Effective staff management for dentists and dental teams: Part III

Knowing what motivates the dental team can help dentists offer the proper incentives to keep the practice running smoothly. There are a few things to watch for in order to find motivated team members.

Apr 26th, 2016
Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2016 04 Happy Dental Employee 1

Understand what motivates your staff

Part I: Staff management: A challenge for small business owners
Part II: Avoiding a bad employee fit

The next step in effective staff management is to find out what motivates your team members to perform their responsibilities. Unless each person is fully engaged and motivated, the practice will not realize the value of its talent.

When determining what motivates employees, it’s important to recognize that money is not the most powerful incentive. Although pay is certainly important, the job itself needs to engage workers, because this is a large part of their daily life. From least to most powerful, I will discuss the primary motivators here.

Money—Employees who are primarily motivated by money are usually clock-watchers. They leave precisely at closing time, even though there may still be patients to serve. They have a tendency to extend their breaks if they think they can get away with it. Putting themselves and their concerns first, they don’t really care about the practice, even if they say they do.

How can you spot these people before you bring them on board? During an interview, ask how they would handle specific patient-centered interactions. Note whether their inquiries center on how much they’ll be paid and other financial considerations. But be careful not to confuse someone striving for a deserved bonus for top-level performance with someone who is solely motivated by money.

Those who are solely motivated by money do not typically make good team players. If this trait is spotted during an interview, you should not hire them. If they already work for the company, they should be counseled on how to improve their performance and told they will be let go if they do not improve.

Personal gain—Patients want to obtain some personal gain from doing business with your office. Of course, staff should also receive some level of personal satisfaction from their work. But team members who are looking only for personal gain in the form of company perks are poorly motivated. The purpose of the practice is not simply to meet their needs, but to provide a service or product for your patients. If this goal is effectively met, everyone within and outside the practice will benefit.

Personal conviction—People motivated by personal conviction enjoy what they do. When it comes to tackling their responsibilities, collaborating with colleagues, and helping patients, these people’s intentions are readily apparent. Companies full of people who are motivated by personal conviction run smoothly. In fact, they’re fun to work in!

Duty—Staff members who are motivated by duty do not hesitate to answer the phone, help a patient, or pitch in to clean up the office even if the task is not in their job description. They strive to keep the practice going against all obstacles, and are loyal and trustworthy. A practice owner would be very fortunate to have even one employee motivated by duty. Although it’s easier to find staff members who are motivated by personal conviction rather than by duty, such rare and valuable people can be found if you, the dentist, take the time to implement a careful screening and interview process.

Reward systems: A neglected aspect of personnel management
An often-ignored principle in the handling of staff in terms of pay and other compensation comes down to this: If poor production is rewarded, poor production will continue; if good production is penalized, poor production is encouraged.

Staff should be paid well, but experience has shown that unless every staff member is motivated by duty or personal conviction, blanket bonus systems rarely work. For example, consider an office of five, where the collections target for a particular month is $70,000. According to the practice’s policy, whenever the office makes its quota, all team members get a $200 bonus. Everything seems fine until three team members realize that the other two often goofed off and almost prevented the others from working and making the target. The productive employees may decide that it makes no sense for them to work so hard when everyone is equally rewarded. The productive ones pull back. When the next month’s financials are reported, it should come as no surprise that collections are down.

Practice owners typically rely on a blanket bonus system to motivate high performance and reward the achievement of team goals. While there is nothing wrong with this, there should be two systems in place—an individual bonus system based on each person’s production, and a team bonus system. This way high performers are still recognized, even when overall team performance does not meet expectations.

The benefit of focusing on business basics
John Whitworth, DDS, who runs a dental practice in Orange County, California, revamped his office policies in keeping with the guidelines described here, and he’s seen significant improvement in employee-patient relations and patient satisfaction.

“Everybody knew what they were supposed to be doing—their jobs had been fully spelled out, along with the bonuses they’d get for doing them exceptionally well,” he said. “Since we had learned to keep accurate production graphs on everything, I could keep track of it all without guesswork. Everybody’s pitching in and getting results. I watch every uptick in their enthusiasm, and I smile.”

The three aspects of business management that he focused on were judicious hiring, understanding the various types of staff motivation, and establishing a fair and effective reward system. These are the keys to prosperity for any small business, including dental practices.


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Wilson, Kevin. "Hiring Breakthrough." Personnel: Your Most Valuable Resource or Greatest Burden – based on the works of L. Ron Hubbard. Sterling Management, 2013. Amazon, 2013. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

Kevin Wilson is CEO of Sterling, an award-winning management consulting firm that has twice appeared on the Inc. 500 list of America’s fastest growing, privately held companies. Founded in 1983, the firm has delivered more than 500,000 hours of business consulting and completed more than 135,000 training sessions among 175,000 business professionals from 1,700 cities throughout the United States. Kevin can be reached at kw@sterling.us.

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