Terminate or coach?

A recent study of 350 Levin Group clients clearly indicates that the number-one problem in dentistry today is hiring staff. A close second is staff management. A labor shortage exists for dental office personnel, and all predictions indicate that the shortage will continue into the foreseeable future.

A recent study of 350 Levin Group clients clearly indicates that the number-one problem in dentistry today is hiring staff. A close second is staff management. A labor shortage exists for dental office personnel, and all predictions indicate that the shortage will continue into the foreseeable future. Hiring quality personnel is more difficult than ever before, which means dentists often keep people with whom they are less than satisfied.

A recent client was experiencing some significant problems within his dental team. All evidence focused on one key team member who was a high performer, but erratic. This team member was in charge of all front-desk and administrative duties. She was extremely erratic in her performance. Four to six weeks would pass with excellent performance, followed by several weeks of missed deadlines, unfinished tasks, and general inefficiency.

Many of you can probably relate. Each time the employee was in her "good" mode, the dentist believed that it would be permanent and she would now be consistently excellent. When she was in her "bad mode," he would ignore the poor performance, assuming that it would get better like it eventually always did. However, her erratic performance was becoming increasingly frustrating and damaging to the practice.

My first question was whether the employee was worth salvaging. His answer was that she was talented and definitely worth retaining. Based on that answer, I informed this individual that the problem was not management systems, but one of leadership. Throwing money at the situaiton would do nothing; the employee was already very well paid. The only way to gain consistent high performance would be to properly coach and lead her.

My recommendations:

  • Have a positive preliminary meeting with this individual and discuss all expectations regarding her job description and performance.
  • Let this individual know how valuable she is to the office, but set certain parameters and explain that consistent performance was one of the most important factors in career growth for this position.
  • Be sure this individual understands every aspect of her position, what activities are to take place on which days, and what the expectations are of each activity.
  • Have this employee present a weekly report to the doctor that tracks what has been accomplished and what has not been accomlished each week. Knowing they will have to report their weekly performance usually motivates people to get everything necessary done to avoid having to confess failure task completion or activities.
  • Meet with this employee 10 minutes per week to review progress. Explain that this is not simply to monitor her performance, but to keep the dentist truly in touch with the overall performance and direction of the practice. Make these sessions extremely positive and work on continuous improvement. And remember - don't try to completely change the individual overnight.

These steps often help a team member with great potential to excel. Clearly this individual had demonstrated her ability to do the job, but had trouble with consistent performance. By clearly setting expectations and a standard of leadership along with weekly coaching, the dentist has an excellent chance to transform this person into a consistent and superior employee.

It may seem easier to replace a poor performing employee, but the truth is when you change personnel you simply change your problem. Everybody brings aspects to the job that can be viewed as less than ideal. Rather than perpetuate a "hire and fire" cycle in a pointless search for the "perfect" employee, it is infinitely more satisfying and beneficial your practice to coach - and lead - an employee to their fullest potential.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA, president and CEO of The Levin Group and the Levin Advanced Learning Institute, provides worldwide leadership in dental management for general dentists and specialists. Contact The Levin Group at (410) 654-1234.

More in Practice