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Team Retreats

Oct. 1, 2004
Scrape, scrape, scrape .... That's the sound of dentists scraping the bottom of the applicant pool for great employees.

Scrape, scrape, scrape ....

That’s the sound of dentists scraping the bottom of the applicant pool for great employees. When dentists bemoan the fact that they cannot find good employees these days, I am sympathetic to their concerns. Why is it some practices seem to flourish year after year with dedicated, hard-working employees who love their jobs, while other dentists have constant turnover problems? These doctors begin to wonder if there’s an opportunity elsewhere that doesn’t require them to be in the hiring, training, and payroll business. They are disillusioned by employees who do marginal work, expect high pay for low efforts, and don’t stay on the payroll long enough to make the monumental task of training them worth the time, money, and effort.

Envision this: sandy beaches, turquoise water, beautiful sunshine, and happy staff members who are more excited about your practice and its five-year vision than you are. Imagine returning to the office after a retreat with highly motivated, accountable team players who ask each day: What can I do for my patients, my employer, and my co-workers to make the day less stressful and more productive? vs. Here I am ... what can this practice do for me? If this sounds too good to be true, it isn’t! In fact, this is the norm in practices that hold team retreats.

What is a team retreat? It’s a retreat off-site for three to four days with your entire staff to discuss (with or without a consultant facilitator) where the practice has been, where it is today, and where - with great team effort - it can be in five years. Too many business owners give only lip service to the words vision and leadership. They need to be interactive and sincere about it. Good employees are not found; they are created. Dentists must hire, train, trust, and praise their staff. How can employees be praised if they are not trained and empowered to do everything the dental practice act allows them to do? How can they be praised if they frequently display bad attitudes? We all know that praise and appreciation rank highest on an employee’s “needs” list, yet it is difficult to praise someone who is not connected to the practice vision and who is not performing at levels that generate productivity and praise. It’s a Catch-22.

We all know that trust is another key factor of having the staff buy into the vision and become more enthusiastic about their daily contribution. In fact, trust breeds loyalty. You will never have loyal staff members who will walk on hot coals for you unless they feel trusted and part of the vision-making process. Monthly meetings to discuss how the practice did last month and how it compares with the same month a year ago is an ongoing process of keeping your team involved. Getting them to think like dedicated owners is the key to long-term loyalty and accountability. There is no better way to do this than to have an annual team retreat. Getting away from the office with all its day-to-day distractions is critical. Selecting a fun location such as a cruise or a trip to Jamaica, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Hawaii, or Barbados makes planning the retreat even more exciting.

Following are some retreat guidelines:

· Select a date at least nine months to a year in advance.

· Work online or with your travel arrangements coordinator to find the right location at the best prices.

· Contact a consultant to facilitate your retreat, and ask that person to check his or her available dates in advance as soon as possible. Some of my clients refer to this as their off-site consultation, because we gather the same data from practice, doctor, and staff surveys as if we were consulting in-office.

· Set the date and reserve hotel and airline tickets in advance for the best purchase prices.

· Start a CE Trip Kitty Fund. For this incentive plan, everyone donates four hours per month to seeing patients at a time when the practice is normally closed. Whatever production (or collections) is generated in an average half-day - not that particular half-day - goes into the interest-bearing trip kitty fund used for personal growth and development retreats and major conferences. (Note: Check with your attorney and labor relations board to make sure asking team members to sign waivers to participate in monthly half-days of donated time is legal in your state. If an employee leaves the practice after having donated hours throughout the year, he or she is paid for those hours out of the fund.) See the CE Trip Kitty example for more details. Other bonuses can be created such as X number of dollars for each cosmetic whitening procedure, each veneer, each crown, times the number of new patients, etc., for those practices not wishing to donate the extra half-day to generate funds for retreats.

Devote 10 minutes of your monthly staff meeting to retreat plans. Gather questionnaires and practice statistics from everyone at least 90 days prior to the retreat date. Having an outside, objective facilitator review, reframe, and present these issues often brings more to the discussion than the dentist/owner gathering the information on staff questionnaires. Important information may be withheld for fear of retribution.

The retreats are held two mornings from 8 a.m. until noon, with afternoons free to enjoy the “work family” in a nonworking environment. Female team members often describe these retreats as “grown-up Girl Scout Camp” or “Ya-Ya Sisterhood” gatherings. In the case of male employees, which we see more often these days, the term “team retreat” is much more fitting.

Before the retreat, take a snapshot on paper of what your practice looked like five years ago, if applicable. Where was the practice located? Describe the mix of services and patients, percentage of insurance vs. noninsurance, production and collection levels per month, number of employees, number of dentists, number of dental chairs, number of hygiene patient days, average number of hygiene patients per month, number of new patients, mix of children vs. adults, overhead percentages in each category, etc.

Then, take another snapshot of today’s practice using the same statistical data. Paint a picture - with your team’s help - of where you want your practice to be and how it will look five years from now.

What about the facility itself and location of the practice? Do you need to move to another office to achieve your goals or add to the space you already have?

What patient services are not provided currently that you would like to add? In what courses is enrollment necessary for the dentist(s) and team members to become more proficient with these new services?

What type/age of patients do you wish to attract? (Hint: If you would like to do more comprehensive and cosmetic dentistry, drop the “family dentistry” tagline.) Patients over age 45 (those who need more of that type of dentistry) do not tend to frequent family businesses. Determine the marketing plan and budget to get where you want to be.

What technology is needed to achieve your goals and what is the budget for that?

Will the practice slowly drop insurance plans that do not reimburse even to the level of overhead percentages? Which ones will be dropped first, how will you do it, and how will it affect the practice? (Usually the change is for the better.)

What are the staffing needs to serve that practice of the future? Do you want to increase or decrease the number of patients, treatment rooms, and staff?

Will a transition be included in the five-year plan? If so, how does the plan look now?

Team members cannot help their employer have a better day, month, or year until they know the doctor’s vision. They cannot develop “owner mentality” until they feel they are a part of what’s happening now or to come. Make this year the year you create a winning team by planning your team retreat.

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Linda Miles, CSP, CMC
Ms. Miles is CEO of Linda Miles and Associates, a leading practice and staff development company in Virginia Beach, Va. You may contact her by phone at (800) 922-0866 or by email at lindamiles@ Visit her Web site at Dental

“Floating Consultation” at Sea

The Smiley Dental Associates of Dublin, Ohio, had lots to smile about during its private floating office retreat last April with Linda Miles as their facilitator. Four dentists and 24 staff enjoyed the time of their lives celebrating their past successful year. With Linda’s help, they painted their five-year vision and created a plan of action on how to make a great practice even more exceptional. For informa­tion on how your practice may do the same with Linda or one of her consultants, call Lee at (800) 922-0866.

The SDA Group enjoying Nassau.
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Linda Miles and Dr. Sam Smiley of the Smiley Dental Associates being entertained by a pirate.
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Trip Kitty Fund

The Trip Kitty Fund was developed to assist doctors and their teams in making continuing-education programs and office retreats a reality. Simplified, everyone agrees to work with patients one half-day per month (on a day the office is normally not seeing patients) and to donate their time to the fund. The fund is used for continuing-education registration fees and/or travel expenses. Any money left over can be kept in the fund for future trips or disbursed as spending money. Continuing-education days are not counted as vacation days.


• Select a seminar destination. Estimate the cost of the trip.

• Determine which half-day per month everyone will work and donate their time. (Each dentist should check with his or her attorney and tax advisor as to the legalities and tax rules in these types of funds.) Employees should be asked to volunteer to work four hours per month and donate their time and compensation to their professional growth and development fund. “I understand that if I contribute hours and must leave the practice for any reason before the benefit is used, I will be paid for hours worked out of the CE Fund.”

• Figure how much will go into the fund per half-day worked. We recommend this be based on your average daily production or collections. To determine the average half-day, add the monthly production or collection and divide by two. Then divide by the number of days patients were seen during that month. This is the amount to be transferred to the interest-bearing CE Trip Kitty Fund.

Example: If your practice normally produces or collects an average of $4,000 daily, $2,000 would be set aside monthly.

Note: If your attorney or tax advisor frowns on asking employees to donate their time for CE trips or if your state disallows programs like this, here is an alternative. Each staff member is paid their regular wages. The staff donates these wages to the fund. It is recommended - in order to comply with state and federal tax and labor laws - that proper deductions be taken and each staff person endorses his or her check payable to Continuing Education Fund. The remaining amount is contributed by the doctor. This means the doctor usually contributes 75 percent and the staff collectively contributes 25 percent.

© 1997 Linda L. Miles & Associates