Turn up the heat before you fire

April 5, 2011
The task of letting an employee go is one of the most difficult and anxiety ridden exercises that a dentist will face. Sally McKenzie explains how to implement six commonsense human resources strategies to help you make significant strides in reducing the number and level of employee headaches you’ll have throughout the years.

By Sally McKenzie, CEO

Reprinted with permission from Sally McKenzie, McKenzie Management

Almost without exception, it is considered to be one of the most dreaded employment experiences. Most dentists would gladly opt for a day filled with screaming children, terrified adults, and gaping holes in the schedule than deal with the unpleasantness associated with this exercise. Few, if any, except perhaps Donald Trump, actually enjoy it.

Indeed, the task of letting an employee go is one of the most difficult and anxiety ridden exercises that a dentist will face during his or her career. It is for that reason that doctors will go to great lengths to avoid confronting an employee on issues that beg to be addressed — attitude, poor performance, instigating conflict, poor patient service, and the list goes on and on and on. Consequently, many dentists are the sideline spectator as low morale and continual employee turnover chisel away at the practice that has been hijacked by the poor performers.

There comes a point when the dentist must regain control of his/her practice and address the problem employee(s). But before that dreaded day arrives, let’s rewind the tape and consider what might have been done differently to avoid the current situation.

First, implement a few common sense human resources strategies and you’ll make significant strides in reducing the number and level of employee headaches you’ll have to face throughout your career. For example:

1. Provide clear job descriptions to employees, so they know exactly what is expected of them.

2.Train new employees but don’t overwhelm them. A new hire will be far more likely to succeed if the training program allows them to assimilate information and tasks at a steady rate, rather than a rapid-fire pace.

3. Give all employees some form of personnel policy manual. This document spells out the office code of conduct, dress code, policies regarding tardiness, overtime, sick leave, office policies and procedures. All employees deserve to know the rules of the game and what they need to do to remain on the team.

4. Give ongoing direction and constructive feedback. Too many dentists wait until there’s a serious problem or crisis before they give staff any feedback. The doctor is in a highly frustrated state because he or she has allowed the situation to go on entirely too long. The employee feels blindsided and often will assert he/she had no idea the doctor wanted things to be “this way” or wanted “that done.”

5.Be specific. Don’t candy-coat the feedback and don’t beat around the bush. Be constructive not punitive. Tell employees what they’re doing well and what needs to be corrected or adjusted to do even better.

6.Know when to cut your losses.

The fact is, there are times when employees — new or long-term — simply must be dismissed. They may fail to follow established office policies; they may be dishonest, argumentative, or difficult to get along with. They may fail to carry out responsibilities, or they may refuse to be a team player. They may gossip about patients, the doctor, other team members, or bring down the practice morale with snide comments and cutting remarks. They may be late routinely or divulge confidential information. They may not follow directions, or they may be secretive about steps they take in performing their responsibilities so as to make themselves seem irreplaceable. Unfortunately, there are a multitude of reasons why some employees don’t work out.

Whatever the reason, problem employees need to be dealt with directly and clearly using a clearly established system. Unless the employee’s behavior is so egregious that you are forced to take immediate action, the team member should be given the opportunity to improve her/his performance over a 60- to 90-day period. Explain to the employee verbally and in writing the specific issues that are not satisfactory, and document exactly what needs to change in the employee’s performance.

With the employee, develop an agreement that spells out what he or she needs to do to improve performance. It should be in writing, signed by both doctor and employee, and placed in the employee’s file. Monitor the staff member’s progress, give regular feedback, and document every step and every conversation in the process.

Ideally, at the end of this 60- to 90-day progressive discipline plan, the employee has had the opportunity to see the errors of her/his ways, make the necessary improvements, and everyone lives and works happily ever after. Unfortunately, the fairytale ending seldom occurs.

Author bio
Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service consulting/coaching dental management company, providing proven management solutions since 1980. She can be reached at (877) 777.6151 or [email protected].