Align your dental staff's values with your own, and motivation is easy

Values have a major influence on a person’s behavior and attitude, and serve as broad guidelines in all situations. When a staff’s values are aligned with the dentist's, the rest comes easily.

Dental Staff Core Values

The definition of a “typical dental practice” has recently evolved. Now, dentists can think beyond the single-doctor office with three or four operatories, and shape their practice however they see fit. Overall, the dental field has experienced a shift from this typical model to a diverse array of structures that better suit the needs of patients, staff, and dentists’ ambition. The paradigm shift allows for multi-chair and multi-doctor practices, with flexible hours and innovative services. While dentists may develop a new dental practice model in response to internal and external forces, the one thing that remains the same throughout is a practice’s core values. When a practice shares a set of common values, everything else will come easily.

Dental Staff Core ValuesThis website has featured a number of articles on staff motivation, an issue that all private practitioners experiment with. Authors have recommended a number of good ways to keep a staff motivated, including compensation,behavioral profiling,bonus systems, communication skills, having staff help with planning, and continuing education. Any dentist who wants a happy, prosperous practice should explore all of these motivational tools. Unfortunately, these tools will work short-term at best, or fall on deaf ears at worst, if the members of the practice do not share in your values. If you’re working with a staff that innately strives for the same goals, then your practice can achieve positive success without relying on the motivational apple on a stick.

So, what are values? According to, values are “lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable.” Values have a major influence on a person’s behavior and attitude, and serve as broad guidelines in all situations. Randy Ross and David Salyers defined values with a different angle in their book, “Remarkable!,” as the way one sees the world.

When a staff’s values are aligned, the rest comes easily. Compensation packages are readily accepted, practice philosophies are easily agreed upon, bonus packages are appreciated and not expected, continuing education opportunities are anticipated rather than seen as a burden, staff turnover is greatly reduced, and teams accomplish more than anyone thought possible. Value alignment in an office is the “Holy Grail “of practice management.

Modern employees want to make an impact in the world. The dentist can create an environment for employees to make a greater impact on treatment. Train your assistant to make beautiful temporary crowns, how semi-adjustable articulators work, or take your assistants to continuing education to explain the rationale for treatment. In essence, make your assistants partners in treatment, not merely observers with suction tips in their hands. Opportunity for impact should not be limited to the treatment area. Front office staff should be continually trained to become experts in the administrative tools necessary in this ever-changing industry. Not only will your practice become more efficient, your staff will have a higher sense of esteem.

People who are driven by something from within can achieve great things. Have you ever noticed how the charitable organization you’re involved in is able to fundraise more money every year? How does that civic group you’ve stayed with over the years continue to build new initiatives that people truly care about? It is amazing what volunteers can do when they’re driven by passion. That gut feeling that tells people they’re doing good things and fuels their passion to do more is based in an individual’s values.

In 2012, 6,000 people donated 239,000 hours to maintain, repair, and operate the Appalachian Trail. More than one million volunteers provide leadership for the Boy Scouts of America programs per year, each averaging 20 hours per month of unpaid time. Also, volunteers operate 71% of the fire departments across the country. The good values in people’s hearts drive them to find causes they care about to perform extraordinary work for no pay.

Strong leadership is necessary to establish a practice’s core values. To obtain this, the leader must be very clear about his or her values and show unwavering commitment to them. If the leader is committed to these core values, he or she will find staff members with like values. A leader must first identify the practice’s focus. This is a personal determination with no right or wrong answers. Some examples of core values in the dental office include making a commitment to:

• Excellence in the art and science of dentistry
• Compassionate care of the indigent population
• Building multiple practices in various locations
• Serving adults and children
• Asserting the practice as an expert in a particular area
• Providing cutting-edge procedures
• Providing experiences to patients outside the realm of dentistry

All of these values can lead to success if the motives are pure. On the other hand, all of these actions can lead to disastrous results if the staff and dentist’s values do not align.

The true test of value commitment comes when two values conflict, and what will you do when that happens? For example, if the dentist is committed to accepting most insurance programs, and some of the insurance program fees cannot support excellent lab work, will he or she choose to use inferior lab work for the sake of profit, or will he or she sacrifice profit for quality? This is a difficult choice dentists face every day.

Also, if a dentist is committed to building a multi-office practice, he or she must be committed to a high degree of management concentration. How will this reconcile with his or her desire to provide excellent care? To overcome this cognitive dissonance, a practice must have strong leadership so that the staff truly accepts the driving values and innately knows the right course of action.

There is one caveat to this “make-your-own-values” model – the more altruistic the selected values, the easier it will be to use those values to motivate a team. The more pure the purpose, the easier it will be to find and build a staff that shares those values. Since good people value good deeds, your practice will experience less turnover because your staff will find satisfaction in their work. Once you develop a team that innately works to achieve the same ends, the rest will come easily.

In short:
• Aligned values of staff and dentist/management can provide tremendous results.
• Leadership must provide a clear vision of the practice’s core values.
• The more altruistic the values, the less motivational tools needed.

Now, let’s build a team with aligned values. First, the dentist should start with a well-defined practice mission statement. This is usually just a line or two, but these few words can have a big impact. The mission statement for our practice is “We treat people, not just teeth.” Then you must put this mission statement into action in your hiring practices. You may choose to include the statement in posts seeking new employees, or state it clearly in the interview process. Also, we have found it helpful to ask cognitive dissonance questions in the interview process to make sure interviewees are on the same page as us.

For example, you might ask:
• If given the choice, would you cause discomfort to ensure a procedure is performed perfectly or choose a less painful, slightly less effective method?
• Would you cover for a coworker who is chronically late with a sick child, or would you remind the coworker of the office policy?
• Is it more important to have a good time, or to be on time?
• Would you see an emergency patient one hour late, lost in traffic, or follow office protocol and either reschedule or make the person wait?

Again, these value-based questions have no clear-cut answers, but they speak to a prospective employee’s inherent values and can help predict a person’s fit into your practice culture. Remember that values are something that are difficult to change. After choosing the staff, technical training, staff policies, and protocols must be practiced and ingrained. Staff can be technically trained, but values must be ingrained for success.

When a strong leader promotes a clear message and a staff values the same things, everything else will come easily.

Mike PincusMichael Pincus, DDS, operates two practices in the Dallas area. He is the author of “The Seven Stages of a Dental Practice Life Cycle.” He is the founder of Seven Stages Dentistry, and an accredited member of the Association of Accredited Small Business Consultants. He can be reached at


• David Salyers,Randy Ross. (2013) Remarkable Enthusiam, Inc. Satellite Beach, Florida
• A Path to Passionate Volunteers by Kristin Clarke, June, 2013 ASAE The Center for Association Leadership

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