The New Dentist: There is no "I" in team!

Aug. 1, 2002
By now, your office is either finished or very near completion, and your marketing strategy is underway. There's only one problem: You have no staff members! How do you start the hiring process? Do you place an ad in the classifieds section of the local newspaper, or do you start combing the streets for individuals to join your office?

by Drs. Matt & Ann Bynum

By now, your office is either finished or very near completion, and your marketing strategy is underway. There's only one problem: You have no staff members! How do you start the hiring process? Do you place an ad in the classifieds section of the local newspaper, or do you start combing the streets for individuals to join your office? The individuals you hire to care for your patients ultimately will determine your success.

In this article, we will explore the philosophies involved in hiring staff, their integration, and their effect on practice success.

Before beginning, we want to dispel a popular myth in practices today. The concept of the girls or staff should be no more! The term staff promotes a mentality that breeds complacency. Complacency breeds mediocrity, and mediocrity should never be allowed in a successful dental practice. The individuals who comprise your staff rely on each other, like the links of a chain. There are no solo individuals in the pursuit of success, and, for that reason, they should be referred to as team members. Team relationships are symbiotic - each member either fuels or feeds off another to accomplish a common goal. Examples are everywhere, such as in successful businesses or sports teams. In either model, there is no "I" in team!

Hiring team members is one of the most difficult things you will do. When you first open your office doors, it seems more important to have somebody, anybody, than to have the right someone. As time constraints loom and the pressure to find help increases, you find yourself lowering your standards just to have a warm body in your office assisting or answering the phone. This is a big mistake! Find the right individual who meets your personal and practice expectations. Hire for personality and train for the position. Succumbing to the pressure of "filling the position" may be the worst decision you could make. Would you prefer to have somebody answer your incoming new-patient phone calls with, "Doctor's office," or have the right someone answer those same calls with, "Hello, Dr. Smilessomuch's office. This is Laura. How can I help you?"

So what do you look for in a team member? Personality? Honesty? Looks? What makes you want to hire a certain individual? With your practice philosophy in place and your goals set, you are ready to hire someone who fits into your practice. All too often, we hear dentists talk about hiring a new team member because he or she has dental experience. If a person is good with people, has good listening skills, and maintains a good work ethic, how difficult would it be to train him or her to do the job? Prior dental experience is a benefit, but it definitely should not be a priority. It is more important to keep your practice philosophy in mind.

Just as décor and color play an important role in your patients' decision-making process, team members have the same effect. When stepping away from traditional hiring protocol and following a conceptualized team approach, it is vital that criteria other than dental experience be evaluated. While the practice philosophy determines the type of patients who are attracted to the office, the team members' personality is what allows these patients to bond with the practice. In today's practice, it is imperative that personality traits be considered. Using personality assessment testing - such as the DISC system or Shape comparison analysis, as used by Connie Podesta - you can attract patients and hire team members with characteristics consistent with those of your practice.

As you begin to hire team members and the dynamics of each individual begins to shape the team, some essential guidelines must be followed. First and foremost, the team always comes first. There is no single individual who is more important than another on the team. And, yes, that includes you, the doctor. Some of you are probably thinking we are absolutely crazy, because it is the doctor who assumes the risk and makes all the decisions, and the doctor is the reason patients come to the practice in the first place. More than likely, it simply is not true. While you are performing dentistry on a day-to-day basis, who is answering the patients' phone calls, scheduling appointments, and handling emergencies? Who cares for your patients' periodontal needs, while listening for an hour to stories about their personal lives and problems? Who actually commits these patients to final treatment? The fact is, while we are performing the fine art of dentistry on our patients, we have a very captive audience; however, there is not much time to talk while performing dentistry. Not only that, but you have other patients coming in for treatment immediately following your current procedure.

Don't misunderstand us; your skills are the most important in making the office run, because without you there would be no practice in the first place. However, without your team, you would be unable to run your office as well. While team members do not share equally in the risk or total involvement in practice affairs, they do need to feel that they are involved.

The conceptualized team approach to dentistry

The Conceptualized Team Approach to Dentistry includes five elements that will allow your team to excel and will transform your staff into a team:

Education - In order for your team to speak, act, and understand your practice of dentistry, they need to learn what you do and why you do it. It is here that most dentists fail with their teams, because they do not take the time to educate them. Make it a strict policy to involve those directly affected in any continuing education that you attend. If the course is in Hawaii, then take them to Hawaii. All too often, the doctor educates himself, then comes back to the office and wants everything changed. The "staff" waits two weeks until the excitement is gone and things return to normal. Involve your team and get them excited in what you want to change. There is power in numbers; if you want something changed, watch what can happen as five or six team members grab hold of a new idea. Besides, they are the ones who "sell" your dentistry and the new technique or product. They are the ones who explain things to the patients. Why is it that we do not want to invest in their education along with ours? Commit to educating your team, and let them experience a little of what you get to experience at the same time.

Empowerment - The team approach centers around a trust that each team member is there for the good of the team. Because every situation that can possibly occur during the course of a given day cannot be brought to the decision-making table every time, it is imperative that you trust the decisions your team members make. Empower these people to make good decisions. If there is a benefit either for the patient or the team, allow them to make a decision without your direct input. In our practice, if the benefit involves finances, we make it mandatory that it be run by us first. Other than that, any team member can make a decision in the practice as long as he or she can back it with some explanation and show what the benefit is to the office, the patient, or the team. Empowerment leads to self-expression, self-direction, and partial ownership. People respond in their job performance when they feel the have some input. Relinquish some of the control, and watch how efficiently your team performs.

Motivation - What motivates your team members? Money? Days off? Travel? Verbal affirmation? Whatever it is, find it and use it daily! One way to find this out is to ask. You might be surprised to find that money isn't everything, and what motivates one team member might not motivate another. Consequently, it is important to incorporate each member's motivation in your day-to-day performance. It takes a leader to motivate. Consider yourself the coach of your own Super Bowl team. As such, you need to make sure your team members are well-compensated for their positions, have adequate time to relax and care for loved ones, feel important to the team and its success, and, most importantly, enjoy themselves and have fun.

Atmosphere - Team success is about confidence, attitude, and skill. The environment can set the mood for the team and its performance. If the office atmosphere is one of anger or fear, patients will pick up on it. The key is to create a "buying environment" - one where your patients feel comfortable and inclined to heed your advice on improving their health.

To create this atmosphere, your team needs to be happy. The energy they create around the office will infect the patients and you. Who wouldn't want to work in an environment where the job seems more like a hobby than work? Be courteous, kind, polite, and friendly. Treat your team like gold; they are as valuable. You need them, and they need you. Make a concerted effort to create an atmosphere that allows your team members to be themselves. Create the environment you want by making a change in yourself and those around you and watch the return.

Pay/Salary - While money does not motivate the majority of your team members, it does have the power to influence and stimulate a better attitude. When team members are well-compensated for their accomplishments, their desire to be better increases. Our philosophy is that if you pay an hourly wage, you get an hourly employee. Successful practices require dedication. Traditionally, the hourly wage employee clocks in, works, takes a 10-to-15-minute break, works, takes an hour-long lunch, works, takes another 10-to-15-minute break, works, clocks out at 5:00, and goes home. Often, there is no responsibility or desire to do anything more than what is required during working hours. When a team approach is used and compensation is commensurate with performance, you tend to have more enthusiastic team members. You will find that they are willing to go out of their way to make the practice successful.

The key to providing this type of atmosphere and pay is based on incentive. Without incentive, the desire to excel is usually nonexistent. Either with percentage increases or straight monetary exchange, the incentive to outperform is always present. There should be rewards that come with a good job well done. Remember the first rule of business: You must spend money to make money. Who better to spend it on than those you truly care about?

You can buy new products and equipment, but you cannot buy happiness. You have to create it. The Conceptualized Team Approach to Dentistry requires stepping out of the "traditional rules." If fashioned in a calculated manner and accompanied with an open mind, this approach can work to everyone's advantage. You spend as much time, if not more, with your team than you spend with your family; they are an extension of your family.

Following the guidelines above, your team will serve as an extension of your beliefs, philosophies, and goals. Your team is the most valuable asset in your practice; treat it as such.

  • Hire individuals who will reflect your practice philosophy.
  • Care for your team in a manner that promotes self-worth and creative freedom.
  • Incorporate team members in all aspects of your daily practice.

Staff is an old way of referring to the people who have the most impact on your business. This term should be eliminated from everyday practice vocabulary. The team approach requires you to be the coach/leader. Open up and lend yourself to the practice of today and the future. Acknowledge that you, as the dentist, cannot do it all. For this reason, require those who serve as extensions of you to perform as you would in any given situation. Surround yourself with positive, fun-loving people and enjoy yourself, your team, your practice, and the successes that come with them.

Coming up…Next month, we will explore the aspects of dealing with and treating your patients.

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