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There are several valuable lessons that I have learned as a result of starting my practice, but some of the most valuable of life's lessons have stemmed from managing people day to day. I've learned first hand through my own experiences that in order to manage your practice effectively, you must manage people effectively. There are three key concepts that I use every day in my practice that have helped me manage people more effectively.

The Value of a Systems-Based Approach to Management
People generally function best in an organized environment. My brother recently traveled to Cairo, Egypt, where the population density is almost seven times that of New York City. He was very uncomfortable with the chaos of the traffic. Imagine this: seven million people trying to navigate through a city with no traffic lights and no rules or systems! Yikes! I'm sure you can imagine the resulting turmoil and dysfunction. Think of how much better traffic would flow if everyone there understood the system we use of yielding to oncoming traffic, taking turns at an intersection, etc.

There is tremendous value in organization and a systematic approach to doing things. I've seen this with my own staff and can say first hand that now, when I want to make a change at the practice, I implement a system, or a step by step approach, to accomplish this change. And, I take the time to think about the process or system required to help us successfully make the change within the practice. Since a large part of adapting to change is changing the behavior versus changing the process, it is easy to see why so often change for the betterment of the practice doesn't happen.

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For me, I always find it frustrating when people aren't as quick to adapt to change and new ways of doing things as I am. I have to continually remind myself that everyone's learning curve and retention rate varies. It took many encounters with my staff to gain an understanding of this fact. As a result, I found that systems implementation helps to provide structure and organization to changes as well as a clear vision as to why a change to the current office process is needed. This has created a recipe for success in my practice.

The Value of Consistency
Consistency is another vital tool needed for the success of a practice. As the owner of my practice, I've found that consistency with policies and procedures is very important so that staff are comfortable with the practice's day to day operations. An example is consistency with discounting. There was a time when I would extend courtesy discounts to patients that came in to the practice because they were active participants in organizations with which I was also involved; that created a big problem. The courtesy discounts themselves weren't the problem. Rather, the problem came from me being all over the place with the type/amount of discount I was giving. Finally, my office manager came to me and said, "I wish that you would either give the same discounts to everyone or not discount at all." What a valuable observation this was on my office manager's part, which made me realize how inconsistent my leadership was for my staff. When I finally started being consistent with my own office policies and procedures, staff felt more empowered and confident in the practice and in dealing with our patients, especially when they were faced with questions about charges or appropriate discounts. Consistency with policies and procedures has helped to create a very confident, empowered staff.

Last but not least… Understanding the Value of Not Reacting
This lesson continues to be the most difficult for me to continue to live by. As the practice owner, you can rest assured that every day is not always positive and pretty. Quite the contrary, it is unusual to go through an entire day without some conflict or problem that is brought to my attention. In the beginning, I would frequently react to a situation that irritated me or to a staff member who did something of which I disapproved. I was also guilty of making brash decisions during minor confrontations with staff or patients, committing to things that I often regretted in the end. Nothing is worse than to make business decisions based on an emotional reaction.

Over time, I learned how to be non-reactive but responsive by saying things like, "Let me think about that," or "I'll get back to you," or "Give me just a moment, please." Using this approach helps me to process the situation or occurrence before responding or reacting, and affords me more time to really digest the matter at hand and make a good, sound, rational decision. This has helped me manage the practice and staff in a much better manner and has changed my entire management style when dealing with confrontation.

In a practice, staff is your most important asset and managing staff can present the most challenges. Although we all learn from experience, keeping these points in mind may help you to avoid some of the pitfalls that come along when you are managing people.

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