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Getting more from your practice manager

In an increasingly austere financial climate, GPs must exploit the skills of practice managers to the full, says Judy Meads.

In an increasingly austere financial climate, GPs must exploit the skills of practice managers to the full, says Judy Meads.

The expectations you have of your practice manager and the expectations they have of themselves can often be miles apart. But closing that gap is usually feasible – the simplest changes to how you work can save your practice both time and money.

There are several reasons your practice manager may be underachieving, such as:

• lack of communication

• poor recruitment

• lack of trust

• lack of practice staff resource

• financial restraints

• lack of forward planning.

All practice managers, at whatever stage of their career, could and should do more than they are doing. They are the lynchpin of your practice and should possess all the information they need from the doctors and know the capabilities of their staff. They should be given the authority to execute any responsibility you give them.

Your practice is a constantly evolving business and needs a person to take a lead and put strategies in place. Are you holding your manager back?

You want your practice to keep ahead of the game set by the NHS and your practice manager is key to this. To get the most out of your practice manager you should consider the following tips.

Get it right from the start

In the first instance, ensure your procedure for the recruitment and selection of a new practice manager is solid and dependable.

If you are in doubt, try to outsource it – it will be well worth the money spent.

Remember, your practice manager should be capable of looking after:

• IT

• human resources

• finance

• administration

• premises

• public relations

• purchasing

• contracting and legal issues.

Do not advertise a role that you are not prepared to offer in practice – you will end up with a demotivated manager.

Do not tie their hands

If you allow your manager to take control of the business on a day-to-day basis, you must ensure you do not withhold any relevant information from them. Do you allow your manager full access to all the accounting and financial processes? If not, whoever puts together your management accounts should always discuss them with your practice manager to see where you are, what is working and what needs to be done.

You should also ask who is responsible for putting budgets together and whether it should be your practice manager. After all, how can your manager be proactive and implement strategies without knowing the base from which they are working?

Have you discussed your partnership agreement with your manager? Do they have a copy? If not, how can they know whether certain decisions have to be unanimous or subject to a majority vote? How do you know if it is up to date? This is something your manager could help with.

If your manager does not have all the information from you as a partnership, they are working with one hand tied behind their back. How long do you expect a good practice manager to tolerate this?

Allow your manager strategic planning time

Don't forget that your practice manager is effectively your get-out-of-jail-free card. Issues such as health and safety are difficult and, with the corporate manslaughter act, your manager needs the time and resources to ensure all the relevant risk assessments are carried out and any issues addressed.

Your manager will have their ear to the ground where the PCT, local hospital trusts and the practice-based commissioning group are concerned and you should expect them to jump on any funding that is available and the opportunity to offer new services. They will have knowledge of what they can offer at their fingertips and, if you have supplied them with the relevant information (both financial and your tentative future plans), they can make an informed decision on how to go forward.

Training is key for the manager and other staff

Your manager should be up to date with all changes in legislation to do with health and safety, employment and so on, as well as on IT and any compulsory annual training. This means time and money needs to be invested in your manager and staff. The idea that if staff are trained they will find another position is wrong – why would they, if they are happy and feel part of a respected and valued team?

Does your manager have the team they need?

Often your practice manager could be doing much more but cannot because they lack the staff resource they require. Ideally your manager will have team members to delegate routine tasks to. This gives people responsibilities and engenders a feeling of ownership in their work. It gives your manager time for planning and training.

Remember, though, that your business is always changing and good recruitment is key not just for your manager but also the whole practice team. Never just replace like with like – look at what is now needed.

Ensure partners work with the practice manager

Your partners need to find time to sit down and plan with their manager and with the rest of their practice team.

Don't forget your practice manager may well be able to generate income for the practice. They may also be able to carry out training, mentor new staff members or do consultancy work for other practices.

Find out what else your manager wants to do

The annual performance appraisal is also the time to let them know if you want them to do other things. Ask them – you may be surprised. Communication is paramount.

Anyone will go that extra mile for a ‘thank you'

Money need not be the sole motivation. Often just praising your practice manager and staff does more for morale and productivity than anything else.

Judy Meads is director of primary care consultancy J Meads & Associates

Practice managers' skills have become increasingly vital in a cold financial climate Practice managers' skills have become increasingly vital in a cold financial climate

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