It starts with the right People

June 1, 2003
Skills and experience are valuable, but what your practice really needs is enthusiasm!

by Dr. Jerry Willbur and Dr. Dany Tse

Skills and experience are valuable, but what your practice really needs is enthusiasm!

We don't often think about the parallels between high-tech military aircraft and dentistry. One of the big challenges facing fighter pilots is very similar to what we experience in dentistry. No, not battle fatigue! It's called "the pilot's paradox." Fighter pilots must have laser-like focus and keen awareness of their surroundings. Otherwise, they can become fixated on their target and literally fly themselves into the ground.

In the same way, dentists become engrossed on critically important "inside the mouth" issues and lose their awareness of their surroundings. One of the most important "outside the mouth" issues dentists face is their support team. Do you have the right people doing the right things the right way? You can be doing all the right things, but the wrong people will undo them. Putting the right people in the right place to do the right things is the key to growing your dental practice from good to great.

Passion and dentistry

How passionate are you about dentistry? It's an exciting profession. We are privileged to provide and see the dramatic effect of our expertise — nearly immediate relief from suffering. Continuing research has proven the link of gum disease to so many other debilitating diseases, meaning the role of good dental care will grow even more important.

The need for a committed and dedicated staff cannot be overemphasized. Dentists must set the example by demonstrating an unparalleled passion for the profession. If your attitude and actions fail to communicate a real enjoyment and zeal, your staff will sense it and will likewise pass on this apathy to your patients. And patients seldom are more enthusiastic about your office than your own team. Patients who are merely satisfied patients will often look elsewhere for care. However, enthusiastic patients not only won't look elsewhere, but also will bring other people to the practice. Frederick Reichheld's great book, The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value details the extensive research conducted in this area. Your enthusiasm builds enthusiasm and loyalty in your staff. Your team in turn conveys this enthusiasm to your patients — verbally and nonverbally. This confidence and caring builds trust and loyalty in your patients.

You get only one chance to make a good first impression. And more than 90 percent of the time, first impressions occur over the phone. The next impression is when a patient walks up to your door for the first time, and is greeted (hopefully) by an enthusiastic and professional person who lives and breathes customer service. Your reception area (not "waiting room") makes the next impact, followed by the dental assistant, who also should exude a caring and confident demeanor. The final impact is from the "inside of the mouth" person.

Imagine the difference it makes if each of these "customer encounters of the first kind" are all "wow" experiences. Conversely, imagine what the impact is if somewhere along the way, the encounter is unsatisfactory. We know that a person under high stress — a dental patient in pain — is already experiencing heightened sensitivity to his or her surroundings. This all has a dramatic impact on patients. When they see a consistently confident, caring, and competent team in action, it builds trust — and case acceptance.

The talent equation

How do we hire truly talented people and develop their passion and enthusiasm? Two things are essential to accurately assess the talent equation. First, you must have a Talent Value Proposition (TVP). You must know without a doubt why an individual wants to work for you and in the field of dentistry. Do you have a model team member? Ask that person to define why working in a dental practice — particularly your dental practice — is ideal. What gets you excited about dentistry? Add to your TVP the aforementioned reasons to be passionate about dentistry. Make it a concise, one-page document about why your practice is a great place to work and why you and your team are so passionate about dentistry.

A key part of any TVP is your practice vision and value statements. A vision statement is a simple, one-sentence statement of what you want your practice to be in three years. One office we work with shares the following vision statement: "Be the recognized leader in our community in using digital dentistry to provide the highest levels of dental care." The values should be a list of three to five brief sentences stating your deep, enduring beliefs about people and the practice of dentistry. For the Master Dentist Institute, we live the following five core values:

• Do all things with integrity.
• Deliver the highest quality and service.
• Do the right things right, enthusiastically.
• Develop and grow all our people.
• Deliver value to our customers.

The value statement is critical; it can help you screen potential candidates or even current team members who are not on board with your vision. It should be posted in open view, and employees should have a firm grasp of how their contributions impact your practice. This should be a key portion of your TVP. Once you finish the TVP, give it a critical look. Does it reflect what you really are and would it convince a top candidate that this is an exciting place to work? As the digital dental revolution explodes, dentists must place an even greater importance on attracting, retaining, and motivating top performers. Unless you are rock-solid certain about what a great place you have to work, you won't be successful in keeping top performers.

The second critical key to attracting, retaining, and motivating top people is having a talent template for each position on your team. Obviously, there are essential professional qualifications for most positions. These are called eligibility factors and are hopefully connected to ability. But equally important (and too often overlooked) are the factors we call suitability issues, which often are concerned with attitude and attributes. For example, a person working in a high-tech office must be computer savvy and should view technology as a helpful tool that frees the caregiver to spend more time with patients. Top performers are flexible, continuous learners who are highly inquisitive and open to new experiences. People who are genuinely enthusiastic about meeting new people and who are positive and upbeat should fill those positions that require heavy patient contact. It is an old adage that one bad apple can spoil a bushel. When it comes to adding new team members, one bad attitude can spoil a great team! Suitability is all about positive attitude and attributes that will make your practice a people friendly place.

Once you have a talent template of suitability traits, we suggest you design a series of questions to make the candidates specifically explain how they exhibit them. Get your team involved for a fun and illuminating experience! For example, for technology orientation, we ask prospective employees specifically how often they use a computer. This forces them to give you a 'behavior-based' answer. These BBQs (behavioral based questions) really help you get past the issue of hiring the 'interview' instead of the interviewee. What do we mean? We all have experienced many interviews and basically know how to answer the 'right' way. We don't interview for the fun of it — we need a job. BBQs help you cut through the smoke to the real kindling. What makes this person glow and go?

To determine customer service orientation, we like to ask people to give a recent example of when they have given excellent service. A person who is truly customer-service oriented will have no problem providing an answer. Later in the interview, we ask for examples of how they handled a difficult customer. We do suggest you write all these questions down for each trait on the talent template in an easily used format and ask everyone you interview the same questions for the sake of consistency.

Structured team interviews

This type of talent template and behavioral-based questioning will really differentiate you and your team from other offices. Then when you find people you are really interested in and share your Talent Value Proposition with them, you should really distinguish yourself from the crowd. If you have a digital office, let an excited team member take them on a tour and show all the latest equipment. When hiring superstars, it's important to remember that they are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them!

Another great strategy is to get your entire team involved by doing structured team interviews. You or another designated team member may want to winnow the candidate list down, but then the team should interview the last two or three candidates. This way, everyone has a stake in seeing the new team member come on board and succeed.

Living next door to the gold mine

If you were a gold miner, where would you live? Knowing how valuable gold is and how many people want to 'share' it, you would probably want to live by the gold mine until the vein ran out. What does this have to do with getting the right people? They are your gold. Just lose one and then try to calculate how much time and treasure it really takes to adequately replace a real superstar.

The general assumption is that it costs the equivalent of one year's salary. It's not just lost production while a new hire gets up to speed or is it the costs of an employee search. Losing a valuable employee also means lost customer service continuity, lost customer confidence, and lower case acceptance due to lost efficiency and effectiveness. So, live at the gold mine by taking care of what is truly your most important asset — your people. Invest in your gold mine.

Living at the gold mine also means knowing where the talent is in your community. Offer to speak at the local dental assistant school or school of hygiene that turns out great talent. Have one of your enthusiastic team members speak at the local association for dental professionals. Get involved and look for people who fit your talent template. Sometimes even look in the 'wrong' places. One dentist we work with got his employment ad accidentally placed in the wrong section of the want ads and was inundated with very talented, customer service oriented people who were surprised and delighted to find dental offices can bring in 'suitable' people and make them 'eligible' in many positions! A highly motivated person can learn almost anything you want to teach when they see an opportunity. Talented people will develop educational "Velcro" — everything sticks. They also have no bad habits to unlearn. You can start with a blank slate and develop a dental superstar! Keep your eyes and ears open for the gifted customer service oriented person.

The gold mine might even be your own office. We encourage the offices we work with to make a note of anyone really interested in digital equipment and who seem enthusiastic about innovations. When an opening comes up, we can call them, commenting on their interest and enthusiasm and asking if they know of anyone similar who might be interested in joining the team. The worse that can happen is that you compliment them. The best thing is you find a great new team member!

Growing the high-performance team

One of the great benefits of working on a high performance dental team is that everyone puts positive pressure on each other to be the best. In turn, this high-performance practice personality acts like a magnet to attract other high performers. Each person is looking for another way to improve team performance. The emphasis is on not just catching the next wave of change but creating and leading change. This environment not only enhances your practice image, but also continuously re-energizes your career interest. While you don't have to be a digital office to get the right people and to create a high performance practice, new technology definitely makes it easier to attract and retain top performers and the top patients you want to grow your practice.

Once the groundwork is completed to create the talent templates, the TVP, and the structured interview questions, you are well on your way to creating that high-performance practice. Just the process itself will invigorate you and your team. Remember the pilot paradox, and look at the team around you. If you have a gold mine of talent now, do all you can to keep them. If not, get a vision of where you want your practice to grow and start growing your practice from good to great today. It all starts with the right people.

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