Finding and keeping the right people

Nov. 1, 2010
Your dental practice is like an automobile, and your staff members are the wheels.

Dianne Glasscoe Watterson

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: work ethic, attitude, 80/20 rule, roadmap to leadership, Dianne Glasscoe Watterson.

Your DENTAL PRACTICE is like an automobile, and your staff members are the wheels. You drive the car, and they make it possible for you to go where you desire to go. Your staff members can make the journey smooth and pleasant or rough and frustrating.

As the leader of your practice, your goal is to find high-quality people, provide training as needed, and create a work environment that allows staff members to thrive. High-quality people possess two very important innate qualities: work ethic and attitude. A potential staff member's work history can be indicative of his or her work ethic; however, attitude is more important than skill level. People can be trained to perform certain skills, but a positive attitude cannot be taught.

Prior to hiring, make sure to have a well-written job description for each position. Job descriptions are not just laundry lists of duties but also include descriptions of certain duties, such as the verbiage a business assistant should use in answering the telephone. Also include the phrase "other duties as required" to cover nonspecific duties.

Smart hiring starts with smart interviewing. Ask open-ended questions to encourage conversation, such as "What did you like best/least about your last job?" or "Describe the most difficult patient situation you ever experienced."

The 80/20 rule applies; the applicant talks 80% and you talk 20%. Ask only for information that you intend to use to make hiring decisions. Keep discussion and questions relevant to the job.

Your challenge is to provide and maintain a work environment that is positive, professionally rewarding, harmonious, and low stress. Staff members develop loyalty when they feel respected and appreciated. You demonstrate that you value staff members when you provide continual learning opportunities.

Make arrangements to take your entire staff to a major dental meeting every one to two years. Ask staff members to be prepared to share at the next staff meeting three things they learned at the major dental meeting.

It is also important to compensate staff members well. If you pay above-average wages, you will have no problem attracting and retaining above-average employees.

Some employers use bonus incentives as part of compensation to increase motivation. For incentives to work, they must be attainable, easily understandable, and adjusted as needed.

Your attitude toward staff members is an important aspect of staff longevity. The leadership style you choose - participative or dictatorial - will be instrumental in staff loyalty and overall happiness. Leadership is not arrogance, power, or having people walk on eggshells. It is not about being right all the time, nor is it about perfection.

Leadership is about believing in your group and understanding that each person has a vast reservoir of untapped potential.

What makes an employer a great leader? It is a combination of these traits: inner strength, self-control, a gentle spirit, patience, compassion - and most of all - love. Be intentional about developing and exercising these traits if you aspire to become a great leader in your practice.

Dianne Glasscoe Watterson is a consultant, speaker, and author. She helps good practices become better through practical onsite consulting. Her book, "Manage Your Practice Well," can be purchased through her Web site at For speaking or consulting inquiries, contact her at [email protected] or by telephone at (301) 874-5240. Assembling a winning team can be challenging and rewarding. Sharing your practice's mission first sets the tone for a productive interview. Then look and listen! Listen for tone, grammar usage, confidence, and passion. Look at body language and attire.

Don't get hung up on what the applicant knows about the dental office and processes. Look for things you cannot teach such as compassion, a warm smile, and dependability. Check the applicant's references and your gut!

If you have a bonus system in place, these three factors will help make it a success:

  • Make sure the goal is attainable.
  • Give the bonus with a grateful heart.
  • Pay it in a timely manner.
One of the members of my great team gave me this tip. She sums up teamwork in five short words: "We believe in each other."Melanie Duncan, practice administrator for CountrySide Dental Care in West Des Moines, Iowa, was AADOM's 2008 Office Manager of the Year. Contact her at [email protected].

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