Effective growth conferences

As 2005 comes to an end, what do you think your staff is thinking about? Often, the elephant in the room is the unaddressed issue on every employee’s mind: How did the practice do this year? How did I do? Is my dentist going to talk to me about it? What’s in it for me? After a year-long race to meet practice goals for productivity and quality of service, your team needs feedback, acknowledgement, and renewed energy to start next year’s marathon.

As 2005 comes to an end, what do you think your staff is thinking about? Often, the elephant in the room is the unaddressed issue on every employee’s mind: How did the practice do this year? How did I do? Is my dentist going to talk to me about it? What’s in it for me? After a year-long race to meet practice goals for productivity and quality of service, your team needs feedback, acknowledgement, and renewed energy to start next year’s marathon. To make this process a lot easier on you and your team, let’s talk about two key tools: growth conferences and salary reviews.

Growth conferences and salary reviews are two separate meetings. The growth conference is a yearly, one-on-one meeting between you and your individual staff members to discuss strengths, challenges, and accomplishments during the year and to set goals for future growth. The salary review indicates how an individual team member’s performance has affected practice profitability and the financial reward the person will receive for demonstrated efforts.

Here are the common mistakes dentists make in delivering growth conferences. (Do you see yourself here?):

Not doing them. If staff members get no feedback from you, they assume that no news is good news and they’re performing brilliantly with no need to grow.

Doing a performance evaluation instead of a growth conference. Too often, performance evaluations are judgmental and noncollaborative, with the boss telling employees what they’re doing wrong. Would you want one? Such an approach raises defensiveness in the employee and misgivings about doing them in the dentist. Growth conferences, by contrast, focus on staff members’ perspectives on what they did right in the past and the challenges they’d like to take on in the future. According to Ken Blanchard, “The primary goal of a leader is to do everything possible to make the staff grow.” Is that your focus?

Of course, sometimes you must give employees corrective feedback - however, it’s best to do that in ongoing coaching at other times. It’s critical to focus on strengths at the growth conference if you want to nurture inspired, motivated, self-assured employees to take the practice forward. Which approach would motivate you if you were an employee? “Mary, your work station is always a mess,” or “Mary, I’d like to see you expand the organizational skills you demonstrated in managing our insurance claims to organizing your workstation.”

Not following up. If you conduct a growth conference as an isolated event - over and done with until the next year - your efforts will be wasted. Growth conferences need to be part of an ongoing process in which you and your staff set specific goals, define action steps to achieve them, follow up to ensure steps are taken, and hold yourselves accountable for the actions you each agree to take. Remember, what gets inspected, acknowledged, and supported gets repeated. Catch your team members doing something right, and watch how they grow!

Here’s how to do growth conferences effectively. Before the meeting, you and your staff member each fill out a worksheet to indicate the employee’s strengths and one to name areas for growth. At the conference, you and your employee communicate and discuss the items on each of your worksheets - the staff member going first, then you. Together, you set goals for new and improved skills for the upcoming year. The entire experience not only feels good, it is good. It arms people with the confidence and commitment to grow in their jobs.

Tune in next time to learn about salary reviews, the other key item in your staff compensation toolkit.

Amy Morgan is CEO and lead trainer of Pride Institute, the practice management firm helping dentists better their lives by mastering the business side of their practices. For more information on staff motivation, order Pride’s workbook/CD training resource, “Take Pride in What You Pay.” For information on Pride’s seminars, training materials, transition services, and management programs, or to ask Amy a question for this column, call (800) 925-2600 or see www.prideinstitute.com.

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