Accountability in the dental office: the secret to an efficient, effective team

Sept. 22, 2011

By Jan Keller

Have you ever wondered why your colleagues seem to have great teams, in which everyone is happy and pleasant, and everyone gets along?

And then wondered … what am I doing wrong? Why isn’t my staff as happy and pleasant as theirs?

If this sounds familiar, ask yourself this fundamental question: Am I accountable for the decisions I make, not only in the hiring process, but in evaluation of job performance? Do I hold my staff accountable as well?

If your answer to either question is no, you have more than likely identified the basic underlying cause of your staff tension and dissension: lack of accountability.

Wikipedia’s definition of accountability in a leadership role is a mouthful, but revealing: “the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, decisions, and policies, including the administration and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position, and encompassing the obligation to report, explain, and be answerable for resulting consequences.”

Let’s take a closer look at this fundamental concept and how it pertains to the dental office. In general, there are two types of people when it comes to accountability.

• Those who point fingers at themselves
• Those who point fingers at others

We often see instances of the latter in children. As parents, we sometimes fail to hold our children accountable for their behavior for fear they will not love us or will be upset with us, thereby creating individuals who feel they are not responsible for their actions. As adults, this manifests itself in employees who do not feel they have to be held accountable for their job performance. In these types, it’s always someone else’s “fault,” and their actions inevitably drag the rest of the team down, too.

Productive and effective practices with effective teams have a clear sense of accountability in terms of:

• what each staff member’s role is within the practice
• how job performance will be evaluated

Put a “forensic” hiring and evaluation game plan in place

Hiring new staff members can be a daunting process, especially as the consequences of making mistakes are costly -- in time, money, and stress.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to put candidates “under the microscope” to make sure you choose the right person every time, and finally put an end to the mystery of the personnel revolving door with which most practices are familiar. Do this by using an easy four-step process for finding and integrating the right person for the job into your practice: clarify, screen, select, integrate.

Clarify: Define your core values. What matters most to you? Skills? Experience? Communication style? Is one more important than the other?

Screen: With your core values defined, and an ad in place that reflects these values, begin the process of screening resumes.

Select: Conduct a reference and background check, and write an offer letter that truly conveys your enthusiasm.

Integrate: Commit to a training and orientation plan that is shared with the staff and allows the new employee to excel.

There it is -- a simple, four-step “forensic” process for hiring the right person the first time and solving the mystery of the revolving door.

Next, put in writing what each job in your practice entails -- the skills, abilities, responsibilities, and duties you want the position to encompass. Have a clear picture in your head of the person you want to hire, and the duties and responsibilities you want them to take on.

Using a forensic hiring technique, with a clearly defined job description, as well as a crystal clear understanding of the type of person you want on your team, makes the hiring process practically painless, even fun.

Some questions to ask:

• Do your team members know what is expected of them when they are hired? Too often we set our employees up to fail because we do not have a training plan in place to help them succeed.
• Are you hiring someone who wants a job, or are you looking for someone who wants a career in dentistry?
• Do you expect your staff to perform duties outside their main job description? For instance, do you ask your assistant to perform front desk duties when they have downtime? If so, what will those duties include?
• Do you offer opportunities to advance within your practice?

If you are the person being hired, take a proactive approach. For instance, if you are a clinical or administrative assistant, ask whether there is a written job description listing the philosophy of the practice, job duties, responsibilities, and what skills are needed to perform those duties. Ask if there is a written training outline, as well as what the time line is, who will be training you, and who will be evaluating your performance.

As an interviewee, ask if there is:

• A written job description for the position listing:
The philosophy of the practice
Job duties and responsibilities
Skills needed to perform those duties
Who you will be reporting to
How often you will be evaluated
What training plan is in place for your position, and who will be monitoring it

In other words, make accountability a management tool just like the other tools you use in your practice. Implement a fair and accurate process for evaluating job performance, and then tie behavior to real consequences and rewards.

• Spell out expectations in advance in clear, written language.
• Track performance and evaluate employees often.
• Praise in public; criticize in private.
• Follow through with real consequences based on whether the employee’s actual performance meets expectations or not.

Relationships based on trust, confidence, and accountability work. As the team leader, it is vital that you begin to establish that relationship on day one -- and then treat every day as day one!

Begin today to create the environment and develop the skills you need to have the happy, productive, efficient, and effective team you deserve and desire.

Janice Keller has 25-plus years of experience in dentistry – clinically, and as an office manager and software trainer. Now, as a practice management consultant, she provides high-quality, customized practice development and education to clients and their teams. Jan’s clients praise her ability to recognize, understand, and adapt to their specific training requirements, and to provide the necessary tools and skills they need to meet their practice goals. Jan is certified by Bent Ericksen & Associates in employee law compliance, and is also certified by the Institute of Practice Management. She is a member of the prestigious Speaking/Consulting Network and the Academy of Dental Management Consultants. She is also an independent certified SoftDent trainer. Contact her at [email protected].