Design Systems to End Staff Conflict

A practice cannot remain productive when there is a great deal of conflict among staff members. I have seen practices where they should have a revolving front door due to the number of staff who come and go. Practices can lose $15,000 to $20,000 per turnover in to advertising, interviewing, training, mistakes, and lack of efficiency. Therefore, it is more important than ever to build and retain a team of motivated and positive people.

Feb 1st, 1997

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA

A practice cannot remain productive when there is a great deal of conflict among staff members. I have seen practices where they should have a revolving front door due to the number of staff who come and go. Practices can lose $15,000 to $20,000 per turnover in to advertising, interviewing, training, mistakes, and lack of efficiency. Therefore, it is more important than ever to build and retain a team of motivated and positive people.

A team-oriented practice needs to maintain a "boutique practice," thereby characterizing ultimate customer service. This means everyone in the practice should go out of their way to satisfy every patient beyond clinical needs. Staff conflict will only discourage the development of a professional and even personal relationship with your patients.

The Reason for Conflict

Many dentists do not understand the source of staff conflict. Interestingly, conflict usually does not stem from the personalities making up the team. I have consulted with a number of offices that use personality assessments to hire their staff.

The Levin Group has found that the satisfaction of the team members and long-term retention generally is not higher than in a practice that does not conduct personality assessments. After noting this, I became curious as to why simple personality assessment would not put a group of people together who could work in harmony.

As I studied the science of Total Quality Management, it became more apparent that the real reason often had nothing to do with the personalities of the staff. Although some staff members should not work in any service business, most team members really want to do a great job. In most cases, the bottom line is conflict as a result of frustration, due to the lack of practice systems.

Staff members who don`t work in an efficient environment become frustrated. Frustration among one or more staff members weakens the practice which may eventually weaken your productivity.

As practice owners, it is unlikely that frustration will be vented onto you, the boss. In most cases, frustration will be directed elsewhere - at other team members.

Practices Need Systems

To alleviate stress and frustration among team members, the dentist must create a series of clear systems for the staff to follow. This will ensure greater efficiency and a happier team. As dentistry becomes more competitive and each practice competes to keep overhead at a minimum and service at a high level, the establishment of step-by-step systems is more critical than ever before.

Any business today must establish step-by-step systems, which are documented in writing, in order to be successful.

When each system in the practice - i.e., scheduling, patient finance, practice finance, hygiene, and case presentation - is broken up into specific steps, the practice will reach its maximum potential.

Most offices do not have training programs for new staff or any written documentation of systems. This means that most team members learn "on the job." Since most are hired during a crisis and have to immediately begin filling in for the person who has departed, these individuals will have a more difficult time catching up with their training.

Unfortunately, many new team members eventually are terminated due to poor performance. This could have been avoided if a few days or a week of training were provided. Staff members should have a list of written systems to study and follow. This will help them understand how your practice runs, which will open more ideas on how to improve it.

Total quality management has shown that only when systems are broken down into steps can true improvement occur. Do you have one of those practices where you make changes, and 30 days later everything is back to the way it was? The reason is that the changes are being made on a broad level and not at a step-by-step level within the current systems.

Take a new look at your team and recognize that staff members want to perform in the very best way they can. Performance problems may have nothing to do with personality or attitude. Many practices have simply not established the systems to help each individual reach maximum potential.

Dr. Roger Levin is founder and president of The Levin Group, a national, dental-management and marketing-consulting firm. He can be reached at (410) 486-1089.

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