The most important asset you have as a business owner/administrator is the people that work for you and the brand that you create to support your patients. The question we’re asked most often as practice consultants is “How can we set our practice apart from our competition and protect ourselves from industry disruptors?”
Below are the seven key areas we recommend practice leaders focus on to differentiate themselves and ultimately, grow their businesses:
Get involved with our industry at a broader level, either with national organizations, local boards, or philanthropic events in your community. As we all know, a lot is happening regarding policies and regulations on Medicare coverage and over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid options. Lobbying can help amplify our voices as industry experts. Stay up to date with the latest research and clinical trials or join an advisory council (like the Consult Audiology Advisory Council) to provide guidance on industry trends and best practices. Getting involved on a higher level shows that your commitment to the field goes beyond selling hearing aids.
It’s important to create a brand that represents who you are and what you believe in. Does your practice’s presence in the community reflect your mission and values? Do you even really have a presence in your community? Whether in-person or virtual, community events such as health fairs, lunch and learns, and free hearing screening events should be part of your overall marketing strategy. Make sure your events are exciting to the target audience and that they end with a clear call to action! Finally, educate physicians and community groups (urgent care centers, walk-in clinics, senior living facilities, etc.) about the comorbidities associated with hearing loss and the importance of hearing on one’s overall wellness.
3. Team Culture
Foster a workplace culture that’s patient-centric and built on trust. Do you have the right people on your team? Do they work efficiently together as a team? Have you communicated your mission to them? Can they articulate that mission to patients? Champion open communication and welcome feedback and input from your staff. Regular staff meetings are crucial opportunities for team building, goal-setting, and instilling a growth mindset in your employees. Hold a daily “huddle” with your staff to set and maintain clear expectations each day. Also, be sure to provide professional growth opportunities with ongoing job description and performance reviews.
Put yourself in your patients’ shoes and trace the steps of their typical journey. Be aware of your digital presence and look at your website from a visitor’s perspective. Is it easy for them to find your contact information or to book an appointment? Does it include positive patient reviews and testimonials that convey your passion and expertise? Stay top of mind with patients by engaging with them on social media and sending regular communications such as birthday messages, newsletters, and appointment reminders. Consider utilizing innovative tools to stay in touch with patients like Consult’s exclusive new video marketing platform. Hosting educational seminars about common challenges like hearing aid Bluetooth connectivity is another great way to empower your patients and improve hearing aid outcomes. Patients want to be informed and to feel like their healthcare providers genuinely care about them!
Try walking into your office as if you’ve never been there before. Examine the layout of your reception and waiting area as well as your exam room(s). What message does each space send to visitors? Are they all clean and without clutter? Is the physical space built in a way that allows room for growth? Don’t forget that your front office person is often a patient’s first impression of the practice. Does he/she positively represent your brand and support your mission? Examine the flow from arrival to the appointment to check out as well. Consider displaying assistive technology such as captioned telephones or playing educational waiting room videos that show statistics about hearing loss and/or share a patient’s journey.
6. In Appointments
You should also try walking through the flow of each appointment type, considering every element of the process. Do patients know what the expectations are in advance? Are your providers educating patients and giving their professional recommendations efficiently and concisely without pre-judgment? Engage in dialogue with your providers and hold them accountable for consistency in this process. Discuss outcome notes and work as a team to include new or different measures or specialized testing if appropriate. And continue to re-visit this process for ongoing practice growth. The goal here is to continue to improve how you deliver diagnosis and treatment messages to establish greater trust with patients so that more of them accept your help.
7. Follow-up Care
Follow-up and follow-through can be challenging in any field, but there are simple ways to add this to your processes to present yourself as an industry leader. Do you have a hearing loss prevention program or a referral plan? Do you have walk-in hours so that patients have the convenience of returning whenever they’re having a problem? Set up your email automation software to distribute patient satisfaction surveys following appointments. Send patients home with educational brochures that will help foster an ongoing relationship. Take time to make follow-up phone calls, regardless of whether the patient was ready to move forward and purchase hearing aids or not. All patients, even those who do not have an aidable hearing loss, should receive ongoing education and communication from your practice. This upholds your commitment to providing quality hearing healthcare and helping as many people as possible. Establishing realistic expectations regarding follow-up is also key. Let patients know that the average person upgrades their hearing aids every 3.7 years and that they should expect to return at the three-year mark for you to re-evaluate their hearing loss and ensure their devices are still functioning properly.
These areas are a great place to start thinking about how you can differentiate your practice. Don’t try to revamp your processes all at once. Instead, tackle a few of the above suggestions at a time. And remember that our Account Managers can help—this is exactly what we do every day for practices all across the country.
About the AuthorDr. Heather Carter, AuD., FAAA,
is an Account Manager for the Northeast Region and brings a unique perspective to Consult YHN as a clinical audiologist with over 20 years of experience. She received both her master’s and doctoral degrees in Audiology from Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts college for the Deaf in the U.S. Through her graduate studies and clinical work, Dr. Carter has gained the expertise to help patients with all levels of hearing loss improve their communication skills. By providing practice development support and bridging the clinical aspects of hearing healthcare with the necessary business skills as a Consult YHN Account Manager, she helps her clients remain viable and relevant. Dr. Carter has two CODA children who are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and recently enjoyed a trip to her alma mater where they all were able to use their fluency in ASL to communicate on campus!
About the AuthorDr. Hannah Millstine
joined Consult YHN in 2021 and is an Account Manager serving the East region. She received her doctoral degree in Audiology from Northeastern University and spent two years working as a clinical audiologist prior to joining Consult. Hannah resides in Maine and enjoys hiking and exploring New England in her free time.
It’s that time of year again—time to think about the future of your business, set key objectives for the upcoming year, and conduct your annual employee performance evaluations.
For many employees, performance reviews are one of the most nerve-wracking work conversations they’ll have all year. In fact, 22 percent of office workers say performance reviews have made them cry at least once. And they can be equally uncomfortable for managers who are tasked with having to stand in judgment of their direct reports.
But the benefits of performance appraisals outweigh the negatives. For businesses, those include:
- Increased employee engagement and job satisfaction
- Identifying training needs
- Uncover and resolve workplace issues/employee grievances
- Improved performance and morale
- Fair assessments of raises and/or bonuses
- Identifying candidates for promotions
You see, annual reviews serve several important purposes. First and foremost, they’re an opportunity to build better, stronger relationships with the members of your team.
So here are several strategies to help make your year-end performance reviews less daunting and more productive:
1. Set expectations early.
Every member of your staff should know exactly what to expect walking into their annual review, especially how their performance is going to be evaluated. Have them complete a self-evaluation a few weeks ahead of your meeting or at least instruct them to make note of accomplishments they’re especially proud of from the past year. In addition, send employees a copy of their evaluation form at least an hour before your face-to-face meeting so that they have a chance to review and process your feedback in advance rather than reacting to it on the spot.
2. Prepare! Prepare! Prepare!
Before meeting with staff, take the time to go over any notes you’ve made about their performance over the past year—that time they missed a deadline, stayed late to help with paperwork, took the lead on a project, handled a difficult patient with aplomb, etc. Prepare questions and try to anticipate issues/concerns that could arise. Solicit feedback from colleagues they work closely with. Review their job descriptions to ensure it still accurately reflect their duties. Finally, make sure you set aside adequate and equal time to meet with each employee (at least an hour) and find a private space where you won’t be interrupted.
3. Provide positive feedback first.
It’s not a bad idea to ease anxieties and set a positive tone for the rest of the discussion by going over the employee’s accomplishments and strengths first. Emphasize what you value about him/her as a person—the wonderful traits and talents he/she brings to the table. Your staff can’t play to and hone their strengths if they don’t know what they are. The goal is to show your employees their hard work is noticed and that you’re grateful to have them on your team. Plus, positive affirmation tends to be very effective in motivating good performers.
4. Coach constructively.
Whether positive or negative, consider framing feedback following a “stop, start, continue” approach: What are they doing now that’s not working? What are they not doing that they should start? What are they currently doing that’s effective and thus, should continue? On the other hand, if there’s someone on your team who’s falling short of expectations, you’re not doing this person—or your company—any favors by sugarcoating it. Be direct with poor performers. Explain exactly what requirements are not being met, the steps necessary for improvement, and the repercussions if he/she does not improve.
5. Be specific and objective.
Whenever possible, use facts, data, and examples to support your assessment of an employee’s job performance. You also want to avoid making vague statements when offering praise and advice. For example, instead of saying “You should be more proactive” say, “You need to take more initiative in making follow-up calls to patients.” Or, instead of simply telling an employee that he/she is “resourceful,” provide a specific example when he/she was actually resourceful.
6. Focus on the future.
Dwelling too much on an employee’s past performance is unproductive. They can’t change the past, but they can control their future. In light of the pandemic, now more than ever, people want (and need) to see a path forward. So, help them connect the dots from where they are to where they want to go. Show that you care about their professional development by discussing available training opportunities and asking them about their career goals. Understanding your employees’ personal ambitions will help you accurately assess their work and how you can best support their advancement.
7. Set and realign goals.
Create SMART goals that build off their goals from the previous year. In other words, keep moving the goalpost. How else are they going to unlock their full potential? Encourage big-picture thinking and promote a growth mindset by tying what your employees do each day to your organization’s mission and values. The more they understand how they contribute to the company’s success, the more invested they’ll be. And don’t forget to mention the company’s priorities for the upcoming year as well as any major changes or projects that might affect staff.
8. Stop talking and listen.
Performance reviews should always be a two-way conversation. The last thing you want is for your employees to feel like they’re on trial. Give them a chance to discuss any challenges or conflicts they’re experiencing without becoming defensive. Your staff should feel comfortable speaking openly and honestly about issues affecting their performance. Be especially compassionate about issues that are beyond the employee’s control and those related to work-life balance.
9. Ask for feedback and suggestions.
Your employees see things that you don’t. They might even understand certain aspects of their job better than you. So why not show that you value their opinions and welcome their suggestions on operational improvements? While you’re at it, ask for feedback on your performance as a manager (i.e., “What can I do as a manager to help you be more successful?”). Allowing staff members to have a voice and letting them feel heard fosters trust, ultimately leading to greater engagement.
10. Keep the conversation going.
Hopefully, you’re having regular conversations with your staff about job performance. If not during weekly or monthly one-on-ones, then at least quarterly or bi-annually. No employee should have to wait an entire year to find out how they’re doing and what they can do to be better. Before concluding the meeting, outline next steps, and set a date to regroup to discuss the employee’s progress towards his/her goals.
When properly planned and executed, annual performance reviews can be extremely rewarding for employees and employers alike. If you have any questions about how to handle year-end reviews or low-performing staff members, Consult can help.
About the AuthorJason DiOttavio
joined Consult as a Corporate Recruiter in 2011. Previously, he worked as an agency recruiter for a staffing firm specializing in IT/Administrative roles including such large companies as Dietz & Watson. When not working, Jason enjoys spending time with his wife and two young daughters. He’s also obsessed with cooking shows and finding new ice cream and donut shops.