Let Poor Performers Dismiss Themselves
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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You try to be fair, so you tell yourself, “Ellen was late from time to time when she had young children, so I need to be more tolerant of Tara’s situation as well.” You try to be understanding, so you make excuses, “Sometimes personal issues just can’t be avoided in the workplace.” You try to look the other way, “Oh she really wasn’t that late, was she?” You try to maintain your composure, “Count to 10, breathe deeply, focus on the spot on the wall, walk away.” Until one day, you simply can’t “try” anymore. Furious, disgusted, beside yourself with anger, you finally lose it. “YOU’RE FIRED!” There! You did it! You feel better for a split second and then you wonder just exactly what kind of a Pandora’s Box did you just unlatch.
I recommend you save yourself the stress and let employees fire themselves. Yes, you read that correctly – fire themselves. It’s called progressive discipline and employees are in on it from the beginning.
Ideally you’ll never get to that point because you’ve taken steps to ensure you hired the right people for your practice and you are helping them succeed. For example, you provide the proper tools and necessary training. You have clear practice policies in place, as well as clearly defined disciplinary procedures. In addition, you conduct and have on file regular performance reviews in which you evaluate the employee’s performance in key areas such as:
- their ability to follow instructions
- their consistency in following office policies and procedures
- their willingness to help others and cooperate with the team
- the incidents of errors in their work
- their initiative, commitment, and innovation in carrying out their
responsibilities and improving work flow
- their work ethics, their attitude, and their individual productivity
Unfortunately, the working world is less than ideal, and the time to prepare for disciplinary action is not when you’re at the end of your rope and ready to send the employee packing.
Unless the employee’s behavior is so egregious that you are forced to take immediate action, the team member should be given the opportunity to improve their performance over a 60-90 day period. But don’t just call them aside and encourage them to try a little harder. You must explain to the employee verbally and in writing the specific issues that are not satisfactory and document what specific activities need to change in the employee’s performance. You and the employee must have an agreement on what she/he needs to do to improve performance. That agreement must be in writing, signed by both doctor and employee and placed in the employee’s file. Monitor the employee’s progress and give regular feedback and document every single step in the process.
In addition, if a team member violates a practice policy, document the incident with an “Employee Warning Notice” or similar document. The warning notice states specifically the type of violation committed. It also includes an area for the employee to acknowledge or deny the incident and provide her/his version of what transpired. The notice also should specifically state the type of disciplinary action that the practice will take – warning, suspension, termination, or other. In addition, it prescribes what the consequences are should the incident happen again. And, finally, it includes a signature line where the employee signs, confirming that they fully understand the notice, it’s purpose, and the repercussions.
With progressive discipline, the penalties become stronger if the employee misconduct or poor performance is repeated. For example, it may start with an oral warning, proceed to a written warning, it may go as far as suspension, and ultimately termination.
When employees see the documentation, when they understand the policies, they cannot deny that they are responsible for their actions and the consequences. It isn’t the dentist’s decision to terminate the employee, rather it’s the employee’s choice to fail to correct the problem.
Too often dentists would rather ignore the concern than deal with problem employees and disciplinary troubles. But left unaddressed these personnel issues can crush a team and wreak serious havoc on a practice. Fortunately, in today’s growing dental marketplace more support services are emerging to help dentists address the many management issues that are often a troubling distraction from what doctors really want to be doing – the dentistry.
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