New office manager could cure organization’s ‘cancer’

Dear Joan:
We were very impressed with your recent column about office managers and wondered what advice you have for us.

We are a medical office of less than 15 people. One of our doctors is the office manager. No personal goals are advised. Raises are announced to the staff, who are present at the time. Raises consist of everyone getting the same percentage, based on their pay. Time off exceptions are made for some and not others. Policy changes are advised to the one it affects.

The capacity of each employee’s job is unknown to the office manager. Some of the staff take long lunches, leave early, arrive late, make extensive phone calls and some yell. The manager is not willing to address these situations. We have been able to communicate with another Doctor, however, she prefers not to overstep the manager’s boundaries.

The office manager wants us to work as a team. Those who abuse the policies benefit the same as those who do not, thereby creating friction with the other team member(s). The office is lacking in personal motivation. What advice do you have for us?

An organization is like a living organism. It is only as healthy as the preventive care and feeding it receives. If it is neglected and doesn’t receive proper care, it will break down and become sick. Your letter is like the first trip to the emergency room…symptoms are clear, treatment can be prescribed, but if the "sick" organization doesn’t make some substantial changes in it’s day-to-day habits, it is surely going to become more gravely ill.

At the risk of offending doctors everywhere, they often don’t make very good "office managers" (along with a variety of other technically trained professionals). They receive little, if any, education on running a business or on administrative techniques. Most doctors I’ve worked with concede that managing a team of people isn’t their strong suit. Simply put, they are usually best at working one-on-one with patients and diagnosing and treating illness (and thank goodness). Their management philosophy usually consists of "I hope everyone can just get along and help the patients." They usually don’t have time or interest in managing the business side of the enterprise. And interpersonal problems or human resources policies just frustrate them. Their typical management style is benign neglect.

I think it’s a waste of time to ask your current office manager to get more involved in the personnel details. I don’t think he or she will be willing or able to do it. And it doesn’t make sense for a doctor in such a small business to dilute his or her core competency by becoming more immersed in administration.

I suggest that a different office manager be appointed. This person should be someone who is close to the day-to-day action of the rest of the team. This individual needs to be someone with maturity and good judgement and, ideally, someone the team respects. This office manager can then report to the doctor, inform him or her of the issues, as well as to seek advice and approval when needed. The office manager will probably need to be a "working manager," just like the doctor is. In other words, it should be someone who manages, in addition to performing in a technical role. The doctor will still be responsible for the administrative side of the business, but the doctor won’t be directing the daily details.

Without a more hands-on manager, who has the time to administer the policies consistently, your team will begin to disintegrate. Finger pointing and resentment (if not already prevalent) will grow. Good employees will become fed up and leave for a workplace that rewards the right behavior, as other individuals are allowed to violate rules, unchecked. Now, there is no positive reinforcement for doing the right thing, so all employees will be more inclined to say, "Why should I keep coming in on time, sticking to my lunch hour and limiting my calls?" The organizational "cancer" will become malignant during the next phase, which may begin to spread into patient satisfaction. It’s time to let the doctor do what he or she does best and move the administrative responsibilities to someone with that expertise.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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