I got around to writing this article in a roundabout way.
For MGE clients, it’s pretty well accepted (and understood) that they need an Office Manager. They also have an idea of what an Office Manager is supposed to do and so on.
Outside of MGE’s “orbit,” the title “Office Manager,” has any number of meanings. In my travels I’ve seen it describe the most experienced person at the front desk, to the office’s bookkeeper, to a glorified receptionist.
So, nice title – but not what we would describe as an “Office Manager.”
But just describing the “OM” position isn’t the reason for this article (I will, but bear with me).
Beyond the natural and positive by-products of a competent, real Office Manager, which include:
- A less-stressed doctor,
- A well-run, expanding office,
- Better organization which can positively impact clinical quality and
- A more profitable practice,
What got me writing this was: Time. More specifically, the passing of it and the inability to get it “back.”
I don’t know, maybe getting older (and not necessarily wiser), made me reflect.
Time is Your Friend, Until It’s Lost!
Without sifting through mounds of statistics, the average dentist can practice for let’s say, 30 to maybe 35+ years; some more, some less. Figure in a couple of years associating when you start out, that would leave the average “Joe” or “Jane,” with 30 years in their own business.
Add to this, the average dentist I’ve spoken with would prefer to be financially independent by age 50. So, age 50 onward would include the opportunity to cut back on hours, take more time off, add partners, etc. It’s, “practicing because you want to and love it,” versus, “having to go to work to make your mortgage payment.”
Which brings me to this concept of time; as I mentioned earlier, once it’s gone…well, it’s gone.
Apply this to a business scenario. A year of poor performance where you “squeezed by” financially is – beyond being an unpleasant learning experience – a net loss with regards to your long-term goals.
Maybe you didn’t lose any money, but you lost the time, and with it the opportunity to make headway towards whatever it is you’re shooting for, in the limited decades you have in your business.
Conversely, years full of fantastic profit and growth for your practice move you that much closer to where you want to be.
And this really is what got me going on this article. From my personal experience and observation, a practice with an effective, competent Office Manager will far outstrip (in many performance markers) practices without one, especially in terms of profitability, efficiency and growth. Every day that goes by without one in place passes at a potentially severe cost to the doctor’s long-term goals and plans. And, once that time is gone it cannot be recovered!
Maybe I’m being dramatic. I guess I got tired of watching people perpetuate this mistake (no OM), along with the costs (in more stress and less profitability) associated with doing so.
And my point here is not to lament time wasted. Instead it’s to eliminate that waste from this point forward.
If you know me (some of you do), you’ll know that I’m all about what is “real.” Sure, I love all sorts of ideas, but do they work? And can you show me how whatever is being proposed will actually play out favorably in the real world – not just in somebody’s “pie in the sky” unrealistic imagination? With that introduction, let’s really look at why a dental office (or really any health care practice or professional, i.e. attorney, CPA, etc.), needs a real Office Manager.
I’ll be writing this from a dental perspective, but any professional reading this could benefit.
Why Do You Need an Office Manager?
As a dentist, your primary value to your business (and to your patients) is: Chairside. Beyond this, your next area of focus would be discussing and explaining treatment to patients that would lead to you being: Chairside. After all, you own a dental office – what does your office do? Duh. Dentistry!
From a purely statistical perspective, your value as a dentist can run from $500 to $1,000 an hour. This of course varies based on the type of work you’re doing and the area in which you’re located (i.e. fees vary based on cost of living and locale).
Any minute, second or fraction of a second during business hours that you are not doing dentistry (or something that leads to dentistry) is lost revenue for your business. That includes, to a lesser degree, doing your own hygiene… (cough) hint, hint… to those that still do.
So, if you’re where you are supposed to be during business hours – treating patients – who’s running the practice?
In most offices…really no one. Sure there’s someone answering the phone, scheduling patients, filing insurance and so on. But who is managing and/or directing employees, solving problems and most importantly making sure there is no wasted effort on the path to achieving the practice’s objectives? Again, probably no one.
The doctor might think they’re doing this – and maybe they are. But if they’re doing this, then they are not treating patients. It’s a double-edged sword, with two unpleasant choices:
- Stay chairside and hope things work out at the front. This can work for a time, until the front hits a speed bump and you end up with openings (so you can’t be chairside), or worse things really go haywire leading to inordinate stress or
- Manage the practice yourself, resulting in lost potential revenue (leading to lowered profitability and stress) due to not being chairside.
You get the point. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
And….not to spoil the surprise, the solution to all of this is an effective Office Manager. And with that said, let’s look at what an Office Manager actually should be.
What is an Office Manager?
Your Office Manager is the chief executive of your practice. They in effect “run” (manage) your business so you can do what you’re supposed to be doing: dentistry.
That means when filling this position you’re looking for someone who can (or can be trained to):
- Solve problems,
- Create growth in a business.
You’re looking for an executive or potential executive. Basic qualities would include:
- They are “solution” oriented.
- They are willing to tell others what to do.
- They can command attention, compliance and respect.
- They can work…and are productive in their own right. They should be able to competently perform any job in the office (excepting clinical).
- They can learn fast (as proven by their ability to apply what they have learned), and can train others.
- They are ambitious and driven.
- They are always looking to improve themselves
- They aren’t afraid of hard work and business growth,
- They are trustworthy.
- They are (most importantly) responsible. Anything you give them to do they bring off as expected (or better). They might even take offense to you trying to do their job for them. They say they’ll do something; and they do it – they don’t just pay lip service to doing it.
What you’re looking for is someone who can, in effect, run your business. Someone you feel so comfortable with that you could leave for weeks on end (of course with associates) and they would not only keep things under control – the business would keep growing in your absence!
What about Smaller Offices?
I know, you might think, “I’ve got a small office; I’m not ready for an OM.” Well….WRONG. In a smaller office, the OM might also have other jobs, i.e. two people up front one might be the OM (also handling Treatment Coordinator and collections duties), and the other might answer the phone and do some scheduling. All of this while the office is growing (in no small measure due to both you and the OM), the OM replaces themselves on specific jobs and “moves up.”
You start with the OM and grow from there.
With all of this in mind, what are you (the doctor) supposed to do with regards to managing the business? Well, let’s have a look.
Doctor and OM: Working Together
So, how does this all work? Well, as the owner, you’re ultimately responsible for the business. So, yes, you better darn be involved!
Managerially, you manage the OM. And of course this starts by GETTING ONE.
From there, you coordinate and work together to pull off the practice’s goals.
- Maintains the highest level of clinical care possible not just for themselves, but oversees it with all providers in the practice.
- Sets the goals for the practice. Not just financial goals, but overall expansion goals – i.e. expand into three more chairs, etc. The long-term goals for the business itself. This means you’re the one laying out the mission statement, setting the overall tone for the practice’s culture and so on.
- Sets office policy, or at least approves it.
- Oversees and manages office finances and is responsible for the practice’s financial health.
- Manages the Office Manager.
- Works with the OM when needed on hiring (especially with associates, assistants, hygienists, etc.)
The Office Manager:
- Plans for and runs the practice (schedules, collections, and so on), to meet the doctor’s goals. Ensure statistics and revenues are hitting where they need to be,
- Hires, trains, fires,
- Proposes policies where needed,
- Keeps close communication with and reports to the doctor to ensure they are meeting the doctor’s expectations for growth.
Of course, the Doctor/Owner and OM “hats” have way-y-y-y-y more to them than just this. These are the broad strokes. The OM would of course do things such as, ensure customer service is awesome, the schedule is efficiently packed; handle staff conflict (I could go on – there’s so much more). But again, these are the basics.
If you were to compare this to a corporate situation, the OM is the CEO and the Doctor is the Board of Directors.
Weekly, they should meet and review where things are with relation to overall practice goals as well as addressing any other business at hand (personnel, etc.)
On a daily basis, they would coordinate with regards to what they wanted to get done that day.
There would also be regular monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings where longer range planning and growth can be discussed.
With the OM effectively running the business, the doctor can sell and produce dentistry.
And all runs well.
Doctor Backing Off From Clinical and Moving Into Managerial Duties
At some point in your career, you might want to add one of more associates, back off from some of your chairside duties, reduce hours, maybe add new locations or some combination thereof. For that matter, I’ve seen anything from the main doctor/owner moving to part-time clinical & part-time management to focusing almost solely on treatment planning and presentation (with associates doing the work), all the way to full time managerial or “corporate,” type duties. There are as many possible scenarios here as there are doctors.
How does the Office Manager play into all of this. Well, to put it simply, all of these points above require expansion and growth. Between driving this expansion and acting as your “right-hand” man or woman, it makes all of this a possibility far faster than if you tried on your own.
I’ve seen these expansion scenarios play out to where the primary Office Manager is eventually elevated to a senior managerial position, “Managing the Managers,” of the four or five practices that the doctor owns.
So, if expansion is in your future plans…you absolutely need that Office Manager!
OK, So Where Do You Find One of these “Office Managers?”
If I were looking for an OM, I would start by looking at who is on staff NOW. You may be able to promote from within, which is preferred. If that’s not an option, you’re hiring someone new. A couple of points to be wary of:
- Just because they managed well elsewhere, doesn’t mean they are going to be a success in your office. And keep in mind, you weren’t present at their other job. Who knows how well they actually did? The proof is in the proverbial pudding. Make sure they are able to get the job done before you sink all of your hopes and dreams into them. How would you know? Well, while they are training, start by giving them things to accomplish and see if they actually do them! Have them make some recall or reactivation calls. Did they do a good job? Have them help you with financial arrangements. Did they do what they were supposed to do? Depending on your staff situation, your new OM might have other duties or jobs in addition to managing – i.e. scheduling, collections, etc. Well, you would expect them to perform well on this position in addition to whatever purely managerial duties they may have. You get the gist.
- Don’t get caught up in things that have no bearing on the success of the applicant. For example, someone could insist that the OM be over 35 years old. Really, who cares? I’ve met plenty of mid 20-something OMs who are killing it statistically. You want someone who can do the job. Obviously they would have to have a certain demeanor and maturity to them, but I’ve met many young people who would be (and are) great executives and many others who are not. Age had nothing to do with it. It was the person and their approach to their job.
Assuming the potential is there, training then becomes critical. Being given an executive position does not instantaneously grant someone the knowledge to BE an executive. And knowing about the office is no substitute for knowing how to run a business. And don’t think that training an OM, absolves the doctor of being knowledgeable as an executive. It doesn’t. After all, who’s managing the OM?
The accomplishments of a well-trained doctor and Office Manager are something to behold. I get to see them all the time here at MGE with clients on the MGE Power Program with includes executive training for the doctor and Office Manager (The MGE Office Manager Training Program). You know those success stories we publish? Well, they’re real. I know, at times, they defy belief. I’ve spoken to a many a new or non-client doctor about MGE Client’s statistical performance. When I run into a doctor who’s pretty beaten down and discouraged trying to run things solo, they either a) don’t believe the statistics are true or b) try to figure out some “nefarious” way the client is accomplishing these stats. They are too “unbelievable.” Well of course it’s neither “a” or “b.” It’s again, real.
And what I love most? Speaking to that same doctor after some MGE course-work with a trained OM on the job and hearing about their results! They end up with the same wins that – just months earlier – they didn’t believe were possible!
A trained OM is a vital component to a successful practice. Which brings me back to where we started…time. And let’s be real. Don’t let 2017 be another year of lost opportunity. You’ll never get this time back and all careers come with an expiration date. You probably have goals for your business. Or…maybe you gave up on them (that’s OK, we can help you fix that too)! In any event, whatever these are (or were), they can be accomplished. And we can help. If you want to “dip your toe in the pool,” and test the water, try one of MGE’s free seminars. Or check out the MGE New Patient Workshop, which comes with a money back guarantee.
If you’re really ambitious and want to just start rolling, give us as call and we can get you moving towards the MGE Power Program. We’ll work out getting you (and an Office Manager) trained and rolling.
If you have any questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I wish you the best!