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Effective performance reviews ... Betty gets ugly, Part 1

Feb. 8, 2012
By Richard TrainI recently had a phone consultation with a practice manager who has a pretty common problem. (For the sake of this article, we will call her Betty.) Betty is the spouse of a dentist and handles everything related to the business; so her responsibilities include personnel management and the front-office processes. Unfortunately, there are parts of these duties that she HATES! Her husband prefers to be the easy-going clinician and “just fix teeth.” Although she said this to me as if it didn’t bother her, I could tell that it did; why else would she have brought it up in the first place? My guess is that it especially gets to her when it is time for annual performance reviews of staff. The upcoming series of reviews has Betty so distraught that she felt compelled to contact us for advice. This is not her strength, and yet she is the one having to hold their team of seven accountable. She hates to be the one to play the role of “bad guy,” but no one else can or will take that burden, so she is stuck.Betty started our conversation by asking the question, “How can I learn to not hate it so much?” Then she made a statement that summarizes the other part of her problem with this process: “It makes me feel like I am being ‘ugly’ to these folks who work for us.”Betty’s predicament is extremely common in dentistry, as well as in other industries. In any small, family-run business, there is a need to have someone take the role of disciplinarian or manager, and without training (or a knack for it), it can really stink!Betty told me that all she wants is to hire people who simply come in, do their jobs like they care, and then they get paid a fair wage for it. When she has to tell them all the areas where they are not doing well, she feels she will demotivate them. I told her she is absolutely right. When she describes her attitude like that, and her employees hear the way she discusses the issues, she probably will demotivate them. In fact, I know I would be very leery of advice from Betty if she were my boss, when she herself didn’t seem to buy into it.Betty wondered if there were any great incentives to motivate the staff so that she wouldn’t have to do it.The simple truth is that there is no magic arrow in your motivational quiver that will strike the hearts of all people the “right” way. People are just too different, and you sometimes need to take the responsibility to sit them down and talk frankly with them. Whether you are rewarding or reprimanding them does not matter, and ALL human resources issues can be solved with the proper use of two things:1. Communication2. DocumentationPretty much anything within employee management will fall under one of these two umbrellas, and knowing how to effectively apply them can save people like Betty a lot of trouble and anxiety.Important tasks such as the following will partially fall under the communication banner:• Hiring• Employee policies• Benefits• Training • Pay increases/decreases• Reviews• Reprimanding• FiringHowever, ensuring that everything is prepared by the manager, as well as confirmed to be understood, followed, and thorough, falls under documentation. Both sides are interdependent, and if one is insufficiently handled, you can still get burned.However, one of the best feelings I have as a manager comes when I am put to the test and I know I have communicated, then documented effectively. I get no surprises, and I get to focus on helping to make the situation/person/team better. In Part 2 of this article, using Betty’s situation, I will give some concrete examples that can be employed in any practice.Until then, feel free to contact me with any questions you may have, or even let me know what works in your practice.Make it a great day!
Richard Train is a graduate of the California State University at Northridge, but his “real” education started from his family’s multigenerational, midsized business, and carried him into senior management positions in other companies. Richard spent decades learning successful business skills from some of the best, and teaching hundreds in several industries. Richard and his business partner, Hogan Allen, have been working in dentistry for several years and began Get Results Marketing and Business Coaching to share their knowledge. Their goals have always been to help dentists and dental teams learn and grow in any economy, and their weekly free webcast show, “The Whole Tooth,” on was created for that very purpose. They can be reached via their website at, or by phone at (800) 275-2350.