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Unmatched socks like dental team members? This office manager thinks so

July 16, 2020
Office manager Laurie Owens' imagination went wild during the boring job of sorting socks. She started thinking about how unmatched socks are like dental team members. What?! Hear her out . . .

By Laurie Owens, CPC, CPB

As I finish folding laundry, a household task that I believe everyone would agree is a dismal job, I think there's one job that ranks even lower . . . matching socks. I’m not talking about actually finding said socks, but if we’re being honest, could you count on more than one hand the number of times you’ve found every match?

My good friend and mentor Geri Gottlieb, owner and founder of GG Practice Coaching & Development, says, “Sometimes you need to step back and look at all of the pieces before you can put the puzzle together." This is great advice, and you may need to look more carefully at the patterns and fabric of the socks to make perfect matches, and in the case of our dental practices, to find the right people for the jobs.

I compare unmatched socks and dental team members with the following five attributes. What are you overlooking in your team members when you become frustrated with them, or when you’re frustrated with your "unmatched socks."

1) The “always there" member—This is the team member who you think has nothing to do and is not using their time wisely, but this may not be the reality. Looking at the socks, there are some with white bases, but when you look closely, they have names, markings, and even different textures and cuffs. They offer more. Your team member may want to do more yet may feel defeated whenever they make a suggestion. The person did their duties efficiently and is looking for more to do. Are you looking closely at the team to see how talents can be used effectively?

2) The "everywhere" member—This team member has more to offer and might come up on your radar because they pop up in the “wrong” places. For example, this team member could be a dental assistant yet may feel the position is not a good fit, so they keep drifting up to the administrative area. Ms. Gottlieb has a great method for guiding doctors and coaching teams in order to look for the talent within the team that you may not even realize you have. Your assistant may have the heart of an administrative team member, and that is what is drawing the person away from assisting. Consider relocating them.

3) The “wayward" member—This wayward sock is like the team member who seems to be far away in thought and wayward with their job duties. Have you thought to ask the person what’s going on? There could be something like medical billing for dentistry that could pull them back into the practice and create a renewed purpose for them. Personally, I’m thankful that Dr. Michael Cohen and Dr. Robert Gottlieb saw me as the wayward sock and renewed in me a purpose to help our patients with medical billing for dentistry. They saw how excited I became at the idea, and even though they didn't believe in it (they do now), they allowed me to move forward. Who in your practice is the wayward member, and what is it they want to do?

4) The "dingy" member—I love white socks and they remind me of something clean, sanitary, and pure. Looking across at my unmatched socks, I see the dingy one that is not bright and sparkly and for a brief moment, I think I should just throw it away. Yet when given some special attention like a little scrubbing and bleach, this dingy white sock comes out brilliant! Do you have a team member you’re thinking of releasing? Before you do, are you willing to give them some special attention first? It could very well be that they’re dingy due to of a lack of training.

5) The "bad fit" team member—We all have socks we love, and we try and try to make them fit, but it just won’t happen. Many of us can think of team members who held positions that were not a good fit for them. Sometimes we have to get rid of what does not fit anymore, which is extremely hard in the dental office. Why do you think you’re doing a team member who doesn't fit a favor by keeping them on? Usually they’re not bad; the job just doesn't fit and the more you try to make the person (or the sock) fit, the more frustrated you’ll become.

When it comes to our dental practices, I’ve learned a lot from unmatched socks: give team members their worth and provide exceptional leadership.

Your office needs outside eyes, such as a coach or consultant, to help your practice access untapped talent. This will guide your team to great heights. Without a coach, you’ll walk by the same unmatched socks and never see the pair right in front of you.

Laurie Owens, CPC, CPB, is the Director of Medical Billing Education for Devdent.