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Eight rules for managing an office, especially a small one

The smaller the office, the more the manager works under a microscope. Everybody sees everything that’s going on and everything the manager does.

For a new manager in that setting, the microscope gets even stronger because staff are watching to see who their new boss is.

And if that new manager has been promoted from within, the scrutiny is unforgiving because it’s coming from former peers, some of whom are friends.

Here are eight basic rules that determine any manager’s fate, but especially the small-office manager.

1. Dump the problems at the door

Leave personal problems at the door. Don’t discuss them with staff.

Personal connections are easily established in a small office. The hours are long, the people are close, and the conversations tend to become informal or even loose. What’s more, staff bring their personal problems to the manager and it’s only human for the manager to do the same.


The manager is the leader and a leader has to maintain a degree of professionalism that’s a notch above what everybody else follows.

Sharing personal problems not only compromises the manager’s position, but can even give staff the upper hand. Move from personal conversation yesterday to a management directive tomorrow and the response may well be, “What’s wrong? Having problems with your kids again?”

The manager’s personal information and problems don’t belong in the office. People are looking to the manager to lead the daily events and culture of the office and to serve as mentor. They don’t expect to have to provide the same in return.

It’s a balancing act. Not having rapport with staff is one problem; having too much is another.

2. Avoid gossip

Don’t listen to gossip.

Again, manager-staffer gossip is easy to get into in the smaller environment, particularly when it’s a newly promoted manager and a staffer who was a close friend in the days before the promotion.

Listening to gossip undermines trust in the manager. Even Staffer Friend loses trust, because the logic is that if the manager talks about one staffer, the manager will talk about any staffer.

Stop the talk immediately: “I appreciate your thoughts but we are a small team and we have to stick together. So let’s not have this conversation about Staffer A. I would stick up for you if you were the one being talked about.”

Along with ending the gossip, that builds trust because it shows fairness to everybody.

Similarly, you must keep confidences. If a staffer reveals marital problems or says she may be pregnant, the manager has to maintain that confidentiality. Otherwise, staff will no longer come to the manager. And where will they go instead? To the manager’s boss, of course—to one of the physicians who then says, “Why are you coming to me with that?” And the answer is going to be, “Because the manager will tell everybody else about it.”

3. Be friends with everybody or nobody at all

Don’t show favoritism.

Go to lunch with everybody or nobody at all. Talk with everybody or nobody at all.

Spending time with friends speaks of favoritism, particularly for the newly promoted manager. If the friend on the lunch list or conversation circuit gets one more day off than everyone else, everybody will see that as favoritism.

4. Lead by example

Many a manager starts to feel entitled to a few privileges, usually in the form of time stretchers—coming in 10 minutes late, taking longer lunch breaks, making a lot of personal calls, or leaving work a few minutes early.

But staff expect more of their manager than they do of themselves. Don’t ask them to do something and be unwilling to do the same. Don’t tell them to get to work on time and then show up 10 minutes late. Don’t tell them to limit personal calls and then hang on the phone with friends. Don’t expect them to have clean desks and then sit behind clutter.

Nobody can respect a manager who sets rules but is too important to follow them.

5. Don’t count chickens before they hatch

Don’t make promises that aren’t a sure thing. Don’t encourage empty expectations either.

Many managers do that in an effort to improve morale. They tell staff raises or bonuses are coming when they’re actually only in the discussion phase.

Or to keep a good employee from leaving, an expectation is laid out: “I’ll talk with the doctors about getting you a raise” or “You won’t have to do the filing. I’ll see that somebody else takes on that job.”

If the raise or bonus or job change can’t be made, the manager has lost the staff’s confidence.

6. Own your actions

Don’t use the doctors as scapegoats. When there’s bad news, have the courage to deliver it.

Suppose the bad news is no raises. It’s easy to say, “I want to give you a raise but the doctors won’t approve it.” It’s not as easy to say, “We can’t give raises at this time.”

To lay the blame on the doctors says the manager has no voice in the decision making and is just another peer with no authority.

Scapegoating can be found in the little matters as well. Suppose a staffer brings in a plant to put on the desk. It’s artificial and ugly and too big for the space. Instead of telling the staffer it can’t be used in the office, the manager says, “The doctors don’t like artificial plants in the office.”

Take ownership in everything. Doing so shows the manager is the boss.

7. Handle questions respectfully

Don’t be a bully, and here it’s new managers who are most guilty. They think that management requires strength and that strength is shown by being unwavering and answering any challenge with, “Because I said so.”

That doesn’t show authority. It only shows there’s no good reason for what’s being demanded. When a staffer questions something, answer it honestly. And if the reasoning is a bit shaky, admit it. “I know it’s not the most efficient approach but we have to do it this way for now because the patients tell us they like it. Maybe we can talk later about changing the process.”

Or ask for suggestions. “You’ve come from a different office. Tell me how you did it over there.”

8. Acknowledge your errors

The final rule: Admit to mistakes.

Don’t hide them for fear staff will question the manager’s ability. The truth is staff know when a mistake is made and are watching to see whether the manager will own up to it. They aren’t going to find fault with, “I made a mistake. I’m the one who didn’t order enough printer cartridges.”

Admitting errors evidences the manager’s credibility. The same is true for not knowing something. “I don’t know but I’ll look into that” is a valid answer any employee respects.

Related reading:

Set aside two hours for staff and keep interruptions in check

Three kinds of irritating staffers and how to deal with them amicably

Not enough time in the day? Here are four good ways to find new minutes









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