Dental Staff Nightmare

The 7 deadly sins of a dental staff performance shortfall

Aug. 16, 2013
With proper dental staff coaching, problems can be avoided.

How often have you awoken from a sound sleep because of a nightmare about one of your employees? As your heart races, you think dark thoughts such as, “She hates me," “She needs a therapist," or “There is nothing I can do so I’ll just have to live with this until she leaves the practice.”

This is an example of “stinking thinking.” It doesn’t give the leader any options to upgrade the performance, and it doesn’t allow the team member to be coached to new levels of success.

For those of you who really want to help, mentor, and coach your team members toward improvement, I have some very good news. There are only seven reasons why staff members experience a performance shortfall. Most importantly, only one of the seven cannot be fixed. In the chaos and confusion of helping someone who is struggling, it’s nice to know there’s a reason for the problem and that you have the tools to address it.

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Let’s use an example from a Pride Institute client. Emily is a financial coordinator. She is organized, focused, and productive. She loves communicating with the patients during the treatment conference, and she has tremendous success working the e-claims system. When it comes to collection calls, however, she has very little success, waits until the last minute, and avoids this task above all else. What’s happening with Emily?

The seven deadly sins

  1. Lack of task clarity
    Does Emily know the guidelines for collections? How many days is she supposed to wait before making contact regarding a missed payment? Does she have the verbal skills to support phone contact? Does she have sample letters and online pay notices? Or, have you simply told her to “make calls and collect money.”
  2. Lack of task priority
    Is there a job description that lists all of the tasks in priority order based on the vision, goals, and strategies of the practice? In the absence of pre-set priorities, people will always default to what they are confident in and what they do best. Emily loves patient interaction and processing insurance. Therefore, she will always do those things first.
  3. Lack of competence
    I’m not suggesting that Emily is incompetent. I’m saying it needs to be determined if Emily has the innate ability and transferable skills to master the job. That is what creates competence, and it is the coach’s responsibility to make that happen.
  4. Real or perceived obstacles
    Is there an elephant in the room that prevents Emily from making these calls? Whether real or imagined, an obstacle is an obstacle. If Emily believes there is no time to make the calls, this must be addressed and resolved before she can move on.
  5. A perceived reward for failure
    There are two types of rewards for failure. The first type is to rescue the team member. If the dentist makes the collection calls his or her problem, Emily doesn’t have to worry about them anymore. The second type of reward is a bit more complex. Emily may crave attention, whether good or bad. If the only meaningful conversations the dentist has with the team are those of correction, then subconsciously the team will create situations that need to be addressed.
  6. 6. Lack of performance feedback
    Mumbles, grumbles, or telepathic good wishes don’t count as feedback. In too many instances, no meaningful feedback is given until there is a huge disaster. If Emily is going to succeed, she must be caught in the act of doing it right or close to right and given immediate feedback.
  7. 7. A role or person mismatch
    The great news is that if points 1-6 have been reviewed with Emily and she is still unsuccessful at collection calls, then the mystery is solved. There is a role or person mismatch. It doesn’t mean Emily must be terminated. It may mean that the job description must be defined so that it is a win-win for both her and the practice.

When you know that you can help a floundering employee, you will sleep at night. Your practice will run at a much higher level because you coached team members to new levels of success.

Learn more about leadership training and dental business systems at Pride’s seminar, “Managing by the Numbers.” For course dates or more information on individual consulting services and other continuous education seminars and training products, call 800-925-2600 or visit

Amy Morgan is the CEO of Pride Institute, dentistry’s most respected practice management firm. For over 30 years, Pride’s team of dental business and financial experts have helped dentists at all stages of their careers to achieve the practice of their dreams.