Stepping into management
Lifelong learning is the foundation of a career in optics but what path do you take once you are qualified? Robina Moss talks to some graduates who went into management and looks at training options.
Dylan Russell is a dispensing optician practice manager with Boots Opticians in Scotland but what inspired him to go down that particular career route?
“After being in optics for seven years now I have had quite a range of different managers. I’ve seen both the company and the different stores I’ve worked in change the way they approach things and just decided that I’d like to be in a position where I was the one making those decisions,” he explains. The opportunity arose earlier than he had imagined. “Just after I finished my final exams an opportunity came up as an assistant manager in one of our flagship stores,” he said. “After doing this for six months or so I was then given the opportunity to be seconded as a practice manager in a smaller store within the region. The opportunity then came up to apply for this as a permanent position. My application was successful, and this is where I am currently.”
Dylan believes that one of the best things about being a manager is “being able to be the one making the decisions that are going to help run the store in the best possible manner to give an amazing experience for your patients.” He also enjoys that every day is a learning curve. “Recently I went on the Mental Health First Aid England course which I would strongly recommend anyone to do,” he said. “The course was eye-opening and very informative for handling different situations.” There is a downside to management though, as he highlights: “Sometimes, when working for a multiple, there are only so many changes you can make as everything has to follow the way the company does things. Luckily I work for a company that I’m in agreement with.” So, what advice would he give to someone interested in following a management career path? “Go for it, challenge yourself,” he exclaims. “If you decide it’s not for you, you can always go back to being a dispensing optician, however, I think a great DO usually makes a great manager.”
He does have a warning for would-be managers though. “Make sure you’re able to switch off. Do your best not to let your outside life affect work each day and make sure that when you finish each night, you’re done until the next day. “I’m a strong believer in leaving things at the door,” he emphasises. “Work life balance is key. No-one needs a martyr and you’re no use to your team if you run yourself into the ground,” he warns. Another dispensing optician who went down the management route is Mark Nevey, who was a dispensing optician and store manager working at Specsavers in Cheylesmore before leaving to gain more experience in the independent sector. He has recently moved to an independent practice in Blaby, Leicestershire, pictured, where he is a dispensing optician but still aspires to be a manager again in the future.
Unlike many practitioners, Mark had a clear ambition to get into a management role, but it also happened a lot sooner than he had expected. “I had always harboured aspirations of managing the small Specsavers store I had achieved my FBDO qualification with,” he said. “Two years after qualifying, after discussing my options with my director, we decided that I would enrol on the Institute of Leadership and Management level 3 course and then take on the store manager position some time after that. “As it transpired, the store needed a manager shortly after we made that decision and I was asked if I would be willing to fill the position with immediate effect, which I did.” Like many, Mark was inspired to go down the management route for the sake of his family. “It meant more money for my small family, as well as job security,” he explains, adding: “I love learning, progressing and developing in my career.” Like all roles, there are good and bad things about being in management. “The great thing about being a DO and the store manager is that when you want to make a decision about action to resolve a problem, you don’t need to have it authorised by somebody else, you can make the executive decision yourself,” said Mark. “It allows you to take a more professional approach.” As expected, the worse aspects of the role can be dealing with people issues. “The bad things about management are the pressure when it comes to pleasing all the individual staff members with regard to holidays etc, and dealing with complaints and irate patients,” said Mark. What advice would he give to someone wanting to follow this career path? “Always be honest and fair,” he recommends. “Lead by example and ask people to ‘do as I do’, rather than ‘do as I say’. Take a fair approach to discipline and company benefits. Be open, honest and candid in every respect, with staff and patients alike. “I always imagined I wouldn’t be cut out to manage, but I surprised myself and believe I did a good job so I would say, believe in yourself and take the plunge,” he concludes.
To help dispensing opticians take the next steps in their career following qualification, ABDO has launched four new management courses this year; the Management and Leadership Diploma, the Management Essentials Certificate, the Continuing Improvement Certificate and the Growing Leader Certificate. ABDO’s sector skills development officer, Nick Walsh, explains the background to the development of the courses. “ABDO wants to help individuals to enhance their professional skills, as well as provide fantastic career development. “For some, this could be through further study in clinical areas such as contact lenses and low vision, for many DOs though, the route that is beneficial will be management and leadership.” It has often been said in optics that people struggle to develop the skills that they need to be a good manager, as Nick highlights.
“All too often we see ‘accidental managers’ who, upon qualification, were given a set of keys to a practice and left to their own devices,” he explains. “Whilst some may have a natural aptitude for leadership, even they will likely need to get the fuller set of management tools to ensure a healthy business and a happy, motivated team. “These new courses from ABDO are the ideal next step for any manager, whether they are starting out, or looking to formalise knowledge and experience gained in practice. “As a manager, you need to make time for your own development,” Nick emphasises. “This investment in you will be of benefit in many ways. Management training teaches leaders how to identify and minimise risk, use data effectively and identify the best possible solutions that benefit the business as a whole.” Underlining the benefits of better training, Nick explains that managers will become better able to set realistic goals, develop strategic work plans and make good decisions quickly. “Structured training will teach managers how to understand and learn about their team members to obtain the best results from each individual,” he adds. “Training teaches managers to review their styles of management and assess and understand the effectiveness of it within the business. This enables managers to understand how they can lead their teams in the most effective way, with the end result being a motivated and productive team with minimum conflict.” Another benefit of the training is the structured approach to giving staff feedback. “Giving feedback is a skill of successful leaders,” Nick emphasises. “Through management training, managers can learn effective ways to provide feedback to motivate and increase the skill level of their people.” He concludes: “ABDO management and leadership training is a great way to turn any informal learning into a recognised qualification through a course of study and assessment. The qualification is awarded by Chartered Management Institute, which is the only chartered awarding organisation in the UK for management and leadership. “Participants in the course also get membership of the institute and access to the support and materials that it offers, including the fantastic ManagementDirect online resource.”
For more information on the new courses, visit www.abdo.org.uk/mlt