I serve as one of three co-owners of a private practice in Maine, Smart Eye Care. We have three locations focused on primary eye care, and our fourth location is our dry eye center, where we focus purely on dry eye. We have 56 employees, seven ODs, and we’re an OD-only practice.
Being a private practice owner is full of constant pivots, a lot of ups and downs, but we have a really great team, and that helps us provide exceptional patient care. As an owner, you’re constantly assessing the team, the communication, the management, and the morale and working to make everything operate as smoothly as possible. At our practice, communication is the cornerstone of our success, and it’s what allows us to do our jobs so well.
Effectively Managing a Large Group
Currently, every location has its own office manager, and we also have a corporate office, which houses our in-office billing. Over the last couple of years, we’ve hired a director of finance who focuses on our numbers and analyzes our metrics to help us set goals and see where we’re matching up with our key performance indicators.
We also have a director of operations, who wears a lot of different hats. She manages the office managers, the company newsletter, and a large majority of the administrative tasks. She also heads up the HR side, watching over our onboarding process, and she designed a training program for all of our new hires. Having someone designated to this role allows the co-owners to prioritize patient care, and it takes some of that admin responsibility off our plates.
Because of that structure, we have strong leaders in place. It’s also been advantageous because sometimes in eye care, there’s not a ton of room to grow. Being able to have people make eye care part of their careers, and give them opportunities to grow, has been a big plus. Our director of operations started as a technician, then moved into an office manager role, and now has moved up again. Seeing her growth process over the years has been so rewarding.
Make Communication Fun
One of the challenges of having so many people across multiple locations is that you have to communicate well and efficiently. There are times when we share patients between locations, and regardless of where patients end up, we want there to be continuity, and we want them to have a similar experience. We make sure we’re communicating with each other and keeping things consistent. We emphasize that we do things the “Smart Eye Care way” — not just the way one office operates.
Also, when we bring on a new product or new service, we have to make sure everybody’s in the loop. To streamline that connection, we have a monthly company newsletter for general announcements, but we also try to keep it fun and exciting and get all of our staff participating. The newsletter celebrates people’s milestones, such as work anniversaries, weddings, and birthdays, and we also include any fun facts, eye care news, eye care puzzles, or trivia. We’ve included recipe showcases, where everybody in the office submitted a recipe, and we shared it in the newsletter. We’ll do polls and share the results in the newsletter. We try to keep it fun and interesting. Before we created the newsletter, we sent monthly emails, but nobody really read them. When we made it more fun, that was a big change. It’s been a good way for us to not only maintain communication but to keep connectedness between all locations.
Maintain Regular Meetings
Office meetings are an important form of communication. Every location has a weekly office meeting where we carve out an hour to just do housekeeping, education, training, morale boosters, and more. Once a year, we hold a company retreat.
Once or twice a year we’ll also conduct a bootcamp where we bring everybody together. It’s a giant office meeting where we’re able to train, educate, and connect. We cover topics such as, “how to communicate the value of what we do to our patients,” or discuss new equipment, or have scavenger hunts with our electronic health records system. The bootcamp days are helpful because all locations are together focusing on education and communication.
Our office managers meet at least once a month to discuss different challenges that they see at their locations. They also focus on leadership development at those meetings. Communication is important, and there’s many ways that we maintain that across all of our locations and team members.
Learn Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Part of being a leader is knowing what your strengths are and then knowing where your blind spots are. When you know where your blind spots are, you can then hire people to help you see them more clearly and address them. It takes a lot of awareness to effectively communicate, listen to what your staff is saying, and take the time to hear what’s working and what’s not working.
It’s also important to recognize that everybody has a different communication style. One thing I’ve learned myself is that everybody learns differently, too. As leaders, we need to figure out those nuances of how people prefer to communicate. It’s our job to periodically check in and evaluate to make sure that things are working. If it’s not working, then we can’t be afraid to pivot and try something else.
When you have more people, you can do awesome things in your office because you’re bringing more talents and more strengths together. That is exciting. It is encouraging to be able to grow a team so that you can do more for your practice and your patients. Learn the strengths of your team, so that you can utilize them in the best way possible. Once you get that figured out, it makes you nimble, and you can more efficiently complete tasks. If you don’t take the time to learn the strengths of your people, simply adding more people might just lead to more problems.