The office manager was angry. One of the front office employees and failed to collect a payment that was due and the patient had left the office without paying a significant balance on their account. She was planning on writing up the employee for the error, hoping to make an example of her. As far as the office manager was concerned mistakes like this could never happen.
I knew the employee well and knew that she did not have a pattern of making mistakes. She was typically conscientious and tried to do a good job. While I did not like the fact that charges were not collected I saw the situation differently. In my mind the employee had made an honest mistake. I said as much to the manager.
“We can’t have mistakes like this!” she replied.
“What do you think an acceptable error rate is for her job?” I asked. The manager looked befuddled. “Why zero, of course!” she replied.
“I can’t afford a zero error rate,” I explained. “perfection is expensive. You don’t get perfection for what we pay!” I reminded her that our front office staff consisted entirely of women with high school educations and a few years of experience in the medical field. They made an hourly wage of $12 (about $16 in today’s dollars). I reminded her of the adage, you get what you pay for.
15 years have passed and I am now in solo practice but I still get what I pay for. (Although I pay much more.) It is my desire to have the best office staff in town so I pay my staff handsomely. They make 30-50 percent more than what they would make in some other offices but their performance is exceptional. We are the top rated family practice office in town when it comes to customer service.
While the relationship between salary and performance is obvious it is often ignored. Every applicant I interview wants a high wage. Most do not understand the expectations that come with higher pay. I recently hired someone who had an impressive resume and wanted to start at $20 an hour. As this was above the rate I had budgeted for the position I told her she would need to excel. When her job performance was at a level consistent with someone new to the field with no experience we felt compelled to let her go. I was emotionally conflicted but knew that it made no sense to pay $20 for $12 worth of performance.
We live in a world where many believe they deserve to be paid a higher wage for many reasons other than performance. Longevity on the job, personal financial needs and even the profits of the company are all cited to support demands for higher salaries. For businessmen, none of this matters as much as return on investment. The question is always "Is the employee worth what we are paying?"
It is my belief that both employers and employees need to be realistic and fair in their expectations. I do not expect perfection, nor do I seek excellent employees at bargain rates. I expect to pay people what they are worth.