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Overcoming the ‘me against them’ mentality

June 1, 2008
Dr. Cheswick* can't believe it. Julie, the front desk coordinator, just put in her two-week's notice.
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Dr. Cheswick* can't believe it. Julie, the front desk coordinator, just put in her two-week's notice. She is the third staff member to leave the practice in two months.

“How can this be happening? I pay my staff well,” he says to himself.

Dr. Cheswick has always assumed that high turnover is the nature of the business. But he admits things have gotten ridiculous of late. With the exception of the office manager, everybody on his team has been with the practice less than two years.

“What can I do differently to keep employees longer?” he wonders.

During the exit interview, Julie explains to Dr. Cheswick why she decided to leave.

“It wasn't the compensation so much, though some kind of bonus program would've been nice. But it was the atmosphere and the overall work environment.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don't feel valued. You don't listen to your employees. You have good people and completely ignore their input.”

Dr. Cheswick was shocked. He thought he was a good leader and a good employer. The interview was a humbling experience.

“What can I do differently?” Dr. Cheswick asks.

“You need to communicate better. No one in the practice knows what's going on. You got rid of regular morning meetings and staff meetings because you said they turned into gripe sessions. The reason we spoke up is because we care about both our jobs and the practice. You want employees who care, don't you?”

What can Dr. Cheswick do to build a stronger team and improve his practice? For practices in a similar situation, Levin Group recommends the following action steps.

1. Create a practice vision

Only you can identify what your vision is for your practice. Take time away from the staff and office to clearly define what you think your practice should be like. Once defined, write it down in a vision statement. It should focus on where you want the practice to go — not where it is today. Many people are motivated by the challenge of moving toward the vision statement and achieving goals over time. This keeps dentistry exciting for all team members.

2. Get everyone involved

You now know what you want, but maybe through all your planning, you have missed something. Maybe there are factors to consider that haven't yet been taken into account. Remember, you are spending the majority of your time in the office practicing dentistry. The perspectives of your office manager, front-office staff, and other team members are valuable tools to help develop the vision. Seeking input from your team helps create a solid vision for the future while fostering buy-in from your staff. When the staff feels that they are part of the team, the practice will likely have less turnover as well as greater success in achieving goals.

3. Set 12-month goals based on the vision

You have a solid idea of what the practice's vision should be. You have feedback from staff, and perhaps family. So how do you ensure the practice is headed in the direction necessary to meet your vision? This is where goals come in. Goals can be simple, such as every patient will be greeted by a front-office person within one minute of arrival. They can be complex, such as meeting certain production goals monthly. Whatever goals you choose, they must support your vision.

4. Communicate with your staff

You must communicate effectively with your entire team every day. Make sure you know if there are factors that your staff feels are blocking their ability to help the practice reach your vision. Hold daily morning meetings and monthly staff meetings. An open-door policy ensures staff feedback and effective two-way communication.

5. Lead by example

Your team is watching. Your behavior and demeanor affect how your team views the practice. A dentist who is positive, motivational, and energetic will transmit this to the team and patients. By observing the dentist's behavior, the team should understand that the practice's key purpose is to create the right environment for patients. Conversely, a dentist who is negative will create a team with a negative attitude, ultimately affecting the environment and customer service.

6. Delegate

To maximize productivity and profitability, you must delegate responsibilities to your team. Levin Group teaches that dentists should delegate tasks that they are not required by law or state board regulations to perform. Although each office task has different levels of difficulty and requires varying abilities or skills, proper training will help team members learn to perform these functions. When you delegate tasks, you spend more time chairside providing patient care, resulting in increased efficiency, production, and profitability.

7. Be positive

It is very important that you are confident, upbeat, and positive in all interactions with your staff. Remember, you are the practice leader and your staff will take their cue from you on how to act and react in certain situations. Arriving at work every day with a positive attitude will have an effect on the team. People like to work in a positive environment, and many team members have already left one or more jobs where the environment was unfavorable. Individuals will often stay in a job as a result of a positive environment even if they think they could make a little more money elsewhere. The rules of developing a positive attitude are simple:

  • Refuse to say anything negative.
  • Never say anything bad about other people in or out of the office.
  • Come to the office in a good mood.
  • Find reasons to compliment team members on the good things they have done.

By following these steps at all times, you will convey a positive attitude that the team members will view as a favorable comment on their performance. You will also be creating an office culture where people want to come to work rather than simply wanting to get through their days.


Dr. Cheswick believed high turnover was inevitable. And so it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It doesn"t have to be that way. Yes, turnover will occur over the years, but you don"t have to be a victim of high employee turnover. These seven action steps can help you build a strong core team committed to the practice"s long-term success.

* Based on a Levin Group client experience.

Dental Economics readers are entitled to a 20% courtesy on the Levin Group Practice Power Seminar that will be held July 18-19 in Dalllas. This seminar experience will offer the action steps needed to increase production and productivity while reducing stress for you and your team. To register and receive your discount, call (888) 973-0000 and mention "Dental Economics" or e-mail [email protected] with "Dental Economics" in the subject line.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, is founder and CEO of Levin Group, a leading dental management consulting firm that is dedicated to improving the lives of dentists through a diverse portfolio of lifetime services and solutions. Since the company"s inception in 1985, Dr. Levin has worked to bring the business world to dentistry. Reach the Levin Group at (888) 973-000 or

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