precisely the duties and responsibilities. A job title is not a job description. That being said, I readily acknowledge that writing the job description for an office manager is no small challenge.
On the McKenzie Management website, you may have noticed that I have job descriptions for multiple positions in the practice, including scheduling coordinator, treatment coordinator, financial coordinator, patient coordinator, etc. But there isn’t one for an office manager. Why? Because, as Dr. Peter’s case illustrates, different doctors interpret this position quite differently. And many interpret the position incorrectly.
The majority of dental practice “office managers” answer phones, make appointments, do financial arrangements, etc. These are the responsibilities of a front office employee or a business coordinator. Certainly, an office manager will step in and perform these duties when necessary as well. But the role stretches well beyond these tasks.
Next week, what do real office managers do?
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