Getting a New Medical Practice Hire Up to Speed

July 8, 2012

Here are four ways to get a new hire up to speed and into the flow of your medical practice's productivity.

Unless a job is very simple, has no variability, and involves no human interaction, a new employee is always an initial drag on office productivity. What varies is how long it takes the new hire to become fully effective, if ever. Here are four ways to speed the process, and increase the likelihood, of a good hire becoming a valuable employee.

Be aware of the new employee's point of view

Try to remember what it felt like to be the new kid in a situation. In most cases, you wanted to do well but your main priority was to avoid embarrassment. The new hire is the new kid. New employees have a strong tendency to be frightened and risk averse. They do not take initiative because they are just too vulnerable.

You probably do not have the time, energy, or inclination to coddle, but it is in your best interest to acknowledge the reality. It saves you the frustration of unmet expectations and can avoid behavior in you that produces a perennially tentative employee.

Be very clear about the new hire's responsibilities

It may seem to be enough to say "You'll be answering the phones," but it is not. Will the new hire be the primary person answering the phones or will she be secondary? If secondary, after how many rings should she pick up? What is the priority of answering the phone relative to other tasks? If a patient walks up and the phone rings at the same time, what do you want her to do? If the person on the phone is another physician or the hospital, should she take a message or interrupt you? You and your existing staff are well acclimated to your office; you know the norms. The new hire does not. She must rely on you, your existing staff and documentation.

In the absence of clear expectations the new employee will hang back and wait for instructions. Whose office has time for that?

Give the new hire the tools necessary to succeed

For the sake of your new employee, yourself and the rest of your staff, make sure that your new hire has a logon, password, and appropriate hardware and software for your environment. She will be enough of a drag on current staff without having to intermittently displace them from their workstations. And, it should go without saying, never have her share a logon with another employee - even temporarily.

One of the best and least common tools is an operations manual for the practice. It is a written record of practice expectations, priorities, and non-clinical protocols. An operations manual provides a reference that can be studied and consulted without burdening others in the practice.

Written communication is generally clearer and less likely to be misunderstood than oral communication, and it gives the new hire something so rely upon in making decisions.

BONUS: Acclimating a new employee is a great way to review the need for edits to the current operations manual. In the absence of an existing operations manual, the new hire's notes can begin the process of accumulating the necessary information.

Take the time to give and receive feedback

Make a point of checking in with the new hire each day, for at least a couple of weeks. If the new employee knows that she will have an opportunity each day to ask her questions, she can accumulate a list.

That avoids wasting her time in trying to catch you between patients, and it avoids wasting your time with multiple interruptions. It also sets up an interaction where you are both focused on each other and the topic at hand.

Encourage questions and comments. This is your opportunity to give her both specific and background information that will full integrate her into your practice. It is also an opportunity to take advantage of her fresh eyes. She is almost certain to identify opportunities for improvement that would never occur to someone already accustomed to the practice status quo.

Be liberal in your feedback - good and bad. Start with the premise that she is competent and well intentioned, and make observations of fact. If the hire was well and carefully done, missteps are almost certainly the result of inadequate or inaccurate communication and they are easily corrected.

Getting a new hire up to speed is a big job that no one really has time for. After all, you were understaffed before this person started and are more than ready to resume normal operations.

The truth is, however, that, the time you invest early in an employee's tenure pays big dividends in the long run. It is the only way to align an employee with your expectations, set her up to take appropriate initiative, and allow her to be as productive as you need her to be.

Find out more about Carol Stryker and our other Practice Notes bloggers.