By: Joseph R. Schmitt
Few professionals function well or enjoy practicing their profession if they are inadequately supported. Your support group is the most important and most controllable ingredient needed to make your office so much fun for you that you never need to come to work again. That’s a trick statement. You’ll be making the same commute, but with a crack team taking care of your support needs you’ll find the old adage applies: “If it’s fun to do, it isn’t work.”
This is a departure from what you might normally expect from me. It will be a group of thoughts all directed to the finding, the care and development and the control of people.
There must always be a disclaimer to an article such as this. Nothing I will ever write should be considered reason or defense for breaking any law or doing anything which harms people. Laws and acceptable practice change. I do not know where you are or when you are reading this, so you and your legal advisors must determine whether these thoughts can apply to your practice.
“Where Are All the Good People?”
There are still plenty of good people out there. They are looking for jobs every day. Since they are good people they are looking for good jobs; and the better they are, the harder it is to trick them into thinking you have a good job for them—unless you can prove it. If you find yourself thinking there aren’t any more good people out there, or if people seem to be your biggest problem rather than your biggest advantage over other doctors in your area, then you need to reevaluate your internal processes.
“Why Do I Need Job Specifications?”
Let me ask you a question: Can you go duck hunting if you have no idea what a duck looks like? Unless you know the kind of employees you are looking for you will not know when you have found them. In our work helping clients to get their acts together, we develop “killer” search advertisements, but the large number of responses can blind the hiring executive and thus bring the job search to a temporary halt. This is not good, because the exceptional people you really want are often highly perishable. They are not on the job market for very long. They are fast moving targets of opportunity. Since everyone should be looking for good people, the real gems are hired quickly.
I was conducting a first interview, by phone, of a young mother who was starting her job search after sending her last child off to school. She more than met the job specification; in fact, she seemed so outstanding during this initial conversation that I immediately called the attorney she had worked for before starting her family. He confirmed all she had said and more. He then remarked, casually, that he did not know she had returned to the job market. As soon as I hung up from this outstanding reference check, I called the candidate back to arrange a personal visit interview. Her line was busy.
You guessed it. Her former boss called her immediately after I had talked to him and made her an offer she could not refuse. When I did get through to her she was off the job market and most appreciative that I had helped her get reconnected to her former employer. The attorney still had her on his speed dial!
After you have developed your job and employee specification, you must determine what is a fair price to pay in money and fringes for the quality level you desire. If you expect to have an outstanding practice then you must develop an outstanding team. People are the most important raw material in building your program for success. Top employees do not cost, they become part of the cash generation of your practice.
“How Do I Write a ‘Killer’ Classified Ad?”
First, remember you are crafting an advertisement to attract and sell a superior person to take his or her time to come to you. This is not an easy sell. You must use enough words to clearly tell about the position you wish to fill and tell enough about your office and the compensation and fringes to attract applicants who want to promote themselves. They are quite possibly already working or just reentering the work force, and you want to have an opportunity to talk to them. Insist on written responses, because the response is often the first clue that this is an unusual applicant. Since the best are highly perishable, review applicants as they come in and any which seem to be outstanding and suitable should be called and given a short phone interview. Use part of this first telephone time “selling the job,” so they will be willing to hold off accepting any other offers until they have talked to you. Even this attempt to stabilize will only work for a short period of time if they are like the secretary I lost to her former boss. (Incidentally, I never have figured out how I could have prevented that one!) Insist all responses be in writing, and include your name and address. This weeds out many geography problems and those who are not positive about Chiropractic or, Heaven forbid, YOU!
“Are These Steps Something My Office Manager Should Be Doing for Me?”
Not really. No matter how good most managers are, they will have difficulty hiring an applicant as good as or better than they are—trust me. The same answer goes for using an employment agency. There is such a demand for the really outstanding applicants that it is an unusual event when one gets through the filter to you. Sometimes the employment agency itself hires these exceptionals. Sometimes they sell them off at higher levels than your requisition.
Develop Your Personal Skills in Testing Applicants
There is a story that Margaret Truman (the daughter of Bess and Harry S Truman) complained to her mother that President Truman should not be using the expression “horse manure.” Bess replied that Margaret didn’t realize how long it had taken to get him to use the substitute word “manure.” A good testing program will assist you in separating the verbalizers from the really great candidates (and the word “verbalizers” is probably the word Margaret Truman had in mind for her father to use).
“What Can Testing Do, and Where Do I Learn More?”
I have used the Wonderlic Personnel Test for many years and have seen many clients improve the quality of their work force and their company using Wonderlic tests as a tool. I’ve developed some pretty good people instincts over the years, but one of my most treasured skills is knowing the test is more usually right than my instinct.
Always Hire Conditional to an Appropriate Preemployment Physical
I have written before that I think the preemployment physical is a valuable service you should be performing for industry in your area. How you utilize the preemployment physical for your practice without sending swell new hires to a friendly competitor might be a challenge, but it should be done and I leave the proper solution to your good taste and judgment.
Always Check References and Gaps in Employment Histories
This advice would have saved a doctor friend of mine at least the $60,000 he will admit to losing from his light-fingered bookkeeper. Her previous employer was mad enough to send the woman to prison for larceny, and also mad enough to tell any reference check why she no longer worked for him. My friend didn’t bother to do a proper reference check and paid plenty for the omission. (Oh yes, the gap in the woman’s employment history was the time she spent behind bars.)
Admit When You Are Wrong
The hiring process, at best, is perhaps a 50–50 bet. I remember one sad hell-month period when I had three different personal assistants and let the best one get away completely by not making an offer soon enough. You can accurately draw three conclusions: I am not perfect in executing the hiring process, not easy to work for and quick to recognize my own errors in judgment. Not too proud a confession for someone who writes articles as an expert! Just remember, you don’t need to eat the whole dozen eggs to decide it is a bad batch. While technically a probation period for both you and the employee is 60 to 90 days, you must look at new hires on a day-to-day basis and be willing to cut your losses by admitting early if you and the employee are a bad fit.
When the probation termination drags on to the last week or last day, it is not fair to anyone. It is certainly unfair to your office and your employees, and absolutely unfair to the person who has had their career path interrupted so unfortunately.
Office Romances: Yours or Others
I know all about how you and your people spend more time together than with any other person or group. I know how nice it is, sometimes, to celebrate a particular outstanding, record-breaking week by having a couple of cold ones down at the local “Grog and Grope”—but don’t do it, and encourage all in your office to maintain a strictly professional relationship. I have said it before on these pages, but it needs repeating. An office romance is, no question, the most expensive fringe benefit you can buy, whether it is for you or two other employees.
Assume I’m right: there are good people out there and you can make your own definition of what “good” means for your practice. The objective is to prepare a very comprehensive specification for the people in your organization and what you expect of them.
Keep Your Hands On the Hiring Process
As you grow and expand you must personally take the time and make the effort to be intimately involved in the hiring process. There are many tasks you will learn to delegate, but it is a mistake in most instances to delegate the final interviews and job offers for your staff additions and replacements. It is probable, with the right team, you will grow to the size that your hiring involvement becomes difficult, but you must remember that as your practice grows and expands, the foundation upon which you will leverage growth is people. Selection of support people who you will train to professionally develop the information you need to support you and to improve your efficient diagnosis and treatment is much too important to delegate completely.
I’ll not build your people specification, but here are some thoughts about what I would look for if I were building a new team. If you do not have a clear idea of what you are looking for then I’ll guarantee you you’ll not find these people. You want healthy people. Vital people. Your entire staff—no exceptions—should be hired with health as the second most important criteria, and these employees should be reminded that this is a lifetime expectation. You and your staff should have no disconditioned members. I am aware how difficult this is and how many excuses can be made for that extra ten or twenty pounds, but it is difficult to preach good health habits if your team reflects otherwise.
Remember, you are hiring one person at a time and you have an obligation to your practice and your other employees to hire the best possible candidate based on the specification you have built. The specification must not have a race, color or creed exclusion.
Find and hire superior people. You will find that they are eager to learn the skills you need. You can teach them to do anything, and you can expect much from them. Happy searching!