4.30.10 Issue #425 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

If that New Employee Isn’t Working, Whose Fault Is It?
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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It’s an exciting day when new employees come into the practice. If you’ve hired right, there is a very good and positive energy that they bring to the practice, along with fresh ideas and perspectives. Unfortunately, in too many cases, the “honeymoon” is over in about six months. You’re shaking your head and wondering how you could have been so wrong about someone who seemed so right.

Let’s rewind the tapes and consider what has transpired since that employee was brought on. Was she/he given a job description, training, feedback, and performance reviews? Or was she sent to the front desk and told that “Cari” the other business employee will explain everything and take it from here. But Cari has enough on her plate and doing the job herself is just easier than taking the time to try to explain everything that needs to be done. Cari does not know how to give appropriate direction or feedback. And performance reviews? The doctor doesn’t really like them, so they never get done.

All the while, the new employee drifts along growing more frustrated. She can pick up kernels of information here and there and she’s doing her best to figure things out. But, understandably, important details are falling through the cracks. The problems only escalate and rather than examining the systems, the doctor is looking for someone to blame - the new employee is on the firing line. What should have been a positive experience has turned into a hiring disaster that could have and should have been avoided. Implementing a few common sense human resources strategies can ensure that new employees quickly become key contributors to the success of your practice.

  1. Provide clear job descriptions to employees, so they know exactly what is expected of them.
  2. Train new employees but don’t overwhelm them. The new hire will be far more likely to succeed if the training program allows them to assimilate information and tasks at a steady rate rather than a rapid-fire pace.
  3. Give the employee some form of personnel policy manual. This document spells out the office code of conduct, dress code, policies regarding tardiness, overtime, sick leave, office policies and procedures. All employees deserve to know the rules of the game and what they need to do to continue playing.
  4. Give your employees ongoing direction and constructive feedback. Too many practices wait until there’s a problem or crisis before they give staff any feedback.
  5. Be specific. Don’t candy-coat the feedback and don’t beat around the bush. Tell employees what they’re doing well and what needs to be corrected. 
  6. Know when to cut your losses.

Certainly, there are times when an employee – new or long-term – simply must be dismissed. They may fail to follow established office policies, they may be dishonest, argumentative, or difficult to get along with, they may fail to carry out responsibilities, or they may refuse to be a team player. They may gossip about patients, the doctor, other team members or bring down the practice morale with snide comments and cutting remarks. They may be late routinely or divulge confidential information. They may not follow directions or they may be secretive about steps they take in performing their responsibilities so as to make themselves seem irreplaceable. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why some employees don’t work out.

Whatever the reason, problem employees need to be dealt with directly and clearly using a system of progressive discipline. 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 her/his performance over a 60-90 day period. But don’t just call them aside and encourage them to try a little harder. Explain to the employee verbally and in writing the specific issues that are not satisfactory and document exactly what needs to change in the employee’s performance.

With the employee, develop an agreement that spells out what she/he needs to do to improve performance. It should be in writing, signed by both doctor and employee, and placed in the employee’s file. Monitor the staff member’s progress, give regular feedback, and document every step and every conversation in the process. Ideally, at the end of this 60-90 day progressive discipline plan the employee has had the opportunity to see the errors of her/his ways, make the necessary improvements, and everyone lives and works happily ever after.

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com. Interested in having Sally speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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