by Cathy and John Jameson
Fact One: of the main responsibilities of any dental professional is to educate patients about the needs that exist in their mouths and about opportunities that are available in dentistry.
Fact Two: Dentists everywhere report feeling like “the greatest stress in my practice is trying to get my team to get along. The constant bickering drives me crazy. Not only do I want people to work, do their job and get along, but I’d love for them to actually CARE while they’re at it. It’s just too much to ask, so I’ve given up.”
One of the first steps our team sorts through with each client is establishing the vision of the practice and designing a strategic plan of action for accomplishing those goals. Then we often study communication skills in-depth. Why?
Because these are the ways to address the above two facts and therefore increase practice production while reducing stress. The three factors of vision, goals, and communication are the foundation for team-building and practice development. With this foundation carefully laid, we can begin a successful journey of practice growth and enhancement.
Building and maintaining a strong team
Your first challenge is to hire correctly. Before you start looking for a new team person, sit down individually or as a team and write a description of the person you would like to add to the team. Finalize a job description, being very specific about what you want this person to do. Seek candidate leads through recommendations from other team members, asking people in the community, and networking with dental societies and schools. Invite candidates to your practice for a brief interview with a qualified team member and a brief interview with the doctor. They must complete an application that follows all appropriate legal ramifications.
You will want to see if this person can think on his or her feet, write well, spell, punctuate, etc. From these applicants, select your top two or three candidates, and ask them to return for a final interview. This interview will be a bit longer, more detailed, more specific about the position responsibility, salary, benefits, and all pertinent details. Ask open-ended questions, ones that put the person at ease and invite conversation.
Continuing on a path of improvement
Once you have hired the right persons, spend quality time training these new team members. Remember, no matter how qualified they were before joining you; no matter how long they have been in dentistry, if they change practices, everything they are used to doing may change. Every practice is unique, and the new person must be allowed to understand what you do, how you do it, and why you do it a certain way.
In the first few days of a person’s employment, go over the personnel issues - how and when payroll will be distributed, specifics about the benefit package, hours of work, attire, etc. In other words, cover your entire personnel policy manual. Have the new employee sign a form stating that he or she has read the manual and agrees to cooperate with the given protocols. Be sure to create a personnel file and add it to the other files of all employees.
Next, go through the written position description detailing and prioritizing each responsibility, then design a training program including some scheduled non-patient time for instruction. A new person should know what you expect, how you want each system to be managed, and acceptable time frames for the completion of certain tasks. The new person will work more confidently, make fewer mistakes, and be productive much more quickly with carefully orchestrated training. They will appreciate the orientation, training time, and effort to integrate them gracefully into the team. On-the-job training will only go so far. If you have a busy practice, and if you do not schedule non-patient training time, you will pay double-time in lost production, mistakes, and frustration later.
Don’t wait until three months have passed to give the new employee a performance review. Give one on a daily, or certainly on a weekly, basis. Ask what things are going well, then ask what areas create confusion or uncertainty. Give further instruction, ask how you can help, and answer any questions. It is critical that the new employee understands that asking questions is encouraged. Otherwise, things will keep being done the same way, and that way may not be correct.
During this initial phase of employment, make special effort to integrate your new person into the team. Go to lunch as a group. Have a cookout at someone’s house, and invite the families. Have a retreat where you go over the practice vision/mission, the practice goals, communication skills and communication avenues, etc. Orientation, training, and integration can make the difference about whether or not a person stays on board with you.
Establishing longevity with good team members
The work environment itself is a huge factor in employee satisfaction. Work environment can be measured in the team member’s feelings about the practice’s policy and administration, supervision, interpersonal relations with peers, supervisors, and subordinates, working conditions, salary, status, and job security. Other job satisfaction factors are also motivators which have extreme power in increasing your production, profitability, and stress control. These include achievement, recognition, the work itself, and whether or not they find it interesting and challenging, advancement, and responsibility.
Along with understanding the needs of employees, an excellent manager will realize that an employee requires positive reinforcement and recognition, not only to assure the quality of the performance, but also to enhance self-image. Thus, there seems to be a cycle of management evolving.
- Understand a person’s needs and work at meeting those needs.
- Reward excellent performance.
- Positively reinforce that performance.
This positive reinforcement not only solidifies the desirable behavior, but also reinforces the value of the person performing the behavior. It creates a win-win situation for the employee and employer.
Managers who hire properly, train thoroughly, involve the team in creative endeavors, trust the team member with decision-making processes, enhance personal growth with continuing education, and include team members in the growth and rewards of the practice will produce more satisfied employees. These employees will be more productive and will remain longer with the practice.
A key to dealing positively and productively with career burnout for the dentist and team members is honesty in communicating feelings and frustrations with each other, with family members, and, at times, with patients. Being honest with feelings and stating them out loud to others who accept them is often therapeutic in itself. If negative feelings are left inside to dwell, they may fester and only serve to accentuate a problem.
Building a strong, open, accepting team of professionals is a significant step in dealing with the stresses and potential burnouts and dropouts within the dental industry. Being not only supportive, but also encouraging to each other in the team setting is essential for getting through hard times.
And so it would seem that efforts to understand effective team building and leadership are essential in today’s dental profession for maximum success, both for the dentist and for all roles within the team. The goal of this type of effort is to not only attract quality individuals to the practice, but also to keep them active and committed to building the practice.
How do you, as a team, educate patients?
The responsibility of educating patients doesn’t rest in the hands of a doctor, business manager, clinical team member, or hygienist. It rests in the web created by all of those dental professionals bound together. Most people do not know what is available in the dental arena. Be careful not to overestimate the average person’s dental I.Q. Listen, be patient, and speak in layman’s terms.
Be proactive by presenting cosmetic options. When we interview or question new clients prior to our initial consultation experience, the vast majority of practitioners tell us that they want to do more cosmetic dentistry. The team loves cosmetic dentistry. It is fun and rewarding. However, most practices do very little cosmetic dentistry in comparison to other procedures. The team has a tendency to wait until someone asks them about cosmetic dentistry. They are reactive, rather than being proactive about opening their own doors for cosmetic possibilities - or other advanced restorative procedures.
Jameson Management Inc. is an international lecture and consulting firm providing instruction and coaching in four vital areas of practice development: communication, business, hygiene and clinical efficiency, and technology. For further information on how to take your practice to the next level, contact JMI at (877) 369-5558 or visit the Web site at www.jamesonmanagement.com.