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How to build and maintain a positive dental workplace culture

Oct. 4, 2023
Running a successful practice with a positive culture takes strong leadership, which is vastly different from being a boss. Understanding that difference goes a long way.

To find and keep valuable team members in today’s dental industry, employees need to enjoy coming to work, feel valued, and have opportunities for growth. According to recent studies, 46% of job seekers say company culture is an important factor, and 88% say a healthy work culture is vital for success.1

Having worked in a variety of places prior to owning a business, I knew that the foundation of my practice would be structured by building and instilling a positive workplace culture. From my previous experience, I knew what I did not want: gossip, backstabbing, turnover, passive aggressiveness, and negative behaviors that can poison an office. When I decided to start a business, I wanted to follow a servant-leadership philosophy focusing on the well-being of my staff and to build a place that I would enjoy coming to every day.

We often spend more time with coworkers than our own family, so I envisioned a fun, collaborative environment. Also, for the longevity of the business and preserving my own personal stress and sanity, I wouldn’t be able to do it all myself. When we have a culture of people who share a common vision, no one has to shoulder an unbearable weight.

You might also want to read: 7 tips to encourage participation at dental team meetings

Building a foundation

A first step to creating a positive culture is presenting employees with a vision and mission. A vision statement is a declaration that all employees can strive to achieve and work toward every day. Ours envisions a world where people “live longer and smile more,” and we work to make that a reality. This vision gives us not only a framework to make decisions; it also enables us to serve our patients outside of the confines of dentistry.

In terms of decision making, if a team member wonders what to do in a certain situation, the right answer is whatever helps the patient live longer and smile more. If it satisfies those two goals, we will support the team member in whatever solution they choose. If it doesn’t, then we can coach the decision-making process to help them moving forward.

As for serving patients apart from their dental needs, that means if we can help a patient with sleep apnea, restaurant recommendations, or travel tips and it makes them smile, then we’ll do that, too.

Attracting the right talent

Whether you’re building the foundation of your practice or trying to grow it, you want to find and retain people who can align with the company’s vision and mission. During interviews, ask specific, pointed questions that can help reveal a candidate’s perspective and beliefs. For example, ask:

About their goals and setting goals: I’ve found it is easier to work with, motivate, and inspire people who are working toward something bigger.

Specific questions about materials and brand names: If an applicant for a dental assistant position can’t tell me the brand of filling material they use, I assume they don’t care enough about what they’re doing to provide the level of service that our patients deserve.

If they have limiting beliefs about money: Dentistry is expensive because no one plans for it, and recommended procedures are usually unexpected. I need our team members to understand that this is not our fault. We serve as a solution to make patients healthier, so being afraid to talk to the patient about what they need due to projected costs is contrary to our vision.

Hypothetical scenario questions: These can help determine if a candidate has sensory acuity and situational awareness.

As well, consider conducting personality assessments: There are specific personality types that excel in certain positions, so requiring potential team members to take an assessment can help predict if they’d be a good fit.

Retaining top performers

To retain key talent, we’ve established a “partner mindset” that encourages employees to treat the business as if it was their own—all employees have a stake in the company with a revenue-sharing program based on meeting vision-related productivity and service goals. It helps hold team members accountable because their attitude and behavior have a direct impact on their earning potential. It increases productivity and encourages the staff to treat the facility, equipment, and materials with care.

As an employer, it’s my responsibility to help team members achieve more. I do not hire a dental assistant on the premise that they’ll be one for the next 20 years. I work with my staff every day, and I want to see them develop and move up not only for themselves but also for their families. It is my responsibility to provide training and growth opportunities, and theirs to aim high.

Maintaining a positive team culture

Focusing on your vision is a key element to maintaining a positive team culture. Everyone needs to understand that the goal is to get patients healthy and help them live longer—it is not about the money. When patients are taken care of with the best treatments, services, and kindness, the money will follow. It’s more fulfilling to find success when you are doing purposeful work.

The second key component is to treat team members like partners by practicing open-book management. Your team should understand that while we are health-care providers, we are also a business and there are costs to doing business. As partners, the staff needs to understand the constraints when there may be a bad month, but they also need to share in our success when we excel. Our partner mindset and revenue-share program are at the staff’s control and earned through teamwork and accountability, which help instill a positive environment.

Mini-games and contests are also a great way to make achieving goals fun. Spending time together outside of the practice also helps keeps the morale high and ensures the team is having fun outside of our normal, daily routine. We are big believers in team-bonding activities, meetings, and retreats.

Continuing education, executive coaching, and business development planning show our staff that we are invested in their greater success and future. In addition to regular training on clinical areas and shadowing other offices to observe best practices, we allot time weekly, monthly, and quarterly to work specifically on business development including annual planning.

Leadership building

Running a successful practice takes strong leadership, which is vastly different from being a boss. Understanding that difference goes a long way.

If you’re unsure where to start or which direction to head in, consider employing a coach. Every top athlete has at least one coach, and executives also look to coaches for how to be better leaders. If these high performers can benefit from a coach, why wouldn’t you? A great coach won’t tell you what to do or do the work for you, but they can help you get clarity about what you want to achieve and hold you accountable. They’ll help you celebrate your wins and learn from your losses.

So much of the success of your practice comes from your team members and the culture you build. Unfortunately, that sometimes means letting go of people who are toxic or negative, even if they’ve been with you for a long time. Knowing your limits and surrounding yourself with people who can be great in the areas you aren’t helps propel your business forward. Outside of that, your patients will benefit from a positive workplace culture because they’re being treated by a team of people who want to be there, truly care about their health and well-being, and are finding fulfillment in their purpose.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the October 2023 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

Reference

1. Company culture statistics: leadership and engagement in 2023. TeamStage. https://teamstage.io/company-culture-statistics/#:~:text=Company%20culture%20is%20an%20important,companies%20with%20a%20bad%20reputation

About the Author

Dee Dee Meevasin, DMD

Owner of Dee for Dentist, Dee Dee Meevasin, DMD, has more than 22 years of industry experience leading, consulting, and treating patients. She empowers her staff through training, education, and encouragement as she believes that leaders should lead leaders. Dee for Dentist is a family practice providing state-of-the-art digital dentistry by embracing the latest technology along with traditional dental services to promote the long-term oral health of every patient. For more information, visit deefordentist.com.

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