Supervising Up—How to Manage Your Practice Owner
In order to cultivate the most productive relationship, a practice manager and owner must work together seamlessly, with each one’s strengths counterbalancing the weaknesses of the other and vice versa.
The owner sets the vision, and the manager puts the people, systems, equipment, and finances into place to reach that vision. Both understand the challenges, strengths and needs of each other and work together to reach common goals.
This is the ideal relationship. But…
• Where do you start?
• How do you get there?
• How do you challenge the person who signs your paycheck?
Make the first move.
Whether you are a new manager or have been in the practice for twenty years, it’s never too late to work on improving the relationship. Objects in motion stay in motion, and objects at rest stay at rest- in other words, things will remain the same unless you act first.
Approach your owner and say,
“I think we could do more to reach our goals here if we understood each other a little better. I would like to set aside some time for us to discuss where we are and where we want to go, and to make sure that I understand what you want for this practice.”
You can also discuss what you need from your owner to achieve those results.
Understand your owner.
Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand”, may well be the most important (from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People). It is easy to become defensive, focus on constructing a reply, even give up when faced with an opposing viewpoint. A difficult yet extremely valuable skill is to be able to truly understand that viewpoint.
Why is this so critical? To understand gets you past the brick wall and into the fortress of the person you’re speaking to. When people feel heard, they drop layers of defensiveness, anger, fear, and distrust. It’s only here that we can reach agreements and solutions and move forward.
When faced with a disagreement, follow these 4 rules:
1. Listen first.
2. Ask questions.
3. Watch the body language.
4. Repeat what you have heard the owner say in your own words to indicate what you’ve heard.
Keep working at it until you get there.
Construct a foundation for decision making.
If your practice has a mission, vision and values, review it annually with the owner to ensure that it is still relevant and accurate. If not, set aside time to do it within the next 2 months.
This is the most critical thing you can do to ensure a successful relationship for 3 reasons.
2. Secondly, if there are multiple owners of the practice, this is literally
3. Finally, the vision, mission and values do not change as frequently as
Although the owner is the ultimate authority in the practice, the manager still has a duty to point out where their behavior is in opposition to the values. Owners are often blind to the results of their behavior and the manager should respectfully hold up the mirror and illuminate the specific consequences of the behavior, referring back to the mission, vision and practice values.
The manager can explain that it is nearly impossible to hold anyone else in the practice accountable for their actions when the owner behaves this way.
Don’t give up.
Most people are resistant to change, because change is associated with loss. When owners put in a great deal of effort, education, and money to build their own practice, change can be particularly frightening.
Many practice managers who light up in the face of a great idea become dejected when they begin to assume that their owner “just wouldn’t go for that.” Don’t give up! Your boss doesn’t need a minion to agree with everything that they say. You become the most valuable to your organization when you take a stand for continuous improvement and what is best for the practice.
Expect your boss to be resistant to change when it comes to their own practice. Expect a fear-based reaction. Expect your ideas to get shot down.
• Pick yourself back up.
• Really hear your boss.
• Understand what his or her specific fears are and what drives them.
Using their style of language, address those concerns and explain why it’s still in their best interest to move forward. Be respectful, professional, and persistent. This is what you get paid to do.
Cultivating the optimal relationship with your owner is one of the best things that you can do for your personal career goals and to ensure the most successful practice. Putting conscious, focused effort toward doing so will pay off for years to come.