Episode 30

Sarah Le Van on Communicating with Employees

In this episode of Ask the Marketing Manager, we’re going to talk about communication styles, employee to employee relationships, and pearls for effective practice management. Our guest today is Sarah LeVan, the Clinical and Marketing Manager of Empire Eye and Laser Center in Bakersfield, California.

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Episode Transcript: Sarah Le Van on Communicating with Employees

Crawford Ifland: Hello everybody, and welcome to another episode of the Medical Marketing Podcast. In this episode of Ask the Marketing Manager, we’re going to talk about communication styles, employee-to-employee relationships, and pearls for effective practice management. Our guest today is Sarah LeVan, the Clinical and Marketing Manager of Empire Eye and Laser Center in Bakersfield, California. Sarah, welcome to the show.

Sarah Le Van: Thank you, Crawford. It’s exciting to be here with you. 

Crawford: Well, just by way of introduction, tell us a little bit about yourself and about the practice you work for. 

Sarah: Absolutely. So I work for Empire Eye and Laser Center, and it is a general ophthalmology practice – we do everything. We have everything from nurses to optometrists, to ophthalmologists, and we have our own surgical center as well, which makes it really nice and convenient. We also have three sub-categories within our practice as well: so we do aesthetics, we do general ophthalmology, and we do surgical.

Most of our surgical is refractive. We also have an oculoplastic specialty, so we have quite a diverse makeup, and I always feel like our clinic can be really termed as a little unique, especially with our aesthetics portion part of it – we do injectables, lasers, body contouring, so there’s a lot that we can offer our patients in a wide range, and I think that kind of sets us apart from everyone, not only in our area, but all throughout the Valley where we’re located at.

So I have been with the company for nine and a half years now.  I actually started as just an ophthalmic technician and gradually worked my way with being cross trained for front office. And I had finished, already finished my bachelor’s degree.

I wanted to stay in eyes though, so I kept moving my way up, then getting certifications and I eventually made it into marketing, as well as I just recently became the clinical manager of the practice a little over a year ago. So that’s been really exciting to help…and I’ve pretty much worked almost every single job from surgery coordinator to front office to tech. So if there’s a job that’s there, I’ve pretty much done it, except for the docs and the nurses. 

Crawford: So walk me through a typical day at your practice – what is your job look like on a day to day basis as the marketing and clinical manager?

Sarah: I usually start my day with first, a good walk around to every department within the clinic. I like to make sure I say hi to everybody, see how they’re doing. You know, pump everybody up. It’s a new day. It’s fun. We’ve got patients to see and you know, it’s, it’s a new day. It’s a fresh start. And so I like to make those rounds.

And then I usually have a marketing meeting first thing in the morning after I’ve done my rounds and we kind of talk about what we’re doing that week. We do meet weekly, sometimes twice a week, just to stay up to date. We communicate with other methods – email, we have a, an app called Slack that we also use to communicate in real time, which is kind of like messaging. But I do like to meet face to face, cause I do like to make sure that I can sense that we’re all on the same page with whatever we’re doing. So we do that first thing in the morning. That’s usually what my Monday morning looks like.

And then after that, we also have an optical shop, which is two doors down, which I also manage. So I have to go over there and make sure everything’s running smoothly with them. It’s a much smaller, clinic practice for them, and we have optical located there as well, so we tend to, you know, have a little bit different standard operating procedures there and protocols. So I usually have to make sure that they’re up and running and that everything is going smoothly for them, because the amount of staff that’s over there is a lot less than our regular medical practice.

Crawford: So you’re running around, you’re keeping busy!

Sarah: I am. I do get my steps in every single day! I typically have meetings with the providers during the lunch hour. Right now on a typical day, I’m updating a lot of standard operating procedures. Those almost seem like they need constant work to make sure that our standard operating procedures are up to date. Whenever we have changes, whenever new technology comes out and we make a change. I do feel like that’s a project that you’ll never be done with, but it is really useful to have because we are currently hosting a resident, a doctor resident from optometry.

And then we also do an extern program for our front office with a local adult school where we have externs come and they work and we kind of show them how to work in a medical practice. And so having all of those standard operating procedures has made it really useful for us, bringing in new people every so often – they can actually use those as reference guides. So that’s really important for us to keep those up to date whenever we make changes.

I meet with a lot of the providers – individually we always go over their availability. So we do forecast out how they’re booking out percentage wise and for what it is, so we can know how many surgical consults, how far out does it take for you to get a surgical consult. And I like to keep the doctors informed of how they’re booking out, as well as their cancellation rate and their no-show rate. And so we meet at least weekly on that – sometimes, every other day, depending on how booked out our surgeons are, our doctors get in order to see what kind of changes we can make on a day to day basis to ensure that our patients are getting in, in a timely fashion.

I also do check regularly with our surgery scheduling department to make sure that everything is going smoothly with the surgeons and that their schedules are going well. We actually just, our surgery center just integrated a new EHR system, and it actually can talk with our EHR system at the clinic. And so right now we’ve been trialing, making sure that that bridge is you know, actually getting through and the information is being transmitted effectively and appropriately to them and it’s being categorized like it’s supposed to so that’s been a labor of love here lately that our staff and myself have been working on – making sure that that is running smoothly is also kind of part of my day to day.

But luckily I have help with that. We do have a great executive management team, so we’re able to delegate a lot of that out and make sure that everyone’s kind of being covered.

Crawford: Cool. What would you say, I mean with all these things going on and obviously a lot to be responsible for, what would you say is the most challenging part of your job? 

Sarah: I think the most challenging part of my job I would say is actually having so many providers within our clinic. And the reason I say that is we have three surgeons, three optometrists, and two nurses.

And because we have such a large scope of what we do, and each of these providers has their own little niche, it’s hard to give a hundred percent focus to each individual provider and what they want to focus on all day every day, because there’s only one of me.

And so for, not just on a clinic basis, but for marketing-wise as well, we have to be able to kind of share the love when we’re, and that we’re doing it in a way that kind of tells people we don’t want it to be too aesthetic-focused or too medical-focused, because then our patients will lose the message that we do all of these things. So finding that balance for all the providers and all the things that they do, that would, I say is my biggest challenge for both practice and marketing.

Crawford:And how many staff do you have in your practice? 

Sarah: So, at the actual medical surgical facility, we have about 35 currently working there, and then we have six working at our optical shop.

In total for the whole company, we have over 70 employees, but I don’t manage all of those. We have like a billing and billing department, and that’s managed by our CEO, so I don’t have to worry about managing them. 

Crawford: So you’re not just the Marketing Manager at Empire, you’re the Clinical Manager as well, so you’re tasked with managing employees and ensuring that your clinic runs effectively. What are some of the unique challenges in managing employees that you oversee at your practice? 

Sarah: Some of the unique challenges is really being able to assess each employee and one, how to approach them, but two, also their learning styles.

Every employee is going to be different, and so you have to be able to assess how you’re going to approach them, especially if you have feedback or if you’re trying to give them new tools to help them in their position, or if there’s anything that they need extra help with, you want to be able to approach them so that they’re actually accepting the feedback, accepting the tools that you’re giving them and they’re able to apply them.

One of my biggest things with employees is making sure that they’re in the right seat – that’s something I really like to focus on. There’s a lot of employees that will have great strengths, but perhaps we’re have them in a position that isn’t actually appealing to those strengths. And we could give them tools until we’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t matter – it’s not actually applying to their strengths.

So we need to try and assess where can we put them, where their strengths will actually be an asset to us, because right now we’re not utilizing it. And we have made switches. I’ve made switches over in just the last year with a few employees where I’ve moved them into alternate positions and they just excelled the moment we moved them, because we were able to really identify where their strengths were at.

And also their personality is important, too. You can’t just also move an employee and them not think it’s negative. So it’s also being able that you’re communicating with them, that you understand their communication style so that you can effectively communicate to them why we’re doing this move: these are some great things that you do, I want to utilize this. This is what can be a great asset to our company, and we want to be able to utilize that in this position.

Those are some of the biggest challenges. But really a lot of it is communicating and being able to also manage that employee and give them feedback and help give them tools so whatever position they are in, they can continue to get better at. And everyone’s going to take that feedback differently, so being able to assess exactly their personality, how they receive information, and how they communicate is super important. 

Crawford: Gotcha. Now, working in marketing, we talk a lot about communication and obviously a big part of the job is communicating effectively.

Most of the time we’re talking about patient-facing initiatives, but that’s not the only place that applies. It also applies, like you were saying, to your employees and to internal processes as well. So what have you learned about communication styles among employees specifically, and how does that affect how you communicate with each employee?

Sarah:  I don’t know if you have enough time for that, but I’ll try to condense it as much as I can!

I work with a lot of different people and I definitely take a different approach to each one of them. I don’t think I approach any two people alike with the, what, 42 people that I’m overseeing. They all are different.

For example, I have an employee where I, I do have to approach them – I’ll kind of talk with them first about, “hey, I’ve noticed this and this is going on.”

And a lot of times I have to give them a day for them to let it all sink in before we can actually talk about “here’s what we need to do to fix it.”

And then I have other employees where I can immediately just tell them, “Hey, this is going on, we need to do it this way.” And it’s never an issue again. We never have to discuss it again.

I have others that if I communicate with them face to face, it doesn’t go so well, so I need to do it via email. If I do it via email and I bullet point things, they’ll get it. It’ll never be an issue. They’ve heard all of it. They understand it.

And then there’s others – if I give them an email and I bullet pointed things, they didn’t read any of that email. So if I didn’t go and have a personal conversation face to face, they’re not going to remember. They didn’t know it happened. And we have to start from square one.

So being able to identify each of those individuals and those challenges, you have to be able to alter the way that you approach them with information so that you know it’s being effective.

I have one particular employee…I know I can’t email her or message her anything – I have to go talk with her in person. But then I also have to document that we had a conversation and I have to make notes and write it down because it, there’s not a way for me…I use email as tracking like date tracking, time tracking. So if I can’t communicate with someone effectively via email and I have to have a verbal conversation, then I have to take the extra time to document that I had the conversation, what we talked about, the start date, so that way I have some type of record of it. 

Crawford: You almost have to email yourself, reminding you of what happened. 

Sarah: I think the biggest challenge with different communication styles is making sure that you have the documentation to remember that that happened. So if you’re not using email, then a lot of times there’s not a way to necessarily document that you had a conversation or that we had a discussion or these ideas were discussed, or this person had this idea, unless you’re actually writing it down. And it’s not like you can have someone walk with you all day to take minutes for every conversation that you have.

So being diligent about documenting everything I think would be the biggest challenge. Because I have quite a few employees where I have to have those physical conversations with pretty regularly, and so I have to take the extra time to actually document that I had them, so that I know what day, what time, what was discussed, what ideas did we talk about, what changes did we make and were decided on, and I have to make sure I do all of that. 

Crawford: Gotcha. Walk us through how you’ve used personality assessments in your practice and with your employees and how that’s helped you communicate more effectively with them. 

Sarah: So, I don’t know how many people would be familiar, but Myers Briggs is a big one that I really do like.

All of our management team did the Myers Briggs course, and we took the test and we’ve kind of been able to identify each other’s personalities. And there’s four categories in there, but there are two main ones that I really use when I’m assessing an individual, whether it’s an employee or someone new, like an extern that’s coming in that I need to be able to see what their communication style is going to be in.

The first one is whether or not they’re an introvert and extrovert, because that’s super important about how you’re going to approach them.

Introverts? I’m not going to have a lot of face to face conversations with them. They’re not going to respond really well. They’re not going to maybe communicate their ideas as much because they don’t like that face to face. Those are going to be the employees I’m most often going to consider doing email or messaging with if I have anything I need to communicate with them and they’re going to be much more inclined to share their ideas that way then if it’s in person or it’s in a group setting.

Whereas if I have someone who’s extroverted, I know I can have a physical conversation with them, they’re going to come up with ideas, they’re going to be open, it can be in a large group, and they’re okay with that.

And then the second category is the thinker category – so you’re either a thinker or a feeler. And I think that this category is really important because I think when you do identify someone as being a thinker, they’re very methodical, it’s very systematic. They say it, they say it’s sort of like they’re a “firm but fair” kind of person. So everything kind of has, you know, a bullet point, has a method, and has a reasoning. So there’s a lot of logic behind a thinker.

And then you have a feeler who’s going to go more on their emotion or their gut feeling of a situation, or how they’re perceiving the situation, so they kind of take more of that into account.

So if I have an introverted feeler, I know that I have to, you know, definitely take a different communication style with them.

I’m an extroverted thinker, so I am the complete opposite of an introverted feeler, so I know that I have to really pull back my personality because I’m super extroverted and I could really make them shut down if I approach them to kind of aggressively. I’m excited about it and I think I’m coming off excited, but it might be a little overwhelming for that introverted feeler.

Crawford: They may interpret it a different way.

Sarah: Yes, and so I’m going to maybe approach them a little differently. I’m first going to email them. I’m going to communicate with them that way, ask them for their ideas.

An introverted feeler, I’m definitely not going to be at a group meeting and call them out for ideas right off the bat. Now, if I want them to share their ideas, I’m going to have a conversation with them first: “Hey, you have this great idea. I really like you to share it with the group when we go into this meeting, would it be okay if I did this?”

And usually if they have their time to wrap around their mind wrapped around it, they’re actually going to do really well. And an introverted feeler, sometimes people say, “Oh, this is too hard to work with,” but they actually have a lot to offer – they’re just not always comfortable with sharing. So you have to be able to provide them with a comfortable environment where they feel, you know, safe to share those ideas and to ensure that they’re not being interrupted. 

Crawford: It’s not that they don’t want to communicate. You just have to find the right avenue in which for that communication to take place. And then once you’ve done that, all of the ideas and the thoughts and feelings that they have, those can bubble up and you can really get a lot of great feedback and conversation – you just have to do it in the right way. 

Sarah:Absolutely. And what’s really interesting about all the different personalities is they all can really assess situations differently and you can really get great, great feedback from them. You just have to know how to make the environment feel comfortable for them to be able to share it and using it in a way that they’re going to actually feel like, okay, I’m, I’m also being heard.  

Crawford: It sounds like that takes a lot of the guesswork out of the relationship or how they feel or what they’re thinking. You get to lay it out on the table – you just have to find the appropriate venue and way for doing that based on who they are as a person.

Sarah: Absolutely.

Crawford: So I’m guessing that you typically interact with employees more frequently than you would interact with patients, but everything we’ve been talking about can still apply to patients too. So how does personality type factor into the physician-patient relationship and what impact does that have on patient experience overall? 

Sarah: I think that it definitely has a big impact, the providers and the doctors being able to assess their patient.

There are some patients, they don’t want to sit and chit chat – they want you to come in, do the job, and leave. So if you can identify those patients that are really systematic, that wants you to do, come in, do everything, but then you’ve got other patients, they want to have a conversation. They want to tell you about their vacation. They want to feel a personal connection to you.

And so there needs to be a balance for being able to identify those patients. And once you do, maybe the ones that want to have more of a conversation, a lot of our providers, they will make little notes in there in their file about the personal things they’ve discussed so that they can ask them about it – like if they’re going to go on a vacation or you know, their first kid goes off to college, so the next time they see them, they can have that conversation. And they also can identify those patients and then schedule a little, like an extra five minutes on their appointment with them so that they can really give that patient the experience that really they’re looking for.

And the ones that you know are happy to just want to come in and get it done and, and leave and go, and they’ve got other things to do, you can also identify those and keep regular times, you know that they don’t want the extra, the extra conversation. They just want to, they want to get in and get out. They’ve got a busy day ahead of them. So that can really be helpful and it really makes the patient feel like – and let them know – that you really care about their time, whether they want to get in and get out or whether they want to come in and have a chit chat with you. It’s all about making sure that they know that their time is valuable to you, whether you’re an employee or a doctor. I think that’s one of the biggest things.

They want to know that their time is valuable…and it is. It’s just as valuable as our doctor’s time. It’s just as valuable as our employee’s time. It’s maybe even the most valuable. 

Crawford: Hmm. Well, I love that. That’s a really great tip.

Just to, you know, jot down in the margins or put in the notes, “Hey, this patient really, really wants to talk and wants to interact. Or, you know, maybe this one’s a little bit more focused on, hey, let’s, let’s get the job done. Get in and get out. I have other things to do with my day.”

That’s just a little tiny thing that, you know, takes a doctor or a nurse only 30 seconds to jot something down, but the next time that patient has an experience with your practice, it’s that much more elevated because it’s not just a transactional, okay, I’m coming here to get medical care and then I’m leaving. It’s much more, Hey, I have a relationship with these people. They listened to me. They know me. They understand me. That, that really does a lot to elevate the patient experience, I imagine…

Sarah: It really does. I mean, having, having for doctors, especially the bedside manner, I feel like it’s becoming even more and more important.

I think, you know, in the past it really was, and then we kind of gotten to like a time where it wasn’t as huge as big of a focus. And now it’s really beginning being the public is now expecting that they want to build those relationships with their providers. They want to get to know them.

And with, you know, social media and other videos and avenues that where we can actually, you know, share our doctors’ personalities and somewhat of their lives and their interests with our patients? They want to feel that connection. They want to know that they’re having a connection with their doctor, whether they’re an eye doctor or regular doctor – they want that.

And so it’s little things that can really help do that just in the regular day-to-day. 

Crawford: Oh, that’s awesome. You know, we talk a lot about healthcare being an industry that’s built upon trust. And much of that’s focused on the physician patient relationship like we were talking about, but relationships among employees also have to be filled with trust if you want your practice to operate effectively.

So what advice would you give to other practice managers out there when it comes to communicating with their staff and with internal stakeholders at the practice? 

Sarah: So I really am a firm believer that the culture of your practice is so huge. And I feel like it’s almost been a buzzword for too long that some people kind of like cast it to the side now, but the culture is huge.

If there is a negative culture that is, you know, spreading like wildfire throughout the practice, it doesn’t matter if it’s among the employees, it translates to everyone. The providers are affected by it. Everyone is affected by management is affected by it. And you really, it’s hard to get things done and to do them well, from even the littlest thing to helping a patient to, you know, doing a standard operating procedure.

Even getting any type of, you know, analytics done because it’s just so negative. We really flipped our culture around a couple of years ago. And a lot of it is to really just assessing, sometimes it only takes one or two bad apples and in the mix that keep that culture down. And sometimes you have to make those hard decisions and just say that this person isn’t right for this company and it doesn’t matter how good they are in one area. If, if you have one person that is not going to help elevate the culture then, nothing’s going to work. And so you have to make those tough decisions. And we’ve had to make tough decisions like that, and it’s been for the better.

And we’ve been able, where I feel like our culture is really strong, and one of our biggest core values is really being, you know, making sure that we’re staying relational, not only with our patients, but with each other and communicating really effectively. And one of the biggest things that we talk about is it really starts with our doctors.

All of the employees are going to look at our doctors and they’re looking for that guidance and they’re looking for how they can act. So really being an example is so huge. Our providers are one of the highest people showing that example.

And we spend more hours Monday through Friday with each other than we do sometimes with our families, so it’s so important that we’re able to just have a respect for each other and that we’re communicating that way with each other. If we always approach it that way, we’re going to be able to be effective eventually, at some point – we’re going to get there.

But it has to start with just respecting what we do, respecting the systems that we’ve put in place, because it’s all for a reason. We have systems for a reason because we’ve found that this has worked. Or maybe we learned the hard way in the past and we don’t want to repeat those mistakes.

But having a really positive culture, starting from the top down to the bottom is so important – it’s the number one key. And the communication actually kind of falls into place, when you get that culture to rise up into a more positive experience. 

Crawford:Wonderful. Well, Sarah, I really appreciate you taking the time today. I hope other marketing managers out there can learn something from our conversation. So thanks so much for joining us today. 

Sarah: Thank you!

Next Week…

Well, that’s all for this week’s episode of the Medical Marketing Podcast – thanks for listening.

Whether you’re new to the show or have been listening for a long time, check out our website at www.messenger.md. We’re always sharing helpful resources and know-how to help you improve your practice marketing, grow revenue, and take your patient experience to the next level.

That’s all for today’s episode – I’m Crawford Ifland. See you next week.

Crawford Ifland, CEO at Messenger Healthcare Marketing

Crawford Ifland is the CEO of Messenger Healthcare Marketing. Messenger is a digital marketing agency specializing in custom healthcare website design, healthcare SEO, promotional videos, and more. Messenger gives the nation’s leading physicians and healthcare organizations the tools they need to grow their organizations.

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