Get Buy-In from Your Team
Here’s a question I recently received from a doctor. His dilemma seems to have a great deal of applicability to many readers so I thought I’d share it with you.
“How do you best recommend approaching staff with changes you want to make that you do not feel will make them happy? I want to have staff take turns answering the phone over lunch hours and on days we come in late. I feel we are missing out a lot. I know they like spending their lunch hours together, but I feel running a business requires the phone to be answered more than the hours we are seeing patients. Any help on this matter would be appreciated.”
Change in and of itself is difficult. People’s preference for and reactions to change are so different. Therefore the first step is do nothing until you have a careful plan of action. Telling someone that you are going to disrupt their life needs to be given serious thought in order to have maximum buy-in. Unless there is a life-threatening issue, take time for planning what you will say and how you will deliver the message of change.
The most logical approach is to bring up the issue at a staff meeting with everyone present. Share your concerns about missed calls at lunch. Talk about it from the perspective of your feelings and the impact this has on the practice, including on them. Frame it in a positive manner. Speak slowing and softly. Have an inquisitive tone, one of curiosity. Pause between sentences. Here's a possible script to build on:
"I have been thinking about our office policy and the fact that we only answer the phones when we are seeing patients – during office hours. During the lunch hour and on those days when we don't start until late morning, new patients are likely calling us. And we are missing those calls. We can schedule more appointments by expanding our phone coverage. New patients mean more business…which means more money for all of you (or whatever benefit they will gain). I need your help to make this happen. What ideas do you have?"
The bottom line is don't “announce” a change. No one likes to have a bomb dropped on them. Instead, frame the problem as moving TOWARD something better, for patient care and especially for employee satisfaction. Invite them to participate, especially early on in the process. You can always institute a command, but that is not the place to start. The goal is to build excitement and good will. Or, at the very least, you need to have foresight to minimize as much resistance as possible. Remember to be patient and avoid the potential to rush to a solution. If it’s not a fire, flood or earthquake take your time up front to plant the seed and see what grows. This is not a waste but an efficient use of time because it will give you a sense of their willingness (or not) to engage with you in covering the phones.
I assume that the person who stays at lunch or comes in early will be paid for these additional hours. Have you considered that there may be a staff member (or more) who might want to add more money to their paycheck? It reminds me of one of the dilemmas in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Tom was tasked with painting a fence on a beautiful summer day when he would have preferred to be out fishing. When his buddies started teasing that he had to work while they played, he portrayed the painting as something very few could do. He built up the task as a privilege. He initially resisted letting any of his friends try it. Then, with the appearance of great reluctance and worry, he let go. In the end, the fence had 3 coats of paint while he idled in the shade.
OK, let's say no one volunteers. Again, be patient. Tell them you understand they don't want to give up their lunches…that they like spending time together…that you are happy about their camaraderie. Empathy is powerful and the fact that your employees like each other is a plus. Acknowledge that then pause. The key is to be thoughtful and deliberate. In a calm, slow voice tell them once more “we really do need to expand the phone coverage" and "please think about what we can do to make that happen.” Wait a few days and ask again. This can be at the end of the morning huddle so you don't need to call a formal staff meeting.
I think by now you have the drift of my thinking. This is a step-by-step process that is carefully planned and executed. You can always "announce" a change. But that should be your last step. Good luck. Keep me posted.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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