The Business of Contact Lenses

Hiring Irreplaceable Employees

The Business of Contact Lenses

Hiring Irreplaceable Employees

By Gary Gerber, OD

I recently asked a group of highly successful practitioners, “What makes an employee irreplaceable?” These practices were high-tech and up-to-date, high-touch and focused on delivering superior clinical care. With those commonalities, I expected to see responses such as, “Is willing to learn new things and stays as up-to-the-minute as I do,” or, “Shows a high degree of clinical acumen and continuously delivers great clinical care.”

Traits of Irreplaceable Employees

Instead, what I got were the following comments, presented here—unedited:
1. Consistency.
2. You don't have to tell them what to do, they do the right thing without being asked time after time.
3. Positive attitude, kindness, and competence.
4. Someone who sees it as “their” practice also.
5. Passion.
6. Someone who is not content with the way things are, but continually strives to make things better.
7. Anyone who has put up with me for over 2+ years!!!
8. Pleasant regardless of the circumstances.
9. An “irreplaceable” employee is one who consistently ranks high on patient surveys. If the majority of patients are “wowed” by the employee, then they will return seeking out that employee again. If that employee is replaced, then future office experiences may be diminished—to me that's the quality of an “irreplaceable” employee.

What is most striking isn't necessarily what these comments all have in common, but rather what they are lacking. Namely, there is no mention of competence or clinical skill. They globally point to personality.

We all strive to find irreplaceable employees. When asked what makes them so, we often hear, “They get it!” If we ask what “it” is, we hear such things as, “They understand the values of the practice. That we must go above and beyond in our service to patients to be competitive and to remain profitable. They take ownership of problems and celebrate successes of others.”

If all of the above is true, then why do most practitioners aim to hire (replace) employees based on clinical competence instead of personality? Help wanted ads and Internet job postings are still chock full of, “Busy optometrist's office seeks experienced technician. Must be proficient in the latest diagnostic equipment and high-end eyeglass dispensing.” If we are seeking an irreplaceable personality, why are we even trying to hire a technical wizard? My experience as both a practitioner and a consultant is that most staff members get fired over personality issues—not lack of technical prowess. If that's true, then shouldn't we stop hiring solely based on technical skill, especially since, looking forward, the person we deem “irreplaceable” isn't necessarily an eyecare clinical rock star?

Reconsider How You Hire

Even though many have heard, “hire personality, train the skill,” we tend to not do it for three main reasons.

First, it's a lot of work and few of us have technical training programs in place to use with neophyte hires. I agree—it is more work to hire personality than skill. But I also know that over the long haul, it's more productive and efficacious.

Second, we don't believe it can work. “How can someone with no experience ever learn to work in my office?” The simple answer is that nearly anyone with the desire and a reasonable IQ can be trained to work in your office—if you commit to the training.

Finally, “We don't know how to ferret out the proper personality.” That's true, and it's because we're eyecare professionals, not trained Human Resources people. To that point, seek assistance and look for validated personality tests that can help with this. CLS

Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice, a company offering proven and comprehensive practice and profit building systems. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter@PowerYourDream.