Insights From Our Editors

Unleashing Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose in Your Office

An optometrist shares the reminder note she sticks on her computer that reminds her to ask employees what they think about how to solve problems.

Dr. Sorrenson sticks this helpful reminder that employees should be empowered to problem-solve on their own.

How to give your staff autonomy to enhance patient care and profitability.

By Laurie Sorrenson, OD, FAAO

August 16, 2023

In the dynamic world of optometric healthcare, where patient care and precision are so critical, keeping your team engaged, empowered and fulfilled is vital. As the leader of your optometric office, you hold the power to create an extraordinary workplace where not only will your team thrive, but where they will also deliver fantastic care and service.

Enter the trio of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose talked about by Daniel Pink in the book “Drive.” If you haven’t read his book yet, HERE is a great whiteboard animation that introduces you to these three concepts.

This week let’s focus on creating more Autonomy in your practice to help keep your employees more engaged.

Why Is Micromanaging a Bad Idea?

Doing things right is essential, but micromanaging can stifle your staff’s ability to troubleshoot and handle issues quickly. Exemplary patient care and service require that patients’ problems be handled as quickly as possible. At our office, on an employee’s very first day, they are told that they have $200 to fix an issue without needing to get permission from anyone else. We tell them that so they  know we really want them to become more empowered, or autonomous, and that we want patients to be cared for as quickly as possible.

Transitioning toward greater staff autonomy is tough for some leaders. However, recognizing that there are usually multiple effective approaches for handling situations can reduce an owner’s or manager’s tendency to micromanage. Drawing from my consulting experience, I frequently encounter instances where owners or managers overly control and question their staff, resulting in operational inefficiencies, decreased morale and heightened staff turnover.

By giving the staff the autonomy to handle problems, offer ideas and influence decisions, you boost their confidence and may find that you have uncovered a goldmine of untapped potential. In our office, we find that employees are better at protecting our interests than we are and are great at judgment calls.

One way I developed more autonomous behavior in our office, and an approach I highly recommend, is by putting a note on my computer screen and on my desk that says, “What do you think?”  😀  This is to remind me that when an employee comes to me with a patient issue, problem or question to always respond with “What do you think?

Invariably the employee knows the correct answer! At that point, I can use their response as a coaching lesson. I might respond, “You knew the correct answer. I trust you to handle things like this. Remember, you have $200 to fix an issue because we trust you and want you to feel confident handling more things. I am here anytime you need me, though.”

The Importance of Consistent Reinforcement

If I were to offer one key piece of advice for driving behavioral change such as fostering autonomy, it would be consistent reinforcement. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. I thought once we decided as a team that something was a good idea…it would just happen! WRONG!!! Transforming behavioral change doesn’t transpire overnight; it requires follow-up and reinforcement day in and day out.

Here are a few things I do to help me reinforce behavioral change:

1). Create messages and schedule them to go out to the appropriate team. I might send a message three days in a row, then once a week, and maybe another reminder a couple of months later. But I schedule them so that I don’t have to remember to do it.  You can do this with Gmail or Telegram or other messaging apps.

2). Create a repeating appointment to follow-up on a new behavior or change in a system to ensure it is still being done. This might be monthly or quarterly, or even yearly. I do this on my Google calendar.

Fostering autonomy is about creating an environment where your staff feels empowered and is intrinsically motivated to deliver exceptional care. This stuff isn’t quick or easy!  If it were, everyone would do it!! LOL!

In the next two weeks, I will delve into two more pivotal components of cultivating engaged employees: Mastery and Purpose.

Laurie Sorrenson, OD, FAAO, is president of Lakeline Vision Source in Cedar Park, Texas, and the Professional Editor of Review of Optometric Business (ROB). To contact her:

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