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GPs go forth

How to... appoint a practice manager

Appointing the right manager is crucial. Get it wrong and the atmosphere among the staff becomes tense, and frictions develop between partners. Patients suffer and the income falls. Get it right and the whole team feels more relaxed and the GPs can get on with seeing patients in a practice which is working.

1) Grade the candidates individually before discussing them among the partners. You will probably all have similar opinions.

2) Do not insist on NHS experience. A new manager who has never worked in the NHS may bring in fresh ideas. Look at knowledge, skills and attitudes. A candidate will need good people and financial skills. They also need to have the right attitude. Every practice is different. Decide whether you want an inclusive manager listening to the staff or one who is more hierarchical. Knowledge is less important. The right manager will quickly pick up the NHS jargon.

3) Avoid looking for 'your old manager'. However good the previous manager, this is a new appointment. The new manager will face different challenges and must be allowed to develop their own style. Do not undermine the newcomer with comparisons to the old one. Even worse, do not allow the old manager to help as an 'adviser'.

4) Be prepared to reject all the candidates and start again – it creates more work in the short term but the wrong manager will create long-term problems.

5) Consider using a recruitment agency. They can cut the paperwork of advertising, sorting applications and arranging interviews, allowing the partners to concentrate on finding the right manager. We used First Practice Management. This cost 10 per cent of the first-year salary and, if we failed to appoint or our new manager left in the first year, we could repeat the exercise at no extra cost.

6) Meet the agency and discuss the business in general terms. The agency will then advertise and send a spreadsheet listing the candidates with appropriate comments such as 'good candidate' or 'worth interviewing'.

7) Do not automatically accept the opinion of the agency. If the partners are impressed by a CV which the agency marked down, shortlist the candidate on your own initiative.

8) Interview candidates alone. As well as seeing the shortlisted candidates as a group, most agencies arrange for interviews with all partners on their own. Agree the questions each partner will ask. Rather than asking 'where will you be in five years time' ask about projects they have actually done. Discuss what went well and what problems they faced. This may separate the good speaker from someone who actually gets things done.

9) When the new manager is appointed all partners must feel a part of the decision. If one or two are opposed to a candidate they must not be outvoted. The new manager needs the confidence of all partners.

Peter Moore is a GP in Torquay

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