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Team retreats: The staff benefit that reaps big dental practice rewards

Oct. 1, 2013
Staff will love a retreat and it will help the dental practice thrive

Scrape, scrape, scrape ... That’s the sound of dentists scraping the bottom of the (applicant pool) barrel for great employees. When dentists bemoan the fact they cannot find good employees, I feel very 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 others have a constant turnover problem?

Doctors begin to wonder if there’s another opportunity that doesn’t require them to be in the hiring, training, and payroll business. These doctors are totally 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.

Picture this — sandy beaches, turquoise waters, bright sunshine, and happy staff members who are more excited about your practice and five-year vision than you are. Imagine returning to the office after a retreat with highly motivated, accountable team players that ask, “What can I do for my patients, employer, and coworkers to make our days less stressful and more productive?” This versus, “Here I am. What can this practice do for ME?” If this sounds too good to be true, it is not. In fact, this is the norm in practices that hold team retreats.

What’s a team retreat? It’s going 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 the employees be praised if they are not trained to do everything the dental practice act allows them to do? How can they be praised if they have bad attitudes? We all know that praise and appreciation rank highest on employees’ “needs” list, yet it is difficult to praise someone who is not connected to the practice vision and not performing at productive and praise-worthy levels. It’s truly a catch 22.

We all know that TRUST is another important factor of having the staff on board with the vision and enthusiastic about their daily contribution. In fact, trust breeds loyalty. You can never have loyal staff that would walk on hot coals and take a bullet for you unless they feel trusted and part of the vision-making process. Monthly staff meetings to discuss how the practice did last month and how it compares with the same month a year ago is an ongoing way of keeping the staff 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 and all other distractions of day-to-day living is best. Selecting a fun place such as a cruise to Jamaica, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Hawaii, or Barbados makes planning the retreat even more exciting.

Here are some retreat guidelines:
· Select a date at least nine months to a year away.
· Work with your travel arrangement coordinator to find just the right location at the best price.
· Contact the consultant you would like to have facilitate the retreat to check their available dates as soon as possible. Some of my clients refer to this as their off-site consultation as we gather the same practice, doctor, and staff surveys as if we were consulting in-office.
· Set the dates and reserve hotel and airline tickets in advance for best purchase prices.
· Start a CE Trip Kitty Fund. For this incentive, everyone donates four hours per month seeing patients at a time 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 staff to sign waivers to participate in the monthly half-days of donated time is legal in your state. If staff members leave the practice after having donated hours throughout the year, they are paid for those hours out of the fund.)
· Devote 10 minutes of your monthly staff meeting to retreat plans. Questionnaires and practice statistics should be gathered 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 versus the dentist gathering the information on staff questionnaires).


ALSO BY LINDA MILES:Do your patients a huge favor
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The retreats are held two mornings from 8 a.m. to noon, with afternoons free to enjoy the work family in a non-working environment. Staff members often describe these retreats as “grown up Girl Scout Camp” or “Yaa-Yaa Sisterhood” gatherings (providing all team members are female). With male employees, whom we see more often these days, the title of Team Retreat is much more fitting.

Before the retreat, take a snapshot on paper of what your practice looked like five years ago (if it’s over five years old). Where was the practice located facility-wise? What was the mix of services, mix of patients, percentage of insurance versus non insurance, production and collections levels per month, number of employees, number of dentists, number of dental chairs, number of hygiene patient days, number of hygiene patients per month, number of new patients, mix of children versus adults, overhead percentages in each category, and more?

Take another snapshot of today’s practice using the same data, and then paint the picture (with the team’s help) of where you want your practice to be and how it will look five years from now (past/present/future).

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

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

What type/age patients do you wish to attract? (Hint: If you want to do more comprehensive and cosmetic dentistry, drop the Family Dentistry tagline. Patients over the age of 45 [those who need more of that type of dentistry] do not frequent family businesses.) What is the marketing plan and budget to get from where the practice is to where you want it to be?

What technology is needed? What is the technology budget?

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 it be done, and how will it affect the practice? (Usually the change is for the better.)

What are the staffing needs to serve the practice of the future? Does the doctor wish to scale up or down 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 at the current time?

Team retreats are a benefit that pays dividends daily. At the retreat the current year is dropped and another year is added. Any changes of the doctor/owner’s five-year focus is discussed and mapped out. The team cannot help the employer have a better day, month, or year until they know the doctor’s vision. Staff members cannot develop “owner mentality” until they feel in on what’s happening.”

Make this the year you create the winning team by planning your team retreat. Stop the expense of hiring and retraining by retaining the good people you have. Besides being much more profitable, you will leave your office happy-tired versus stressed-out-tired. And that is a huge difference!

Linda Miles, CSP, CMC, Founder of Linda Miles and Associates and the Speaking Consulting Network, welcomes your feedback and staff retreat results. Linda can be reached at 757-721-3125 or at [email protected], or visit her website at