Praise, compliment, and thank me ... please!

Thanking your team is a vital part of effective leadership. Your team craves it ... and it's up to you to provide it. Here's why!

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by Nate Booth, DDS

A Paris opera house scheduled a famous singer to appear in one of its productions. Ticket sales boomed, and by the night of the opera, the event was a sellout and a full house awaited the performance.

A feeling of anticipation and excitement was in the air when the house manager stepped onstage and announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your enthusiastic support, but I have news that may be disappointing to some. An accident — not serious in nature, but serious enough — will prevent the woman you have come to hear from performing tonight." He went on to give the name of the understudy who would step into the role, but the crowd groaned and drowned out his voice. The excitement in the audience turned to bitter disappointment and frustration.

The stand-in artist gave the performance everything she had. Yet throughout the evening, there was nothing in response but an uneasy quiet. Even at the end, no one applauded. Then, from the balcony, the thin voice of a little boy broke the silence. "Mommy," he called out, "I think you were wonderful!" The crowd was mute for a second longer, then broke into thunderous applause.

In many ways, your dental office is like the opera house. Your team members are the understudies, and you are the little boy in the balcony. When you sincerely and consistently praise your team after they have given everything they have in performance, they will feel fantastic, do even better the next time, and enjoy walking in the door every day.

Unfortunately, this kind of praise isn't always present in dental offices. Why is that? The vast majority of dentists care about the people who work with them, but they are often too busy and too stressed or don't have enough good ideas to make staff feel appreciated on a regular basis.

Here's another reason this praise and recognition is lacking in dental offices. A series of studies by Lawrence Lindahl, Ken Kovach, and Bob Nelson revealed that what managers perceived to be most important to employees was vastly different from what employees reported to be desirable. Below is a chart of 10 factors employees look for in a job and how managers and employees ranked each of them.

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As you can see, managers thought money would be ranked the highest. Employees ranked "full appreciation of work done" as the highest. Their managers ranked it eighth! The bottom line is this: Being appreciated is extremely important to dental teams; but, good ol' doc doesn't know it — and therefore doesn't do it!

Just how often are today's employees receiving that recognition and rewards they desire? Take a look at these statistics from a study done by Dr. Gerald Graham of 1,500 corporate employees:

• 58 percent said they seldom if ever received personal thanks from their manager.

• 76 percent said they seldom if ever received written thanks from their manager.

• 81 percent said they seldom if ever received public praise in the workplace.

• 92 percent said they seldom if ever participated in morale-building meetings.

The majority of dentists probably do a better job than these statistics might indicate, and most dentists can do even better. What follows are four practical ideas you can employ tomorrow to let your team know you care.

Idea No. 1 Compliment your team regularly.

Giving an effective compliment — one that makes everyone feel good and encourages more of the complimented behavior — is an art.

Here is a five-step blueprint you can use to give effective compliments right away!

1. Compliment the person as soon as possible after the behavior.

2. Begin the compliment with the person's name.

3. Compliment a specific action. It's important the person being complimented links the praise to a specific action. Then, he or she knows exactly what to do again.

4. Explain why the action was important to you. This step adds extra impact to the compliment.

5. End the compliment by asking a question to gain more information or by "tying a bow" on the conversation with your sentiments, such as, "Keep up the great work!" or "I really appreciate having you on our team!"

Here's an example of how the above five steps work together. After you check a provisional restoration, you might say, "Maria, you did a wonderful job on this provisional! The bite and contacts are perfect, and it looks great. This will make it easy to put in the permanent restoration. I really appreciate your skill!" Whenever possible, compliment the team member when the patient is present. It amplifies the power of the compliment.

Idea No. 2 Thank team members with written notes.

In addition to verbally thanking your team as a group and as individuals, every once in awhile, express your appreciation in writing. You'd be surprised at the number of people who keep written thank-you notes for years.

The following will give you some content ideas. It's adapted from a chapter by Penny Reed in the book FUNdamentals of Outstanding Dental Teams, edited by Vicki McManus, RDH. Be sure to personalize your message as much as possible.

Dear Dr. Maria,

Thank you for being part of my team. You're a vital contributor to the excellent care we give our patients. Thank you for your dedication. You've been with us for two years now, and I feel like you're a part of our family. Thanks for sticking with me through the good times and bad.

Thank you for your commitment to our patients. I have so much confidence in you and your abilities. It's nice to know I have you on our team to take excellent care of our patients.

Thank you for your honesty and commitment to open and supportive communication. I truly value your integrity.

I've really enjoyed the past two years, and I look forward to many more. I'm so glad you're on my team.

[Your Signature]

Idea No. 3 Be creative with your praise and recognition.

When it comes to praise and recognition, you've got to be creative. Doing it the same old way all the time becomes boring for everyone. Here are some new and different ways to let your team know you care:

1. Give staff members a "PASS IT ON Card" from Argus Communications (www.argus.com). The PASS IT ON card has a butterfly design and the saying, "Some people make the world more special just by being in it," on the front. On the back, it reads, "PASS IT ON." When you give staff members the card, ask them to give it to another person in the next 48 hours — someone who has done some little thing that made a difference in their lives.

2. Write a poem. You may be a poet and don't know it! Write a poem (or have your spouse do it). Here's an example:

You schedule visits and that's not all,
Insurance, emergencies and telephone calls,
Forms for this and forms for that,
You do the things that would drive me bats!
So pick up the phone and dial away.
Have some cake, ice cream, and a Happy Birthday!

3. Ask for help. Want to make your team members feel important? Ask for their help! Say, "I need some advice. Can you spare a moment?" Turning to an employee for counsel sends a powerful message of trust and respect. Employees will scale mountains for doctors who demonstrate these qualities.

4. Are you "out to lunch?" One of the greatest gifts that you can give to someone is the gift of your time. Once a month, take a team member out to lunch — just you and the team member. Use this opportunity to give praise and instill the positive values you want to see in your team. More importantly, ask for the person's ideas for improving the practice. This is another chance to show trust and respect.

5. Use Recognition FUNdamentals from Baudville (www.baudville.com). Recognition FUNdamentals contains Recognition PostIt Notes, note cards, reward coupons, thank-you cards, and seals you can use to let your team know you care.

6. Leave an appreciation note, along with a small gift, in the work areas of team members after they have left for the day. The next time they arrive at the office, they'll have a wonderful surprise to start the day.

7. On a calendar or in your contact-management system, note the hiring dates for all your team members. On their anniversary dates, take them out to lunch, give them a unique gift, and let them know how much you appreciate another year of service.

Idea No. 4 Realize people are different and everyone has a unique way of feeling important.

Here's where it gets really interesting. Most people assume others want recognition the same way that they do. So, they give (or don't give) recognition the same way they want to receive it.

Vicki McManus, RDH, has studied this dynamic and discovered that dentists, hygienists, assistants, and front-office people have unique desires when it comes to recognition.

Dentists tend to want professional recognition for their technical skills/artistry from other dentists, their patients, and staff. They also want community recognition as a valuable member of the community.

Hygienists tend to want a close, personal relationship with their patients. They love to educate and improve the lives of their patients. They tend to need smaller amounts of recognition from the other people in the office as they get their "juice" from the patients.

Assistants tend to desire recognition for efficiency and technical skill from the doctor: "The doctor is my boss. I aim to please her, and I need to feel appreciated for my efforts." Assistants don't mind receiving recognition from other people in the office; they just don't know how to handle it! Therefore, they don't actively seek it.

Front-office people tend to like recognition "for all we do up here" from everyone — the doctor, the patients, and the staff. They are more independent, so they can go longer periods of time without recognition—kind of like a camel with water. But remember, even a camel runs out of water every once in awhile!

James Autry said, "A good leader is one who approaches leadership as a calling — a life engagement that, if done properly, combines technical and administrative skills with vision, compassion, honesty, and trust to create an environment in which people can grow personally, can feel fulfilled, can contribute to a common good, and can share in the psychic and financial rewards of a job well done."

This quote beautifully sums up my points in this article. I hope you see why praising, complimenting, and thanking your team is a vital part of effective leadership. Your team craves it — each in his or her own special way. It's up to you to provide it!

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