by Lorie Streeter
Dental office managers are a unique personality type. We didn’t wake up one day and say, “I want to be a dental office manager.” At Career Day, no one really puts this aspiration at the top of their list, and as kids we don’t say, “I want to be a dental office manager when I grow up.” So the first thing you, as an employer, must realize is that most of us fell into our jobs by fate or circumstance. Personally, I was singing in a bar when I met my first boss. I was working for an ophthalmologist at the time, and my potential employer wooed me with the idea of working Monday through Thursdays, long lunches, and half-day Fridays! I thought at 19 years old that I had hit the jackpot! “Is this guy crazy?” I thought. I didn’t find out how tough a job it was until I showed up on my first day, which was after the office had been closed from Christmas until after New Year’s. There were 10 pounds of mail stacked up, and a sweet assistant who threw a 700-page dental assisting book at me and told me with a sneer to “learn it.” Well, I did, and I worked in that office for more than 10 years.
I have now worked in the dental industry for over 20 years, and I have worked with hundreds of dentists and thousands of office managers as the Midwest Regional Representative for the American Association of Dental Office Managers. I am about to share with you some key points about enhancing your relationship with your office manager, based upon my experience and the words of more than 2,300 office managers on AADOM’s message boards.
It is important that you acknowledge, respect, and understand the office manager’s role in your practice. There are so many tasks that she performs in the practice that never get recognized or complimented. When my boss said things that let me know he was “tuned in” to what I was doing, I wanted to do more. Take the time to pay attention to what your office manager is working on. Ask questions, give compliments, and truly become interested in what her job entails. This will not only keep you informed but it will also show your office manager that you understand and recognize what a big responsibility she holds in the practice. Remember, she probably didn’t choose this as a career — it just happened. Wouldn’t it be nice if it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her?
One of the best things you can give to your office manager is trust. You trusted Linda enough to give her this title, so demonstrating your trust in her will only enhance her place in the office. Your office manager should be your right hand. As you or your assistants walk the patient up to the front counter, you should be assuring the patient that “Linda, our office manager, will take care of you from here.” Or, if you have a larger staff, mentioning something about your office manager to your patients shows them that you have a tight-knit group, and that you trust your office manager to make sure things run smoothly and accurately. This level of trust will again make your office manager want to do more for you. The more engaged your office manager is in your practice, the more you will gain in terms of patient loyalty, referrals, and retention of a great employee.
It is just as important to reward your office manager for helping you steer the ship. It is important to reward a job well done with unexpected moments of appreciation. A thank you card, a gift card for her favorite store, flowers on “Administrative Professionals Day,” or even a bonus plan can change the level at which an office manager performs her job. People don’t just work for paychecks these days. Sometimes a carrot is a great incentive. If your office offers teeth whitening, for example, and the office manager helps to seal the deal for treatment, offer an incentive bonus for that and watch your whitening procedures skyrocket. It is so important that every member of your team, including the office manager, understands the expectations or focus of what you want articulated to your patients.
Most dentists that I know were not taught in school how to do reviews of their staff’s performance. It is easy to tell a patient that they need a root canal, but it is very difficult to complete your staff’s review. For an office manager, the review is a critical check-in point. It is a measure of what you think of her work, personality, interaction with the patients, and most importantly, what you think of the job she is doing. If you need help with doing reviews, there are many resources online to assist you. Most importantly, document your meeting and use this time (if appropriate) to share with your office manager those things that you appreciate and those things you would like to build for the future. Make her feel as though her part in the process is critical to the success of the practice.
As a dental office manager for more than 12 years, I admit that doctors and staff with their DDS, RDH, RDA, CDA, and other acronyms made me envious that I didn’t have a title. Your office manager’s education is just as important as the continuing education that you help to provide for the back office staff. Dental claims, processing, streamlining, patient communications, marketing, and other important aspects of their jobs are ever-changing, too. Your office manager should be included in budget planning when it comes to education. Send your office manager to classes, conferences, or meetings. The AADOM (www.dentalmanagers.com) is a perfect example of how to show your office manager that his or her education is important to you.
When I present at our annual dental managers’ conference every year, you would be amazed if you could see the look of pride and gratitude that I see on the faces of office managers whose employers sent them to the conference. They know that their dentists took pride in their education, and the enthusiasm level of those managers is always through the roof! So, if your office manager comes to you with an educational opportunity for which she would like your financial support, please do yourself and your practice a favor and check it out. I can assure you a great return on your investment.
These are some very simple things that can make a huge impact on your practice. Dental office managers now have more resources to network than ever before. AADOM is dedicated to the development of office managers across the country, but it is truly up to the dentist to help foster the will and the want of the office manager from their own practice. You truly hold the key to a great relationship with your office manager.
I will close with a portion of a letter sent to us by Dr. Scott Peters of Mankato, Minn. He is an endodontist who nominated his office manager for our coveted “Office Manager of the Year” award. Mindy Otto won that award and I believe is even more successful because of the respect and support she receives from her employer. You can read in his words the embodiment of the areas I mentioned above.
I have worked with other great office managers, but never one with such a masterful combination of professionalism, proficiency in interpersonal skills, and singular ability to look at the “big picture” when it comes to the practice of dentistry. Sure, Mindy handles the day-to-day activities that keep an endodontic practice running smoothly, but she also envisions the future of the practice. Mindy looks for ways to constantly improve the patient experience in our office, our relationships and communication within the practice and with referring offices, and team-building opportunities for our team. With her ability to get the job done and her infectious spirit, she has helped the practice develop a very professional logo, honed the office policies into a clear and comprehensive document, and has brought innovation to the marketing of our practice.
Mindy’s passion, hard work, and desire to continuously improve our practice earn her our office’s respect and admiration on a daily basis. Her initiative, dedication, and efforts to improve the practice of numerous surrounding offices exemplify the true meaning of being a professional.
Lorie Streeter is the Midwest Regional Manager for the American Association of Dental Office Managers. She can be reached by e-mail at StreeterLorieAnn@aol.com.