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The dynamics of praising your staff

July 1, 2020
As dentists, we tend to think we should take care of patients first. But is that really the case?

I remember recently listening to a podcast featuring Richard Branson (you know who I’m taking about), the very well-known British businessman, investor, and entrepreneur. My take-home from everything he said was this: “To be a successful business owner, one of the things you absolutely must remember is that your clients don’t come first—your employees do. Why? Because if you take care of your employees, then they will in turn take care of your clients.” Now, substitute “patient” for “client,” and we’re on the same page.

Why is that? Don’t we, as doctors, business owners, and dare I say, practice consultant companies, always preach to our staff to “take care of the patients” and that “patients are our number one priority,” etc., etc.? Well, to some degree, this is true, but I’m going to side with Sir Branson on this one—staff appreciation and praise should always be our priority. I’ve seen firsthand what appreciation and loyalty can bring to a practice and the entire profession. I’ve also seen the opposite.

Let me ask you something: Can you read this and tell me one or two personal things about each and every one of your staff members? Do you know their professional goals and their “take” on their jobs? If not, you’ve got some work to do. If you want to breed trust and loyalty, it’s vital to make a connection with those whom you work with everyday by simply engaging them on a personal level. This leads to natural and genuine praise and is part of the formula that establishes motivation for them to work hard, even to the point of going above and beyond the call of duty. Seems simple, right? It is, but like many things, we tend to complicate it.

I wanted to see what made my staff tick when it came to their perception and subsequent processing of how they perform as employees, so I asked them three questions:

  1. How do you like to receive feedback from your employer?
  2. From your perspective, are there ways that feedback is not productive or does not motivate you?
  3. What makes you feel appreciated?

Their answers surprised me to some degree, yet at the same time, after reading them, I realized I had room for improvement. Here’s a general summation of their responses:

  1. Feedback should be direct and cut-and-dried, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent, so the staff member can change or improve. One-on-one is best.
  2. Feedback is not productive if it’s given in a bad way that makes you feel “shitty.” Aggressive or passive comments that may be directed at the team, but imply you as an individual are at fault or in the wrong, are also unhelpful, as is micromanaging or making team members feel like they don’t know their jobs.
  3. Random thank-yous, acts of kindness, and words of affirmation all make team members feel appreciated, wanted, and important. At the bottom of their lists was random financial incentives.

Notice that there was no initial mention of financial incentives or rewards. It goes without saying that a bonus here and there won’t be refused, but clearly staff members crave affirmation of their efforts. Furthermore, they like to be told personally and directly if they need to make improvements. Nobody wants to do things wrong. It’s in our human nature to want to perfect our abilities and our understanding of what we do and who we are. This is why, as leaders, our ability to deliver corrections or constructive criticism is very instrumental to our staff’s capacity to receive, process, and ultimately apply such feedback.

In her book Dare to Lead, Brené Brown stated, “Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings (of their staff or employees) or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.”1 Read that sentence again and apply it to how you manage and give feedback to your team. Like it or not, we are leaders. We absolutely must invest in the interactions we have with our staff. If we don’t, then any potential for efficiency and harmony will not get off the ground.

You want to kindle the fire within your staff, not underneath. Breeding internal motivation through constructive feedback will reflect on attitude, demeanor, and performance. Show up to work as a colleague and realize your staff wants to do their best just as much as you do. Lead by example, not by empty words. Forced compliance and “I’m just here because of a paycheck” attitudes will stagnate the growth of your practice and cause you to lose respect from your employees. Does your staff work for or with you, or both?

All this goes without saying that employer-employee relationship parameters are absolutely needed, but they should not be a barrier to productive open dialogues of constructive praise and feedback. As with all interactions, it’s essential to note that emotions should be kept in check. If they are not, pragmatism and judgment are oftentimes fogged and the real issues at hand don’t get proper attention.

Ultimately, don’t forget that you’re able to do what you do because of your team. You depend on one another, and that symbiotic relationship can’t be ignored. Give proper praise when and where it is due, and be sincere about it. Take care of your staff and they in turn will take care of you, and your practice will thrive. 

Reference
1.    Brown B. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. New York: Random House; 2018:67.

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