Staff Management

Why to Create a Staff Hierarchy & How to Do It

By Lysle Shaw-McMinn, OD

We all have a staff hierarchy in our minds: owner, office manager, optician, technician, in that order. But how do we maintain this hierarchy, and why is it important to do so?

Being a recent grad thrown into managing staff while seeing a full schedule of patients, I have found that having a staff hierarchy means less stress and work because it allows me to delegate tasks and know where responsibility lies. When staff members know who they report to, and who they are accountable to, they are less likely to slack on their work and more likely to treat their co-workers with deserved respect.

One Manager per Employee

By having only one superior telling a technician what to do, technicians will not get placed into situations where they must prioritize work from multiple superiors. It will create more consistency, so that they can feel comfortable knowing the quality of their work will be assessed the same way each time they do it. If they have a question, they will know who to ask, and most of the time that person will not be you, because you would rather be making money in the exam room or sinking putts on the golf course!

Choosing your staff hierarchy is the easy part. Each staff member should be accountable to just one person, creating a tree with you at the top and lowest paid staff at the very bottom.

But maintaining the staff hierarchy is not something automatic, especially if you have a bad habit of managing problems re-actively, placing the quickest Band-Aid on a problem and forgetting to get around to it later.

The first step is to have a staff manual, so that all staff know what you want from them without you having to directly tell them. This gives you control over your technicians without directly supervising them. It also allows you to correct your supervisors if they are not supervising correctly. Let the supervisor know what the technician is doing wrong, and refer to the staff manual for the correct way to do it so they can speak with the technician.

Reinforce Authority of Manager

That leads us into the second step, never break the hierarchy. I know you noticed that authorizations need to be pulled for tomorrow, and it still hasn’t gotten done, but even if your supervisor is busy, that does not mean you should tell your technicians to start pulling authorizations. Your supervisor may already have that technician doing something even more important, especially if you are under-staffed that day. Instead, remind the supervisor that they need to make sure the authorizations are pulled by the end of the day. The supervisor will thank you for bringing it to their attention, and they will use their judgement in prioritizing the task.

If you don’t trust your supervisor’s judgement, then your office will never run efficient or effectively. Giving your supervisors responsibilities will help you build trust with them.  If they’ve already proven they cannot be trusted, then they may need to be demoted from their supervisor role.

When inter-staff problems arise, address them by referencing a) the staff manual and b) the hierarchy/supervisors. The only problem a technician should come to you with is a problem with their supervisor, because any other problem should be handled by their supervisor. If they do have a problem with the supervisor, tread carefully. Listen to them in entirety, acknowledge the problem, thank them for bringing it to your attention, and tell them you will handle it. Finally, explain to them that they must follow their supervisor’s instructions, and that you have confidence in their supervisor despite this particular issue. Showing your technicians that you have confidence in their supervisors is important.

If a problem needs to be addressed, consider having the supervisor write a memo. Memos should be e-mailed to each staff and posted somewhere in the office and each staff member should sign the memo to show they have read it. Even if you write the memo, consider having a supervisor post the memo under their name to help display leadership and confidence in them. Memos are especially good for those owners who are managing problems re-actively, placing Band-Aids and never addressing the underlying issue with protocol.

By using a staff hierarchy and maintaining it, you will find more free time for yourself, and less inter-staff problems. You will also find that the office runs more efficiently, that staff are held accountable for their mistakes, and that staff are less likely to quit due to inter-staff relation issues.

Do you have a hierarchy of staff in your office? Which employees are at the top, and which are at the bottom? How do you maintain this hierarchy? What are the benefits of enforcing a staff hierarchy?

Lysle Shaw-McMinn, OD, is the managing partner of Sun City Vision Clinic, a four-OD office with two locations in Southern California. He graduated from Southern California College of Optometry in 2014. To contact: lysle@outlook.com

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