THE OFFICE MANAGER IN SMALL-BUSINESS
Where the “But…” Stops
There are numerous books on the market today explaining the duties of the Office Manager. While very informative in the overall general sense, there seems to be a trend today toward spreading responsibilities without culpability. Too often, when asked for expected reports or whether or not specific actions have taken place, the response is usually, “But, I gave that to so-and-so, that’s their department.”
While the Office Manager certainly has the discretion to delegate specific duties within the office, it does not relieve them of the responsibility of seeing that the delegated tasks have, in fact, been performed. Upon hiring the Office Manager, it is imperative that they have access to the following items in order to run the office: the General Office Manual and any Position Manuals, cross checking forms, and any listings of subscriptions or contracts requiring renewals and/or updated applications. If these items do not exist, their creation should be the first order of business.
Within the small practice/business, most of the duties will fall on the shoulders of the Office Manager. The Provider/CEO generally does not want to be bothered with the minutiae of the day’s routine. It is the Office Manager’s job to perform these duties and produce up-to-date reports upon request. This is when all the forms and checklists prove their worth.
If the Office Manager is in charge of a specific department within a much larger organization, it becomes imperative that forms and checklists are in place to make it easier to keep up with any and all information that must be forwarded to the department head. Nothing is more infuriating than to be told that a report isn’t available because you had asked someone else in your department to do the job and they haven’t gotten around to it, yet.
Whenever I’ve been asked to audit an office, the most recurrent problem I find is that there are already many forms and checklists in place but they may go back years without any updating. I have even found some with phone numbers so old, they didn’t have any area codes! Most of the instructions were no longer a natural part of the day’s duties and, in fact, the software had long since been replaced with entirely new programs. The directories on phone consoles were out of date with names of employees long since gone from the business. And, horror of horrors, many instructions to employees were little more than post-it notes!
Computers have been a godsend to the business world but they also bring their own set of headaches. We still have not reached the time when an office can be totally without hardcopy. Directories, listings, forms, all require a folder. It is not essential to keep every copy of every listing that is updated, if vital information is also available within another source. Those offices that have rewrite drives on their computers are now able to save vast amounts of information on a CD disk. This should be sufficient for archival information that is separate and apart from the daily hard drive backup.
Manila folders of forms or listings should only hold the most current updated information for employee use. Older copies, if not yet on computer, can be scanned and then saved to a CD disk, if it is necessary to retain listings from the beginning of time. It is essential that the Office Manager control the number of folders created by any helpers in the office. The reason items become so difficult to find is often traced to the fact that, rather than trying to locate the appropriate folder, an employee simply creates a new one. Before long, there can be as many as four folders created to hold the same information.
The new Office Manager should plan on spending some time going over the collaborative duties within the office. Once comfortable with the particulars, it is time to look for any cross-checking forms already in place. If none can be found, then it is time for the Office Manager to create them. Starting with the employee involved in the Step One activity, the checklists should reflect what has to be completed before it can be passed on to the employee in charge of Step Two, and so on. The Office Manager will have the Master checklist containing all steps to activities required in the department. Each employee will have his or her own checklist to be turned into the Office Manager.
While the initial job of setting up checklists can be arduous, once incorporated into the natural office routine, the benefits are immediately apparent. As stated above, the Office Manager is ultimately responsible for all duties performed within the department and the checklists act as visual ticklers to prevent problems. In addition, by ensuring that information is current and all steps have been accounted for, files can be stored and/or forwarded by the end of the day and desks are clear for new business.
Accepting a job as an Office Manager means that you are willing to accept full responsibility for the completion of all activities within your department. It doesn’t mean you have to behave as a despot, being totally unreasonable or unapproachable, but you do have to run your office with full knowledge that it is your job to see to it that all duties are performed.
The workplace can be a very pleasant experience with everyone feeling as though they are part of a “second” family. This can only occur when everyone pulls their own weight and completes their tasks in a timely fashion. The smaller the office, the less room there is for employees who can’t stay on top of their jobs. Most companies base their hiring practices upon the actual needs of their business and rarely hire extra personnel without knowing exactly what job needs to be done.
If you find that there is an employee who simply doesn’t grasp what work must be completed, in spite of numerous training sessions and a Position Manual, it is time to seriously review what contributions that employee is making toward the practice/business. Duties not performed become additional duties to be completed by the Office Manager, and, in an extremely busy office, this could easily become a 60-hour a week job. In a perfect world and within the large office environment, there might be another position better suited to the abilities of the non-performing employee. Unfortunately, most employees are hired because of their qualifications for a specific job. When their performance proves to be unsatisfactory, there is no alternative but to let them go.
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