Hire slow and hire right

Dec. 22, 2010
Cathy Jameson, PhD, offers insight into some common hiring mistakes and how to avoid them.

By Cathy Jameson, PhD

In any business, having the correct people in the correct positions performing their responsibilities correctly is vital to its overall success. No systems, no marketing program, no masterful CEO can accomplish the fullest potential if the correct team is not in place.

Most people will agree with this statement, but at Jameson Management Inc., we often hear doctors/employers saying things such as ...

“Yes, I know that having a great team in place is imperative — but I have a hard time with that. There don’t seem to be any good people around to hire."

“I don’t have great people on the team now but if I let anyone go, the next person might be worse — so I just “get along” as best I can.”

“I am not happy with my practice or my team. But they have been here a long time and they do not accept any kind of change. So, rather than 'upset the apple cart' and make anyone mad, I just forget it. I have lost my dream. I just come to work, try to get along, ignore the things I don’t like, and go about my days.”

All of these statements are sad. It doesn’t take long for the illusion of joy and enthusiasm that is part of a recent graduate’s hopes and dreams to fade into compromise when struggles with personnel take their toll.

There is no reason not to have the practice of your dreams. There are great people out there who want to work and want to work well in a professional/health-care environment. And there are team members right now who may not be performing excellently but who have the capability to do so if given the chance to thrive. As the CEO of your practice, you want to create an environment where the grass is not greener anywhere else.

I have just completed a PhD in management from Walden University. My research project and dissertation were on the impact training in transformational leadership has on the productivity of a dental practice. I proved in a statistically significant manner that productivity of a dental practice does improve when the correct people are placed in an environment where the organization focuses on the care of people — right from the start. Hiring is that starting place.

Five common mistakes made when hiring

While hiring is the pivotal point at which an employee launches into a new position, hiring itself is not easy, and in many instances it is not handled well. Jim Collins, in his bestseller “Good to Great,” says, “When in doubt, don’t hire.”1 However, many dentists do not display the patience needed to hire properly. That is why we say to hire slowly and hire right. Here are five common hiring mistakes that put the hiring process in jeopardy.

1. No clear, current job descriptions. Research supports the fact that people want to know what their position responsibilities will be in a new job.2 They want to be able to identify areas where they bring expertise to the table and areas where learning will be necessary. The clearer you are with your written job descriptions — which would be reviewed during employment interviews — the better both you and the candidate will be. You want to avoid “expectation gaps” (times when people think they are hired to do one thing and then find that they are doing something else). While this does not mean that a position may alter over time, be clear about the position responsibilities from the outset.

2. No idea of the characteristics desired in the person whom you wish to fill a position. While I do not recommend that you go into a hiring process with a closed mind, I do encourage you to brainstorm — as a team — what you would like the new team member to be like. What values, characteristics, experience, etc., would you find desirable?

For example, in my husband’s, Dr. John Jameson’s, dental practice, we found out that his superstar clinical assistant was moving. Her husband had been transferred. John’s practice was in a very small, rural town in Oklahoma and there were no clinical assistants! We could not put an ad in the paper and wait for applicants to contact us. So, as a team, we sat down and decided what kind of a person we wanted. What would she be like in terms of personality, work ethic, energy, commitment to people, etc.? We wanted someone who would take care of the patients with the same care and compassion as the rest of the team.

I had been substitute teaching in a local school system and had met a lady there who epitomized all of the characteristics we had agreed upon. John knew her. When I mentioned her name he said, “That’s who we need!” We called her and, luckily for us, she was between jobs. She and her husband came to meet John and me on a Sunday afternoon for the initial interview. That was many years ago. Jan Davis assisted John in the clinical area, moved into the business office from there, and became one of the best treatment coordinators our industry has ever known. Now she works full time with Jameson Management, Inc. She is the best! While she needed to learn some clinical assisting skills, attend some classes, and acquire certifications, we were willing and able to spend the time and money for her development ... and the rest is history.

3. No formal/legal process for hiring. There are human resource laws that govern the hiring process. These laws are unique to each state. It is imperative that you stay in contact with human resource experts to make sure your application is current and legal, that you know what you can and cannot ask during an interview, and how to hire for the protection of both you and the candidate!

Hiring should not be a haphazard process. The more carefully you handle each detail, the more time, money, and effort you will save in the long run. We have a very specific protocol that we coach to our clients. And while the steps may seem tedious, the steps save time, money, headache, and heartache. There is nothing more costly or more stressful than hiring poorly or incorrectly. While there is no guarantee that even the best candidate will “make it,” the odds are in your favor when you follow a formal, legal process.

4. No interview knowledge. At Jameson, we believe that communication is the bottom line to your success. That applies to any job, any position, any person on the team, any interaction with patients. The crux of excellent hiring lies in your ability to communicate to the candidates and to encourage open, honest, comprehensive communication from them. Communication is foundational to the hiring process. There will be communication in your ads, Web site notifications, e-mail blasts, digital ads, etc. There will be communication in both the written and spoken word in the form of applications, resumes (and your analysis of those critical pieces of data), telephone interviews, and, of course, the personal one-on-one interviews.

During an interview the candidate should do about 70% of the talking and you should do about 30%. Be ready to ask open-ended questions and then listen. Whether on the phone or in person, ask the same or similar questions of all candidates. Listen carefully not only to the answers, but also to the tone of voice (on the phone or off the phone). Tone of voice on the telephone accounts for 85% of the perception of the message — whether this is from the sender or the receiver — and 30% of the perception of the message when face-to-face. Study the art and science of interviewing.

5. No formal orientation or training program. So you have gone through the process of hiring, you have used excellent communication skills to inform the candidate about the position and to gain insight about this potential new person. You have selected your top candidate and made the offer for employment. The job description was in order, discussed, and agreed upon. Salary and benefit agreements were determined. Now the new team member is ready to start. So, here you are — day one. You throw the new employee into the activity of a normal day and tell him or her to just follow along and figure things out!

NOT GOOD! No matter how carefully you organize the hiring process, if a person is not carefully integrated in the early days, weeks, and months of employment, the research shows that this becomes a major factor in shortened longevity, lowered productivity, and disappointment in the job.3 Enthusiasm for the new position quickly wanes and complacency sets in.

Have a written program for training. Outline what needs to be learned, who will do the training, and by when. Make sure that one set of tasks builds upon another so that the new person has a chance to be successful. Make sure that the new employee has a mentor and that the mentor is checking in with the new person at the end of every day to see what went well. Celebrate the victories and find out where the concerns or confusions may lie. When you identify these problems early, you have a chance to correct performance errors at the outset and avoid bad habits, disappointments, and discouragement.

Feedback is vital to the growth of an employee. People want feedback. They want to know when things are going well and when they need to improve. No one wants to be doing a job poorly. Give people the respect they deserve by speaking to them in a proactive, constructive manner as to how their performance can be continuously improved. Feedback is not only imperative for maximum performance, but employees desire it.4 This is part of a formal, excellent training program — one that is specific to each position in your practice.

Why do we make hiring mistakes?

There are many reasons why hiring is so complex and challenging, but here I have outlined five of the major reasons. I know you are busy. I know you have not had this kind of education in human resources. I know you just want to come in and do the dentistry and don’t want to mess with this personnel stuff. I know. But, I also know that the number one source of stress for the dental professional is challenges related to team members. And you have stated loudly that you wish to reduce stress in your life.5 So, I am encouraging you to step out of your comfort zone, study this area of practice development — hiring — and work diligently to “get the right people on the bus, get the wrong people off the bus, and get the right people in the right seats.”1 You will find that your days are not only more productive, but they are more enjoyable! Surround yourself with people who are on the same path as you are, and study leadership skills that will help you to keep those people with you as dynamic, prolific members of your organization.


1. Collins, J. (2001). Good to great. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
2. Smerek, R., & Peterson, M. (2007). Examining Herzberg’s theory: Improving job satisfaction among non-academic employees at a university. Research in Higher Education, 48, 229–250.
3. Taris, T. W., Feij, J., & Capel, S. (2006). Great expectations—and what comes of it: The effects of unmet expectations on work motivation and outcomes among newcomers. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 14, 256–26.
4. Joshua-Amadi, M. (2002). Recruitment and retention. Nursing Management, 9(8), 17–21.
5. Rada, R., & Johnson-Leong, C. (2004). Stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression among dentists. Journal of the American Dental Association, 135, 788–794.