Effective staff management for dentists and dental teams: Part II
Which type of dental team members do you want on your staff? Why, the motivated and engaged ones, of course. How can you get everyone on the same page?
Avoiding a bad employee fit
It’s easy to appreciate team members who are productive, cooperative, and properly trained in their duties. They’re valuable assets to the practice because they competently and industriously get the job done, come what may.
The flip side of this is another matter. It often requires a great deal of convincing to get a dental practice leader to realize how disastrous just one ineffectual team member can be to the whole practice. Particularly in a setting where a small group of people work in close proximity day after day, the dentist may fear being pegged as a tyrant if he or she disciplines an underperformer.
My experiences have shown that most businesses with four to six staff members have at least one underperforming employee. How can such shortcomings be addressed without deflating employee morale? A good first step is to learn to differentiate among the various types of personnel. This will help ensure that the team members in place are committed to giving their best on the job.
The willing—These employees listen to and follow instructions. Beware of staff members who nod their heads and say they understand when they actually do not. They may not be getting a clear picture of your expectations due to any number of reasons. They may not fully understand a particular technical term or process, or they may have a poor basic skill set. To avoid confusion in the workplace, make it clear that questions are encouraged and then patiently address them, no matter how obvious the answers may seem to you.
The unmotivated—These team members typically attend to their responsibilities only when the boss or someone important is nearby. Otherwise they spend company time attending to personal matters. However, just because an employee sends a personal text message during work hours does not necessarily mean he or she is unmotivated. Some of the most productive staff members may work fewer hours than others and still get more done. But employees who do not fulfill their responsibilities except when the boss is standing over them are draining company resources. They are letting the team down and causing others more work. Ignoring such behavior will contribute to overall burnout.
The negative—These workers make the same mistakes without trying to improve. They make excuses for their lackluster performance and establish habits that are not good for the practice. Shocking as this may seem, some managers accept this behavior and even find ways to work around it by shifting responsibilities to more capable workers. Here’s an example: At one dental office with five employees, the dentist was asked who was best suited to handle the simple daily task of filing a report and notifying the appropriate person. When a particular staff member was suggested he said, “Oh, I could never trust her to do that!” If she cannot be trusted to handle such a simple task, why is she on the payroll?
When Mark Masunga, DDS, learned how to address the development of the workers in his dental office in Hawaii, he saw significant improvement in their outlook and performance. “I addressed some problems, and now we have a wonderful staff,” he said. “The atmosphere is happy, positive, and productive. People want to work and they want to be successful. Before I felt like I was dragging a big heavy cart. Now I feel like I’m driving a car: I step on the gas and it just goes!”
By respectfully addressing team member concerns, the boss can open up a channel of communication and model the kind of behavior expected of them. One way to know if a staff member is among the “willing” is to note whether he or she grows on the job, makes fewer mistakes as time passes, and is open to more training.
When a staff member flourishes, so will the practice. Occasional ups and downs are to be expected, but chronic problems should not be allowed to become “business as usual.” To ensure a good employee fit:
• Hire employees with a positive outlook who are eager to work and improve their skills, and who do not require excessive supervision to fulfill their responsibilities.
• Clearly define production quotas and other goals.
• Take time to learn what employees need the most help with.
• Make sure employees receive the training and coaching they need without over-managing them.
• Provide ongoing guidance to refine employees’ leadership skills and foster both productivity and morale.
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. Wilson is the author of Personnel: Your Most Valuable Resource or Greatest Burden (2010). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.