Getting through to the boss

Getting through to the boss

Sure, practice managers oversee team members. But to be truly effective, they also need to have the ear of the owner.
Jun 01, 2008

Are you a practice manager who's struggling to communicate with your practice owner? You're not alone. I get calls every week from managers who feel like owners don't respect them or listen to them. They're having trouble "managing up."

Take Julie, a practice manager at a six-doctor practice in Ohio. She was upset because the owner rarely asked for her opinion or input. He'd just show up in her office and tell her what he wanted her to do. He also undermined her decisions. Team members would ask Julie for something, and if they didn't get what they wanted, they'd go to the owner and persuade him to let them have their way. So it's no surprise the team members didn't respect Julie—she didn't have any authority. If you were Julie, how would you manage your practice owner?

Get the details on paper

The first step is developing a complete job description. As a practice manager, you need to know what your roles and responsibilities are. You can't manage employees without a job description; the same holds true for "managing up" to the boss. The owner needs to know and acknowledge your responsibilities. To get started, try customizing a generic job description like this one. Or, to start from scratch, write down all of your responsibilities and present the document to the owner, who'll amend it and approve it. Once your job description is set, the owner needs to share it with the other team members so they know your role.

Know the boss's style

To communicate effectively, you need to learn your practice owner's personality and preferred communication style. Some owners, such as Julie's, hate confrontation and don't want to be seen as the bad guy. On the other end of the spectrum are aggressive owners and micromanagers who want to be involved in every decision. Knowing your boss's personality will help you work with him or her more effectively.

I'll use myself as an example. My employees know I don't respond well to aggressive communication. If you come to me and say, "Mark, you have to do this," you probably won't get what you want. I also don't like long-winded explanations or lots of detail unless I ask for it. I'd rather you get to the point. If you give me the bullet points on why you want to make a change and let me ask a few questions, I'll probably respond positively.

Some people prefer to communicate face to face; others prefer e-mail or memos. I have some clients I talk to only through e-mail; others hate to be denied their phone time. Some people want to see charts and graphs; others do better when you talk them through a problem and its solution. Similarly, knowing the communication style of your practice owner is imperative.

If you're struggling to figure out your boss's communication preferences, schedule a discussion at a neutral location, such as a restaurant. Ask your practice owner how you can collaborate together most effectively. But don't take all the responsibility for figuring out what communication style works best for your boss. It's the practice owner's job to tell you what style he or she prefers. I tell all my employees to be succinct and that I don't want long explanations. I also tell them never to approach me until after I've had my second cup of coffee. See? I'm an open book.

If you need more information, there are lots of books about communication available at any bookstore. There are also classes you can take to better understand how you and others communicate and how to modify your communication to be more effective.