By Stacey L. Simmons, DDS
WANTED: A dedicated employee who will work hard, have respectable camaraderie with coworkers, show competence in designated duties, not complain, is in it for the long haul, shows up on time, doesn't gossip, is a fast learner, and gives 110%.
That's it! That is all you have to ask for when putting out an advertisement for getting that ideal employee to come knocking at your door with resume in hand.
Now, let's get back to reality. If only it were that easy! For many, including myself, going through the hiring process can be a challenge. There is a lot at stake - keeping current staff happy and getting someone who is proficient with his or her responsibilities. From a business perspective, it can be expensive, especially if you have to hire and train someone; yet few would argue that correctly staffing any business is vital to success - especially in dentistry. If steps are taken to ensure a positive outcome, then it is a win-win for all involved.
I will be the first to admit that I could not do what I do without my staff; they are the backbone of my practice and I am the worker bee. I often get comments from patients saying how wonderful their dental experience was, and yet I am very quick to tell them that my employees - from front to back office - are what help cultivate that memorable encounter. It is true that the patient/doctor relationship is separate from the patient/staff relationship. Despite this, when a cohesive team is on board, the difference is arguably negligible.
For example: My scheduling coordinator ensures that my time in the chair is productive and is used effectively and efficiently. She takes that first phone call and is fantastic about setting the stage for future patient encounters. My office manager (who also is my financial coordinator) assists in staff management, handles patient accounts, and advises me on the health and outlook of the practice. She is my rock and has been with me since the beginning. My business manager keeps the budget on track and works with my accountant so I know what is coming in and going out, where I can streamline my spending, and then anticipate future practice purchase needs. Patients love my hygienists because of their bedside manner, listening skills, and ability to communicate and address concerns. Last but not least are my assistants. They are my right hand. Without them, I would be lost, as they anticipate my needs even before I do!
Without any one of these individuals, I would be nothing but a person with a degree behind my name. I recognize the worth of extraordinary staff and am willing to do what I need to keep them on.
Things have not always been so good though. I have employed people who have left within months, complained that they did not get paid enough, or wanted to work in another area of the office. Some just did not do their jobs.
Knowing the value of a reliable employee, it can undoubtedly be said that having a high turnover in a dental office is very taxing - physically and emotionally - and it does not reflect well on leadership ability or the stability of the office.
So how can we effectively hire, and what are some of the steps that can be taken to ensure a harmonious long-term and reciprocated relationship between employer and employee?
Advertising is the first step to getting the word out that you are looking to hire. Depending on your geographic location, this can be done in a variety of effective ways. I live in a relatively rural area and have found the best advertising resource is through the local job service. Placing an ad in the newspaper is expensive and will only reach a certain number of individuals who actually pick up the paper, which is few and far between, especially since we have endless information available at our fingertips. I have also advertised on my website. Other effective resources are Craigslist and the local and state dental associations.
The ad should be to the point. You want to give enough information to attract individuals who have potential, yet you don't want to be so vague that you are unable to filter out every person from here to there looking for a job.
Once you have a bundle of applications, the fun begins. I have my office manager sift through each submission and put them into two piles - yeas and nays. I don't want to waste my time interviewing someone who has had five jobs in the last six months; that's not a good track record. Once narrowed down, my office manager calls the potential candidates for a brief phone interview - but they don't know that's what it is. Her subsequent line of informal questioning allows her the opportunity to assess phone and verbal skills without me around. First impressions of speaking and communication abilities are essential.
The next step is the actual interview of those who made the phone interview cut. I am a firm believer in first appearances - nice dress, hair, makeup, and presentation says something about self-respect and value. Image is a powerful tool, and who you hire is a reflection on you and the practice. I had someone come in for an interview wearing holey jeans and a hoodie sweatshirt. We got past hello and I sent them on their way.
Keep the questions simple and to the point. Make sure the line of questioning allows you to gain a perspective into the personality of that individual. For example, if you ask: "What would you do if someone gave you $200k?" their answer can give you an impression if they are a giving or a more self-serviced type of individual. Would they give the money to family members or charity, or go spend it on a new car or vacation? There are no right or wrong answers to these types of questions, and you have to be careful not to be judgmental. The point is to get a glimpse into the person's character. Open-ended questions are the best way to achieve this.
Another thing to assess is body language. Is the person's handshake firm? Does he or she look you in the eye when speaking? Look for the quality of the response as well - is there hesitation, fidgeting, or vocal stumbling when answering questions?
If at all possible, do a working interview. Assessing the ability of that person in an actual working environment can be invaluable in the final decision-making process.
Personality, Personality, Personality
If you take anything from this article, this is the golden nugget. Personality is one of the most important factors that you must consider when hiring an individual. Why? Simple. You can't train personality. People who are motivated, friendly, dedicated, and who give it their all are the exact type of individuals who can be trained to do anything in the dental office. On the flip side, someone can have all the skills in the world, but if they can't get along with staff, or if there is an undercurrent present, then you have just signed on to do a lot of micromanaging accompanied with daily headaches.
I have experienced both these situations. I interviewed two individuals for a front desk position - one had experience and said and did all the right things in the interview. Yet I was not blown out of the water with her personality. The second interviewee did not have any dental background, yet her mannerisms, charisma, and apparent impetus were a breath of fresh air. To this day, my decision to hire the latter has been one of my best investments ever.
Anytime a new person is put on the payroll, it is a practice investment of time and finances. Before I commit to a long-term relationship with any employee, I want to know if that person will cut it before I offer any kind of benefits or long-term employee/employer contract. It is important to note that during this probationary period, expectations for the employee need to be spelled out and understood. Having a thorough employee manual is vital. Ensure that the person reads it, initials each page, and gives you a copy for your records.
There is debate about probationary periods, and I respect both sides of the argument. However, I likewise recognize that dentistry is a demanding profession, both physically and psychologically. I see this when I take on high school or college interns who are interested in dentistry. Half of these students, after a day or two in the office, realize that the dental profession is not for them. The same easily can be said when hiring a new staff member. It is a waste of time for all involved if ennui develops three months down the road. If it can be avoided, then it is worth it.
For those reasons, I highly recommend probationary periods with reviews at the 30-, 60-, and 90-day marks. It should be clear that when implementing a probationary time, the employment policies are articulated in a manner that avoids any kind of liability or wrongful termination lawsuit, especially in the event that the employee must be dismissed.
Moreover, it is vital not to create an implied agreement. An implied agreement is one inferred from the acts or conduct of the parties, instead of being expressed by them in written or spoken words (Black's Law Dictionary - Legal Dictionary, 2nd Edition). This can sometimes be difficult to do because our actions, policies, and verbal communications can often be misinterpreted or taken literally.
Ways to avoid creating an implied agreement include:
When applying policies and procedures, ensure that all employees are treated fairly and consistently. Avoid indignation through consistent treatment.
Document, document, document. Should the employee not be hired, evidence that backs up your decision will be available in the event that there is claim of wrongful termination.
Do not make verbal assurances. This can be hard sometimes, as it is natural to praise someone for a job well done. Be careful that your praise is not misinterpreted or taken further than intended.
At the 30-, 60-, and 90-day reviews, the following should be assessed:
Work performance. The erudition of every individual is different, and over the course of the 90 days, improvement must be perceived. If it is lacking at 30 days, then discussion and ways to amend shortfalls necessitates reviewing.
Ability to interact with other team members. This is imperative. Remember - personality, aptitude, and avoiding hubris around coworkers is vital to a long-term, healthy work environment.
Review concerns and clarify any questions and/or confusion about how the office operates.
At the end of the 90 days, if it doesn't work out, then respectfully send the person on his or her way. However, if the probationary period proves to be fruitful, then there is nothing better than offering someone a permanent position in the office. Reiterate and reference the employee manual for eligibility to any benefits. Emphasize the role they play in the office and encourage open communication.
Having the perfect team on board is what every employer strives to procure. Don't get frustrated through the process as it can be a long, arduous one. In the end though, it is most definitely worth it!
Stacey L. Simmons, DDS, is in private practice in Hamilton, Mont. She is a guest lecturer at the University of Montana and is a contributing author for DentistryIQ, Surgical-Restorative Resource, and Dental Economics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.