Hire for attitude, train for skill

Oct. 1, 2000
It`s vital to hire staff members with great attitudes. While you know this to be true, there is another part of the puzzle that complicates matters: To deliver high levels of quality dentistry, you need skillful people.

It`s vital to hire staff members with great attitudes. While you know this to be true, there is another part of the puzzle that complicates matters: To deliver high levels of quality dentistry, you need skillful people.

Nate Booth, DDS

The fable on the sage`s scroll illustrates a truth about human behavior: People have varying degrees of positive and negative attitudes that stem from the ways they have been conditioned by their life experiences. They interpret their worlds through this conditioning and get out of life what they look for.

If they`re conditioned to see the world as a dark, negative place, then that perspective will color their attitudes ... and that is what they will experience. If they`re conditioned to see their world as bright and positive, then that will create a bright and positive experience.

This is why it`s vital to hire staff members with great attitudes. While you know this to be true, there is another part of the puzzle that complicates matters: To deliver high levels of quality dentistry, you need skillful people.

Which is more important - attitude or skill?

Unfortunately, attitude isn`t given due respect in staff recruitment. While skills can be learned - especially by enthusiastic, optimistic people - attitudes are more pervasive qualities that typically are fixed by adulthood. In the words of W.W. Siege, "Nothing can stop a person with the right mental attitude from achieving a goal; nothing on earth can help the person with the wrong mental attitude."

Combining attitude and skill

Four combinations of attitude and skill can be found in the workplace. Based on the two variables of attitude and skill, here are the combinations:

A Positive attitude/high skill. These gems make the greatest contributions to your practice. Therefore, hiring - and retaining - them is your first priority. They`re rare, in demand, and command the best pay. But pay isn`t the only reward they seek. They also must feel appreciated and remain professionally stimulated. They can be the best trainers of other staff. Make sure they`re part of your new employee-selection process.

A Positive attitude/low skill. These highly motivated individuals are the next best bet for your practice. Often, these individuals are diamonds in the rough. They have great potential to grow into the skill level the job demands. You can help develop that level by initially giving them duties they can handle, along with large doses of internal and external training. (People who are just excited, but don`t know what they are doing, can be dangerous!) They rise to the occasion when given appropriate added responsibilities, along with praise and rewards for their improvement.

A Negative attitude/high skill. These are the people who drain your energy and keep you awake at night. Usually they are overly critical of other staff members who don`t live up to their high standards. It`s tempting to keep them around, because, after all, they are very talented. Tell them what you expect when it comes to attitude and the behaviors that naturally follow. They need feedback. Allow them to improve. But if they don`t, suggest a "career redirection" before they drain the enthusiasm from the rest of your team.

A Negative attitude/low skill. It`s advisable to avoid hiring staff members from this group, better known as "the living dead." If one of these individuals does surface in your team, sever the relationship as soon as possible.

Southwest Airlines knows the value of hiring people with positive attitudes. The first trait the company looks for in applicants is a sense of humor. It`s an attitude that lives in the organization from the CEO on down. In fact, Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher is the craziest in the bunch. He has said, "I want flying to be a helluva lot of fun! We want people who can do things well with laughter and grace."

Finding staff with positive attitudes

- Start by reviewing your patient list to see if there are any candidates. Note the individuals whom everybody on your team loves to see walk in the door.

- Interview friends of staff members with great attitudes. Positive attitudes tend to flock together.

- Always be on the lookout. Whenever you run into a particularly friendly person in any service situation - a restaurant, a retail store, etc. - invite that person to your office for an interview.

- Don`t rerun the same old, uninspiring classified ad. Be clear upfront that you are looking for fun-loving people to work in an office that values great attitudes and encourages staff to have fun.

Southwest Airlines once ran an ad in which Kelleher dressed in an Elvis suit. The tag line read, "Work in a place where Elvis has been spotted ... Send your resume: Attention Elvis."

You must be creative if you want to attract people with great attitudes. It works for Southwest Airlines. In 1995 they accepted 124,000 external applications (many from employees of other airlines), interviewed 38,000 people, and hired 5,444 of them. As you can see by the numbers, people are attracted to Southwest Airlines because of its fun-loving attitude. The same can be true of your dental office.

Dr. Steven Rasner recommends bolding the type in the ad and using buzz words like "career advancement" and "treat team members like family."

A Hire one person based on entertainment value alone. Find that special person who has a sparkling personality that lights up a room when he or she walks in.

In my practice that person was Susie - a 4-foot-10-inch bundle of charm. She was our office "floater." One of her duties was to escort patients back to the treatment rooms. She was notorious for putting her arm around teenage boys and saying, "Gee, you`re getting so big and strong. You must drive all the girls crazy!" When she was out of the office for a day, everybody would ask, "Where`s Susie?"

In the words of Henry Ford, "Enthusiasm is at the bottom of all progress. With it there is accomplishment. Without it there are only alibis."

Screening for positive attitudes

A Sit down with candidates and stimulate good conversation. In addition to the usual applicant questions, inquire about their lives. What do they enjoy doing in their spare time? What is their favorite television program? What is the last book they read? Who is the person they most admire? What`s most important to them? What frustrates them the most? And what is one valuable thing they have learned in the past week?

- Pay attention to what they`re saying and how they say it. Do they have an infectious smile or twinkle in their eye and seem eager to learn? Are they excited about life and the opportunity to work in your office?

- Check their humor index with these stimulating topics: How have you recently used humor in a work environment? Have you ever used humor to diffuse a difficult situation? Tell me one of your favorite jokes or funny stories.

- Be unconventional in your interviewing. Southwest Airlines certainly is. One of their favorite hiring procedures is to take a room full of candidates and tell them they all must give a five-minute presentation to the entire group. The subject is themselves and why they want to work at Southwest. They are given plenty of time to prepare.

When it comes time to give the presentations, one Southwest employee evaluates the speakers for attitude; another watches the audience. Candidates who do not give their attention to the other speakers, but instead dwell on their own presentation, aren`t hired. The ones who give other speakers their full attention and support are hired.

- Assess your gut feeling about their attitudes. On a scale of 1 to 10, where do they stand? Only consider for hire those who have a rating of 8, 9, or 10.

- Have them lunch with your staff. Then ask your staff what they think of the candidates` attitudes. Invite candidates to work in your office on a trial basis for a week so you may observe their attitudes in action.

Southwest Airlines is a superb example of a company that hires for attitude and trains for skill. It pays off for them. If you`ve ever flown on Southwest, you know that while their employees are having a great time, they also statistically work harder than employees for other airlines. Per employee, they serve twice as many flyers as other airlines. The turnover rate is 4.5 percent - by far the best in the industry!

Southwest Airlines is the most emulated airline in the business. In its 29-year history, it`s never had a red-ink year, and it`s never had a serious accident or a fatality. Its customer-service rating is the best in the business.

Keeping people with positive attitudes

Now that you have great staff members, you need to keep them! Here`s how to do it ...

- Create a vision for your practice that enthusiastic people can buy into.

- Surround them with others who have great attitudes. This begins with you. Most importantly, you must model the attitude you wish to create in your staff.

- Construct a plan for the vision`s achievement and communicate that vision to your staff. Enthusiastic people want to know what road they`re heading down.

- Praise employees for their great attitudes. Give rewards for behavior that springs from superior attitudes. Things that get noticed and rewarded get done.

- Give your motivated people lots of training. They want to learn and grow.

- Give your motivated people enhanced responsibilities continually. They thrive on it!

Spinosa said, "To be who we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life."

Tilling the soil

Your dental practice is the soil in which positive attitudes can bloom. Hire great people, then allow them to be who they are. Provide copious amounts of training, support, and rewards to enable them to become what they are capable of becoming. When you do this, you will create a motivated and skillful team to help you build the practice of your dreams.

Nate Booth, DDS, is a professional coach and official spokesperson for Fortune Management, (800) 652-1052. He co-authored, with Dr. Joe Blaes, 555 Ways To Reward Your Dental Team. To order, call (800) 917-0008. Dr. Booth invites you to put these concepts into practice and share with him your experiences. He may be reached at www.natebooth.com.

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