I know a lot of dentists who would sooner cut off their right hand than give up their office manager (or senior administrator, or whatever title it happens to be). It’s an impulse I understand completely. I have people around me now I can’t imagine doing without. But considering how important the role is, it’s amazing how ill-defined the job description is in many practices.
In many cases, an office manager is simply a senior team member who has proven to be a competent administrator who can put out fires.
That’s an important function, but when we put so much emphasis on defense, on reacting to problems and trying to prevent disturbances, we forget that disturbances are a fact of life, and we sometimes have to embrace disturbance and deliberately challenge the way we do things if we want to advance to the next level.
Why not have your office manager put systems in place to deal with routine disturbances so they can liberate more time to think and behave strategically? After all, most issues fall into the same patterns. If the employee is so valuable, would you rather they focus on explaining an insurance policy procedure for the hundredth time, or uncovering a major case opportunity in a hygiene patient's chart? It’s a great value to the practice if the office manager can establish a protocol for the team to deal with recurrent disturbances.
So, here’s what you do. Explain to your office manager that you are ready for him or her to take on a more strategic role in the practice, that from now on it’s not just about getting through today – it’s about goldmining opportunities for a better tomorrow. Explain that the office manager needs to keep a dynamic tension between protecting the practice’s foundation and looking for ways to move the practice forward.
It’s important to note here that if you have a team member performing the role of an office manager on a part-time basis while their primary responsibility is at the front desk, you should consider giving them a dedicated hour in the morning and hour in the afternoon to focus on office manager duties. Over time, as your practice grows, the office manager role should grow into a full-time position. As a general rule of thumb, by the time you have two doctors and four hygienists, you should have a full-time office manager.
Helping your office manager grow in their role
If I had one piece of advice to give to an office manager to help them perform better, it would be: Get moving. Literally.
The office manager needs to be the one person who sees the big picture in all parts of the practice. After all, the other team members – including you – are given a briefing during the morning meeting.
After that, they go off to play their respective roles in the process. The office manager ensures the objectives of the day are being met, which means circulating throughout the office to troubleshoot problems as (or before) they arise. While they may not be doing the appointing alone, the office manager needs to be on top of any scheduling issues that develop.
The office manager should be alert about spotting open time and adept at filling it. If someone is running behind, or away from their post momentarily, the office manager needs to be able to jump in to help where possible – or assign to others to get the flow back on track. They must have the court sense to see what’s happening around them, and an ability to strategize and respond in real time. An effective office manager is a constant presence throughout the office.
The office manager should also maintain a regular structure for reporting. You shouldn’t be hunting for data on how the practice is performing. Your office manager should be delivering that intelligence to you in a systematic way. They should be providing you with regular private briefings on practice accomplishments, goals for next week and getting your guidance on what you want to see happen next.
In this way, the office manager is like the catcher on a baseball team – the player who, while performing the vital function of protecting home plate, has a view of the whole field and can signal and direct teammates to respond. They’re the captain of your team.
You’ll know you have the right person as your office manager when you share this article and they appear excited about fulfilling this role in the practice.
Remember, for an office manager to function effectively, they must have the respect and support of the rest of the team. It would be naive to get your office manager excited about assuming a more substantial role like this without empowering them to succeed.
Optimizing your office manager’s success
Getting your whole team aligned on your office manager and practice goals comes through establishing a simple system of feedback and accountability.
Of course, like a baseball team, a dental practice produces reams of data. That’s not a bad thing. There is a time and place for drilling deep into that data, but for the purposes of team strategy there are only a few key stats that matter. In baseball, success for batters is measured by runs batted in, and for pitchers by strikeouts. Similarly, everyone in the dental practice needs to understand their role, agree on how their performance is measured and appreciate how it contributes to the final score.
It’s quite simple. . It really comes down to tracking results in key areas of focus by asking five questions:
- How many patients appoint their next hygiene appointment within two weeks of their target date and keep that appointment?
- What is the case acceptance rate for cases up to $2,000, cases up to $5,000, and cases over $10,000?
- Is the Accounts Receivable properly supported by secure financial arrangements?
- Are we meeting our hourly and daily production goals?
- Are we meeting our goals for new patients – the ones who are invited by existing patients, as well as those who find us online and by other means?
Every role in the practice can be measured against success in one or more of these areas. For instance, in most practices, if you ask a front desk person what they’re responsible for, you’ll get a list of tasks. But if you explain that their success is measured by how many patients appoint on time for their next hygiene appointment and then show up for that visit, you are giving that person the gift of clarity. And you are giving your office manager a powerful tool for spotting issues and directing focus.
It comes down to this: If you’re going to expect people to be consistently successful, you have to define what success is. You have to give people a simple way to track and grade their performance, and you have to show them how their role fits into the larger framework. That’s the kind of clarity of purpose you find with every championship team.
Imtiaz Manji is co-founder and chairman of Spear Education. Discover more of his practice management and leadership lessons at speareducation.com/everythingimtiaz.