THE SUCCESS CONFERENCE

The employee performance appraisal, while still necessary, is no longer an evil today with the use of the Success Conference

By Ronald F. Arndt, DDS, MBA, MAGD

The Success Conference is a productive alternative to the traditional performance review. There are thousands of different formats, tools, questionnaires, and assessments available to the dentist to use for the often-dreaded staff performance evaluation review. For many dentists, these evaluations are viewed as a necessary evil and yet the value and importance of this management function is critical to the long-term financial success of your practice.

Employee performance appraisal plays a vital role in setting a practice's goals, encouraging excellence, and measuring productivity. Its results are used in determining compensation, selecting people for projects, and imposing discipline fairly or terminating someone legally. When done well, the appraisal process is critical to a practice's success because it teaches employees what's important and ensures that the doctor makes the best use of the staff's abilities. Well-delivered evaluations improve doctor/employee communication, create a more positive and productive work environment—while helping the doctor communicate expectations clearly— and provide employees with a tangible way to gauge their progress. Excellent performance appraisals motivate your employees to excel!

Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of performance review participants, both givers and receivers of feedback, dislike the experience. Through my coaching with clients, I have discovered that both the dentist and the employee often will avoid this valuable process for many reasons:

1) a desire to avoid confrontation that may be uncomfortable;
2) no training or experience in delivering these reviews;
3) a perceived lack of time;
4) a perceived low level of importance;
5) history of little or no improvement in employee performance;
6) confusion on how to deliver;
7) lack of an appropriate form or format to deliver and share information with the employee;
8) disinterest by either one or both parties (doctor and employee). In spite of these many objections, appraising performance benefits both the practice as a whole and the employee as an individual.

As an alternative to the traditional performance appraisal format—where the doctor uses a structured outline to judge the performance of the employee, or compares the employee's self-evaluation with the doctor's evaluation—the Success Conference is powerful.

The Success Conference provides a positive tool to encourage your dental team members to focus their energies on those things you want to see more of, less of, modified, deleted, grown, developed, enhanced, or expanded. Rather than judge employees, you get to grow and encourage your employees while they are supporting your practice objectives and profitability. The Success Conference requires less preparation time as you and your employee are not obligated to fill out forms, paperwork, and assessments before the meeting.

The Success Conference is fun, subtle, direct, and future-focused. It also eliminates the often uncomfortable confrontation that dentists avoid at almost all costs, while at the same time providing leadership and guidance to the team member.

The traditional performance evaluation often is viewed as a "put down, a negative, an opportunity to tell me what I'm not doing right." By approaching the same scenario with a different view, you are able to create a performance evaluation that is positive, growth-oriented, and enabling. Often the doctor covers a lot of data, yet there is no real information shared with the employee. The employee frequently complains that what the doctor measures is irrelevant to real work performance, or mediocre performers are rated the same as stars.

Far too often, performance appraisals deliver "results" that have little impact or credibility. They may measure abstractions that have little relevance to the person or position being assessed. Or they may automatically rate everyone as "above average" or even "superior." When this happens, truly superior employees are not recognized, and poor performers are not even identified, much less given tools for improvement.

All too frequently, the performance appraisal is done once a year to decide bonuses or "because we have to," with the results ignored the rest of the time. Too often, performance appraisal is done simply because the doctor read it in a dental magazine without any real thought about the true goal: to inspire and enable a meaningful improvement in the performance of an employee. Even if completed performance reviews aren't relegated to back room storage, they often provide only half the story: a review of past performance, without addressing how to leverage strengths or develop needed skills for the future.

Most employees dread the performance appraisal because the process is deeply flawed. It doesn't have to be that way. There is a way to make this process more inspirational than intimidation. Even stellar performers can break a sweat when they know their performance is being scrutinized and evaluated, especially when raises are at stake.

Through the use of Success Conferences, you are not so much judging individuals as much as you are developing performance measurements that serve as benchmarks, and you are providing the structure for improving performance—the real goal of the performance appraisal. By using this approach, your appraisal process will not depend on fallible human judgments. Busy dentists will no longer make hasty judgments based on recent performance.


Top 10 Tips to Preparing and Delivering the Success Conference
By Ronald F. Arndt, DDS, MBA, MAGD

Have you noticed how your practice's employees HATE to do the dreaded performance review? If it's not working, change it. That's when the traditional finger-pointing, negative performance review is replaced with the Success Conference.

For dentists, the ability to use Success Conferences to develop and encourage employees is a core management skill. And it can be learned. Regular, constructive feedback on performance is vital if your staff members are to build on their strengths and grow in their capabilities and contributions to the practice.

Your employees are your most important asset. They represent you in all facets of your practice. If you nurture and take care of your employees, they will nurture and take care of your patients. So the question is, "How do I motivate my team to do its job as if the team co-owned the business?" One piece of this practice growth puzzle is to deliver regular, quality Success Conferences where the focus of these meetings is supporting employees to achieve current and new practice goals.

Consider the following Top 10 tips to making your Success Conferences really successful.

1) Understand the purpose of the Success Conference. To develop people by encouraging them to work to their full potential, to provide feedback and praise for good performance when you see it, to motivate people to continue positive behaviors, and to make certain people know how important they are to your practice.

2) Schedule it. Consider a Success Conference at least twice a year and preferably once a quarter. Things that get measured and acknowledged get done. By scheduling these reviews more regularly, you will be on the offensive rather than the defensive and you are in a better position to offer suggestions for improvement more regularly and consistently.

3) Set the objectives. Plan ahead. Current job descriptions are critical in order to use the Success Conference as a way to discuss, revise, and align individual objectives with your practice goals. Consistent with your core values and vision, what are the specific outcomes you want from each of your employees? Be prepared to provide detailed outcomes you want from your team members.

4) Establish measurements. Things that get measured get done. Provide agreeable, challanging, realistic, and quantifiable performance measures for each objective. Performance outcomes measured in numeric or percentage terms will provide your employees with specific targets and give them a sense of acheievement when they surpass them.

5) Create a reporting mechanism. Each week or month prearrange a 10- to 30-minute project update review time for your employees to report on their progress. This way you will always know of their progress and how to best support them.

Ask the following four questions:

• How are you doing?
• What's not working?
• What's working?
• What resources do you need from me?

6) Empower your employees. By starting with the presumption that people come to work to succeed, delegate to them to gain their commitment to action and encourage them to use their own initiatives. Give them control over what they achieve by agreeing on the objectives and their responsibilities to bring the project or goal to completion. By being less dependent on you, the manager, they have the potential to be more effective and can save you time. Insist that your employees come to you with solutions rather than problems.

7) Acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge. Behaviors that get recognized and rewarded get done. Find out what it is that motivates each member of your team. There is no limit to the number of ways to recognize your team members for their successful completion of a practice or individual objective. Remember, success routinely breeds further success. Match the reward to the level of difficulty of the objective or goal.

8) Look back at the period since the last Success Conference. Discuss how the employee has used the challenges and successes in their previous development plan to improve their capabilities. This helps the employee understand the value of the Success Conference, the value of the development activities they have undertaken, and how they are improving their ability to contribute to the team and the success of the practice.

9) Encourage discussion. You as the manager ask most of the questions and listen the most. Encourage the team member to talk about the challenges and obstacles they have overcome in achieving their objective. If they have not successfully hit their goals, question them further to learn what steps can be taken to help them reach their goals. Keep asking open-ended questions to gain their involvement and to encourage an expansive answer.

10) Confirm the date for you and your employees' next Success Conference and new set of objectives. Plan ahead for the next review. Be certain the date is on the calendar and clarify your next two to three specific and measurable objectives to accomplish between now and the next Success Conference. Leave nothing to chance or conjecture. Be specific. Be concrete. Be enthusiastic.

Your job as a dental CEO is to manage and coach your employees on how to improve their performance. Simply telling people what to do is not effective: results need to be measured and monitored to provide important, specific, and timely feedback. Take the action step now to arrange individual Success Conferences with each of your team members. You can expect elevated performance from your team, more fun in practicing dentistry, and an increase in your income if you follow the above steps.

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