By the Numbers

Create a staff team of engaged ‘employee-preneurs’

Teach employees about the company, train them in their positions, encourage them to take risks, and always provide positive feedback.

“When employees join executives in truly owning the responsibility for business success, an exciting new sense of teamwork takes hold.”
– Punit Renjen

“Employees have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company.”
– Zig Ziglar

A term that has been kicking around human resource management circles for many years is “intrapreneur,” connoting a worker who, instead of leaving the firm, sticks around but still acts entrepreneurially — digging deeper, working harder, taking initiative and reasonable risks, not only for their own benefit, but for the benefit of their company.

Another term for the same behavior, with perhaps a bit more direct meaning in your practice setting, is being an “employee-preneur.” Here are a few examples:

  • The tech who on their own discovers an opportunity to negotiate for lower supply pricing.
  • The receptionist who comes to the administrator with an idea to shave staff hours without decreasing customer service.
  • The junior biller who runs a report before being asked by management and discovers that some YAGs and special tests are not being posted and submitted for payment.
  • The associate optometrist who volunteers to investigate the practice’s surgical outcomes and compare them with national baselines.

These “above and beyond the call” behaviors are something you would expect of practice owners and managers, but not of rank-and-file staff.

It is easy to see how your eye clinic is more likely to be an incubator for employee-preneurs than the average hardware store, corner deli or factory floor:

  • The mission to treat and prevent eye disease is noble, and more often than not, the “cure” is dramatic, immediate and enduring.
  • There are a limited number of common eye diseases and treatments, so any thoughtful lay staffer with no prior medical knowledge can come pretty quickly to an understanding of the services your practice provides, and from there, spot inefficiencies.
  • Doctors are cultural heroes. Digging deep to help your doctor provide better care comes naturally.

Here are six things you can do to encourage employee-preneurism:

1. Start at the top.

Owners and managers must embrace entrepreneurial thinking if you are going to have any hope encouraging entrepreneurism in line staff. Hold a board-level discussion of what “entrepreneurism” means in the context of your unique practice. What meanings fit? Risk tolerance? Initiative? Flying in the face of convention? Innovation? An orientation to finding and solving customer wants and needs?

2. Foster strategic intimacy.

As Zig Ziglar counseled, employees need to be let in on the company’s broader mission and status. You do not have to send out boardroom transcripts to accomplish this. At least once a year, your managing partner and administrator should be updating the practice’s strategic plan and key performance indicators. A sanitized version of this can be shared with staff, along the lines of, “Smith Eyecare has had a very good year. We were hoping to grow 5% in patient volumes but achieved 8% growth this year. Over the course of the next 12 months, we don’t plan to add or subtract any providers or services, but we will be working hard to increase the practice’s cataract volumes to reach the 60 cases per month needed to give us confidence to proceed with our own surgery center. In order to accomplish this, we will be shifting to a full-time surgical counselor and will be increasing our outreach to optometrists. Each of you can play a role in this by treating our OD-referred patients like VIPs, and we’ll be asking for volunteers soon to aid our outreach efforts.”

3. Teach staff how the company works.

In addition to telling staff where your practice is going in the future, let them know what makes it tick. For example, most staff underestimate the cost of running a modern practice. You can drive home the importance of time efficiency and filling every appointment slot by teaching them that, “Even though we start seeing our first appointment by 8:30 a.m., we don’t cover the cost of staff salaries and benefits until 11:30 a.m., and we don’t finish paying for rent and utilities until way after lunchtime. Just missing one patient appointment a day over the course of a year costs the practice the equivalent of one staffer’s annual salary.”

4. Train, train, train.

Staff who are chronically behind in their job knowledge can hardly be expected to think a few steps ahead and anticipate better ways to do things. The secondary gain from this training will be better support for you each clinic day and a lower staff turnover; staff who know how to do their jobs generally enjoy their work more and stick around.

5. Encourage risk. Provide positive feedback.

Create a safe environment for staff to try out their ideas. Even the brightest member of your staff may come to you with a dozen naive or impractical suggestions before they come up with a winner. Every time they come to you or your administrator with something that will not work, take the time to gush at their initiative and creativity, and redirect them to more fruitful pursuits: “Susan, I’m really impressed that you noticed how convoluted our injectable drug inventory process is after just 3 months on the job. Your idea to streamline the process is something we considered, but it would leave us without the needed checks and balances to assure we’re not losing $2,000 vials of medicine. However, I love your creativity in this whole sphere of inventory controls. I’m going to have you meet with our ASC nurse director and see if we can harness some of that creativity with less costly and less critical materials. With thinking like yours, you’re going to go far in this field.”

6. Reward employee-preneurs.

This has to go beyond a $25 gift certificate for the best staff idea of the month. Think about the last staff idea that you implemented that really paid off (reduced costs without reducing quality, or increased quality without increasing costs). Put a dollar value on this recent idea; if the practice saved $20,000 a year, a $1,000 award would be very reasonable. Think up a name for the award (you could name it after a beloved staffer who has retired, a “Molly”). Present the award at your next staff meeting, with the announcement that, “Two times a year we are going to be making an award for non-managerial staff who make actionable suggestions that improve patient care and practice performance.” Even more than money, lavish praise on your employee-preneurs, which can be more motivating to the kind of people who are willing to step out of their box and make recommendations.

“When employees join executives in truly owning the responsibility for business success, an exciting new sense of teamwork takes hold.”
– Punit Renjen

“Employees have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company.”
– Zig Ziglar

A term that has been kicking around human resource management circles for many years is “intrapreneur,” connoting a worker who, instead of leaving the firm, sticks around but still acts entrepreneurially — digging deeper, working harder, taking initiative and reasonable risks, not only for their own benefit, but for the benefit of their company.

Another term for the same behavior, with perhaps a bit more direct meaning in your practice setting, is being an “employee-preneur.” Here are a few examples:

  • The tech who on their own discovers an opportunity to negotiate for lower supply pricing.
  • The receptionist who comes to the administrator with an idea to shave staff hours without decreasing customer service.
  • The junior biller who runs a report before being asked by management and discovers that some YAGs and special tests are not being posted and submitted for payment.
  • The associate optometrist who volunteers to investigate the practice’s surgical outcomes and compare them with national baselines.

These “above and beyond the call” behaviors are something you would expect of practice owners and managers, but not of rank-and-file staff.

It is easy to see how your eye clinic is more likely to be an incubator for employee-preneurs than the average hardware store, corner deli or factory floor:

  • The mission to treat and prevent eye disease is noble, and more often than not, the “cure” is dramatic, immediate and enduring.
  • There are a limited number of common eye diseases and treatments, so any thoughtful lay staffer with no prior medical knowledge can come pretty quickly to an understanding of the services your practice provides, and from there, spot inefficiencies.
  • Doctors are cultural heroes. Digging deep to help your doctor provide better care comes naturally.

Here are six things you can do to encourage employee-preneurism:

1. Start at the top.

Owners and managers must embrace entrepreneurial thinking if you are going to have any hope encouraging entrepreneurism in line staff. Hold a board-level discussion of what “entrepreneurism” means in the context of your unique practice. What meanings fit? Risk tolerance? Initiative? Flying in the face of convention? Innovation? An orientation to finding and solving customer wants and needs?

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2. Foster strategic intimacy.

As Zig Ziglar counseled, employees need to be let in on the company’s broader mission and status. You do not have to send out boardroom transcripts to accomplish this. At least once a year, your managing partner and administrator should be updating the practice’s strategic plan and key performance indicators. A sanitized version of this can be shared with staff, along the lines of, “Smith Eyecare has had a very good year. We were hoping to grow 5% in patient volumes but achieved 8% growth this year. Over the course of the next 12 months, we don’t plan to add or subtract any providers or services, but we will be working hard to increase the practice’s cataract volumes to reach the 60 cases per month needed to give us confidence to proceed with our own surgery center. In order to accomplish this, we will be shifting to a full-time surgical counselor and will be increasing our outreach to optometrists. Each of you can play a role in this by treating our OD-referred patients like VIPs, and we’ll be asking for volunteers soon to aid our outreach efforts.”

3. Teach staff how the company works.

In addition to telling staff where your practice is going in the future, let them know what makes it tick. For example, most staff underestimate the cost of running a modern practice. You can drive home the importance of time efficiency and filling every appointment slot by teaching them that, “Even though we start seeing our first appointment by 8:30 a.m., we don’t cover the cost of staff salaries and benefits until 11:30 a.m., and we don’t finish paying for rent and utilities until way after lunchtime. Just missing one patient appointment a day over the course of a year costs the practice the equivalent of one staffer’s annual salary.”

4. Train, train, train.

Staff who are chronically behind in their job knowledge can hardly be expected to think a few steps ahead and anticipate better ways to do things. The secondary gain from this training will be better support for you each clinic day and a lower staff turnover; staff who know how to do their jobs generally enjoy their work more and stick around.

5. Encourage risk. Provide positive feedback.

Create a safe environment for staff to try out their ideas. Even the brightest member of your staff may come to you with a dozen naive or impractical suggestions before they come up with a winner. Every time they come to you or your administrator with something that will not work, take the time to gush at their initiative and creativity, and redirect them to more fruitful pursuits: “Susan, I’m really impressed that you noticed how convoluted our injectable drug inventory process is after just 3 months on the job. Your idea to streamline the process is something we considered, but it would leave us without the needed checks and balances to assure we’re not losing $2,000 vials of medicine. However, I love your creativity in this whole sphere of inventory controls. I’m going to have you meet with our ASC nurse director and see if we can harness some of that creativity with less costly and less critical materials. With thinking like yours, you’re going to go far in this field.”

PAGE BREAK

6. Reward employee-preneurs.

This has to go beyond a $25 gift certificate for the best staff idea of the month. Think about the last staff idea that you implemented that really paid off (reduced costs without reducing quality, or increased quality without increasing costs). Put a dollar value on this recent idea; if the practice saved $20,000 a year, a $1,000 award would be very reasonable. Think up a name for the award (you could name it after a beloved staffer who has retired, a “Molly”). Present the award at your next staff meeting, with the announcement that, “Two times a year we are going to be making an award for non-managerial staff who make actionable suggestions that improve patient care and practice performance.” Even more than money, lavish praise on your employee-preneurs, which can be more motivating to the kind of people who are willing to step out of their box and make recommendations.