How to Build a Winning

Nov. 1, 1999
Let?s play a quick game of word association. What?s the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the words Owinning team?O Whether you thought of the Bulls, Rockets, Raiders, Fred and Ginger, or Cheech and Chong, each answer had one very basic element in common ? chemistry. They just plain Oworked together.O If your practice is to be successful, you must obtain a group, including yourself, that Oworks together.O

Making your office a successful business and a pleasant place to work doesn?t happen by chance.

Howard Farran, DDS, FAGD

Let?s play a quick game of word association. What?s the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the words Owinning team?O Whether you thought of the Bulls, Rockets, Raiders, Fred and Ginger, or Cheech and Chong, each answer had one very basic element in common ? chemistry. They just plain Oworked together.O If your practice is to be successful, you must obtain a group, including yourself, that Oworks together.O

You?re probably thinking, OWell, Howard, that?s a real no-brainer, but many dentists I?ve encountered are employing the wrong mix of people. Worse yet, they are doing all the hiring themselves without ever consulting their Oteammates.? They may talk about a winning team, but they seldom allow their staff to be a part of the decision-making process when hiring their coworkers.O Relationships are developed on an emotionally based set of criteria. Relationships can?t be measured in qualitative terms.

It all starts with you

What do you want? You?re the leader! You set the standards. Without an idea of where you?re going, you?ll never get there. So start defining your goals. What market are you going after? Is your practice in a blue-collar, Delta-carrying city where Ford Escorts dot the roads? Then offering laser tooth whitening not covered by insurance may not be the wisest choice for your office. Do your homework. Check out the competition and then define your market segment.

How much money do you want?

The amount of continuing education you receive will directly correlate with the amount of income you can generate. Do you want to earn an additional $70,000 in income next year? Then get down to business and earn your FAGD. No matter what market segment you choose, you will be able to perform better with tools that allow you to work faster, easier, and more efficiently. That?s what continuing education does for you. You tell your children to get good grades in high school so they can go to college, don?t you? Then obviously you must value the advantages that higher education can bring.

Be a copycat

If you really want to be rich, read everything you can about billionaires and how they earned their riches. Read novels about Rockefeller, Gates, etc., and adopt their thinking. You don?t have to reinvent the wheel E just understand the principles that extremely successful people live by and adopt them.

Today?s consumer

Consumerism today is based on a Oone eye in the mirrorO philosophy. This is the age of me, me, and me. Understand what motivates people and you will build your practice. Patients want convenience. They want you to be able to fulfill their needs. Do it and you will be successful.

Get a game plan

Let?s say you use a standardized Olist? of requirements to hire a new employee. By the way, that Ostandardized? list is called a job description and you absolutely need a different one for every position on your team, not just one set of criteria. Michael Jordan played a different position than Dennis Rodman. Both were on the same winning team. Both (on a good day for Rodman) showed up for the same game. Even though the team similarities were numerous, when they were on the court, each had a specialized task to perform. How do you know how your team is growing if you don?t have a yardstick to measure their individual accomplishments?

Before you develop job descriptions, you need a game plan. Who does what, why, when, and where? Even if you?ve hired Oexperienced? people who have worked in dental offices before, they haven?t worked in your office, nor have they worked with your team yet.

Relationships rule

The single-most important element of a winning team is relationships. Unfortunately, relationships are non-qualitative entities. They are based on commonalties and sheer emotionalism. So how are you going to build relationships when you, the owner, do all of the interviewing and hiring? It?s like performing an arranged marriage. In theory it should work, but it usually doesn?t. Get your existing employees involved. Value their opinions. If they still work for you, then you should trust their judgment. The interaction between employees is what will make or break your team. Your staff members may be highly qualified and experienced, but if they don?t get along, don?t like each other, and don?t have anything in common, believe me, you?re swimming upstream. When you decide to hire another assistant, have your existing assistant involved with the interviewing and decision-making process. It?s a win-win situation. They?ll feel extremely valued and you?ll have people working together that actually like each other.

People are like pigeons

If you hire someone from out of town, who has absolutely no family or existing relationships in the area, what will you gain? Hopefully, a good employee. However, if you hire a qualified person from your area, whose entire family circle and friends live five miles away from the office, you will be able to network with all of their existing relationships. Take advantage of personal synergy!

Looking for talent?

Name three people you think are talented. Are these people general, run-of-the-mill, average types? Most likely they?re not because true talent is generally found in non-conformists, dissenters, and rebels. Can you say Rodman or Charles Barkley? Don?t be afraid of hiring someone you wouldn?t want to marry. Get rid of prejudicial emotionalism. If the person?s experience matches your criteria and your staff likes him/her, then hire that person! If you?re a bit squeamish, put him/her on a 60-day probation, or ask him/her to give you a working interview and see how he/she mixes with the team for a few days. I?ve hired extremely qualified people into my practice that the team initially liked. After a few days, things changed, and we started the interviewing/hiring process all over again. Don?t be afraid of making a mistake. The only mistake is keeping people on your team that don?t mix well with others.

Creative ways to find new talent

Unfortunately, most dentists wait until they have an open position to begin the process of finding talented employees. The problem with this concept is that you are always placed under extreme pressure to make a good decision. Undue stress is not the best situation in which to make a good decision. Always be on the lookout for new talent, no matter where you are. If you are in a restaurant and your waitress seems extremely personable, friendly, helpful, and courteous, give her your business card. Tell her you are always looking for employees with great Opeople skillsO and, if she ever finds herself thinking about a different job, to give you a call. Even though she may not have experience working in a dental office, she obviously has Opeople skills,O and that?s extremely difficult to teach. There are many resources to train new employees to be dental assistants and front-office personnel. Previous dental experience from a deadhead employee is useless. Get winners and train them well.

Follow a leader

Find out how currently successful companies are getting, and keeping, employees and emulate their systems. Take for example, Cisco Systems, the high-flying networking company, located in San Jose, Calif., which posted sales of $6.4 billion in 1997 and profits of $1.4 billion, which is up 53 percent for this year. To keep up with that kind of growth, the company has doubled its work force in the past 18 months while trying to hire only the highest caliber of people along the way. Cisco?s recruiting team identified exactly the kind of people the company should hire, then figured out how to perform job searches. Cisco was extremely creative with its hiring process to attract the caliber of people they needed.

OOur philosophy is very simple,O said John Chambers, Cisco?s chief executive officer. OIf you get the best people in the industry to fit into your culture and motivate them properly, then you?re going to be an industry leader.O

Cisco?s recruiters target what they call Opassive job seekers,O people who are happy and successful where they are. Since the most sought-after employees aren?t very accessible, Cisco had to learn how to lure them away. The company began by holding focus groups with ideal recruitment targets, such as senior engineers and marketing professionals from competitors, to find out how they spend their free time ? what movies they viewed, what sites they visited on the Internet, and how they felt about job hunting in general. Then Cisco began to develop new ways to reach potential applicants through a variety of routes not usually practiced in recruiting, such as infiltrating art fairs and microbrewery festivals. In Silicon Valley, where the company is located, first-time homebuyer events also seemed to attract young achievers from successful tech companies. Cisco recruiters worked the crowd at these public events, collecting business cards from prospects and speaking with them informally about their careers.

Cisco even uses newspaper want ads creatively. Rather than listing specific job openings, the company runs ads featuring its Internet address and an invitation to apply at Cisco. Directing all job seekers to its website enables Cisco to efficiently reap a self-elected group of candidates (those who can navigate the Internet) and reduce the number of unqualified applicants.

Reward employees for recruiting

It?s no mystery why most of my OToday?s DentalO team likes bowling and listening to country music. After hiring my first assistant, Jan (who has been with me 11 years now), I encouraged her to recruit additional assistants she thought would work well on our team. She slowly recruited almost all of my present assistants from other dental offices. Since Jan is extremely conscientious, she sought people who had excellent skills and would be readily accepted by the other team members. For her efforts, I awarded her a yearly bonus and other perks. Yes, it?s probably more than I would have spent by simply placing an ad in the newspaper. However, I now have employees who have many things in common and have fun working together.

Be flexible!

Fortune estimates that, by the year 2001, 49 percent of all employees in the United States will be involved with job sharing. Are there positions in your practice that could be performed just as efficiently by placing two people on the job instead of one? You bet there are! Flexible scheduling may be one of your best moves. Employees who are able to fulfill their personal responsibilities will be happier and more focused when they come to work.

Pay them well

Nothing irks me more than hearing business consultants say you have to put a certain percentage limit on your payroll costs. Believe me, you?ll get what you pay for. When has this rule not held true? If you want good people, pay them well! People make decisions based on incentives. Do you think Michael Jordan would have played for the Bulls if they had offered him $50,000 a year?

Use your four-star players

You need a hierarchy of communication. You can?t possibly be involved in all decision-making processes. Your expertise is dentistry. Do it, do it well, and then surround yourself with people who are experts at what they do and allow them to contribute to decision-making. It will make them feel competent and proud of their accomplishments. Allow all of your players to take a leadership role in a task in which they excel. Have you noticed how ducks fly in a V formation? One duck will be in the lead, and then another duck comes from behind to lead for a while. You want your team to follow that type of mentality without jealousy and antagonism.

About those consultants

One of the most common complaints among dentists is they don?t have enough money to pay a consultant. How do you think you can objectively evaluate your practice? There is always something more to be learned or a process to be streamlined. You need a professional opinion about how your practice is performing. I use consultants even though I spend my days lecturing about the business of dentistry and produce a monthly publication on the topic. Why not utilize the expertise of someone who has dedicated his or her profession to learning better systems operation? Successful Fortune 500 companies spend about 5 percent of their budgets on research and development. They are successful because they are always trying to improve their product. A successful dental experience is your product. Get help and continually make it better!

Remember: Putting a great team together takes time. As Warren Buffet said, OYou can?t produce a baby in a month by getting nine women pregnant.O