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We're worried we'll lose top staff over promotion

The practice manager, who has been with us for over 30 years, has just set a date for her retirement. We are a large practice, and the assistant practice manager and the senior receptionist do much of the administrative work. Both of these staff members have said they plan to apply for the manager's post. They are both very competent, but there has always been a degree of territorial conflict between them and we do not think either would agree to being 'managed' by the other. Nor do we think we could find a better external candidate. How can we ensure we keep both of them?

GP's advice

Ensure you employ best manager

Part of the circle of general practice life is that large practices like yours need to keep several staff trained almost to managerial level just to function, and most of those staff will eventually be lured away by the prospect of full managerial responsibilities, and a full managerial salary, in another practice or with the PCT.

You may have to resign yourself to losing one or other of your current manager's deputies. If they were able to work together amicably and the PCT was prepared to be generous with staff funding, you might be able to negotiate a management partnership that would appeal to both of them, but this does not appear to be a realistic option.

You have to appoint the person who will be the best manager, and to avoid falling foul of the laws against discrimination you should advertise the post externally and interview a shortlist of suitable candidates.

Clinicians are not always particularly good at judging management qualities, so the interview panel should include your current manager, one partner, one member of clerical staff, and an independent interviewer from the PCT or a management consultancy.

Do give serious thought to using psychometric testing as an objective decision-making tool.

If you appoint externally, your two senior staff members are likely to find management posts elsewhere in the near future, so start thinking about which junior staff have the ability and ambition to be trained to take over some of their work.

If you appoint internally, have an honest discussion with the 'losing' candidate, explain why the decision was made, and perhaps offer a defined area of responsibility

where they will be answerable only to the partners.

GP's advice

Chance to review skill mix and costs

You are lucky to have two able candidates, but it's still important to advertise externally to avoid missing someone even better or risk the accusation of favouring one candidate over the other ­ and a possible claim for constructive dismissal.

The first step is to draw up a job specification that will include the knowledge, skills and attitudes required for the post. The new contract competency framework (annex c) is a good starting point. This is also an opportunity to review skill mix and staff costs. Do you really need a practice manager, an assistant practice manager and a senior receptionist? What will they each be doing?

The interpersonal conflict between your current employees may have arisen from blurred boundaries; if these were resolved, would either consider working as the other's deputy? The previous practice manager's role is interesting ­ did she act as mediator, support one against the other or turn a blind eye? And do any of the partners or staff favour one or other candidate? What are the implications of this?

All the applicants should be interviewed against the same criteria, and the most qualified and suitable person should be appointed. If this is one of your current employees, tell the other how much the practice values her and you hope she will stay. If neither is successful, one or both may decide to stay after all. And the new practice manager may even succeed in resolving their differences.

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