11.23.07 - Issue # 298 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague
HR Management
Promote In Down Times
Gratitude Attitude

Lost Another Good Employee?
Do Something about It
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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It’s one of the most frustrating and unpredictable situations dentists face. Everything is humming along just fine. The schedule is full. Production is solid. Collections are good, and treatment acceptance is even better. The team appears to be functioning reasonably well. Then, as they say, the other shoe drops. Your long-term business employee – the one who is the expert on the computer systems, a master scheduler and overall great employee – hands in her two-weeks notice. There’s no hiding your shock and disappointment. WHY is she leaving? And how is it that you did not see it coming? What happened to trigger this?

The scenario is all too common in dental practices in every major city, small town, and growing metropolis. Employee turnover is nothing new; in fact it happens about every 18 months in most dental offices. After the initial shock and feelings of betrayal subside, most dentists shrug their shoulders and resign themselves to the “good help is hard to keep” attitude. As most of you know, it’s even harder to find. Estimates for replacing an employee range from $20,000 to 1.5 times the team member’s annual salary. And when it comes to quality personnel, you’re losing far more than money when they walk out the door.

Attorney Mike Moore knows all about staff turnover. He’s been an employee relations litigator for more than 30 years and has seen businesses large and small struggle with employee issues and human resources nightmares that could have been resolved amicably if employers would take a few preemptive steps. Mike is McKenzie Management’s new Director of Human Resources and the author of the Employment Policy and Handbook.

Over the years he’s found time and again that when employers ignore problems, it’s the good team members that silently fume and eventually leave. “They see that the doctor doesn’t address the negative behaviors of other employees. They become concerned, disappointed, and angry. Eventually they just start looking for another job.” 

What’s more, in most practices, there’s no mechanism or process in place for employees to effectively share concerns or grievances. Typically, most doctors or office managers mistakenly believe that if they claim the office has an “open door policy” they’ve done all that’s necessary to encourage employees to come forward with concerns. That’s not going to do it, says Mike. “To keep good employees, team members need to know that if they have concerns or complaints there are procedures in place in which they can voice their concerns and know that they will be addressed, without fear of punishment.”

Mike urges practices to implement an “Employee Concerns Policy.” This is a defined procedure in which employees complete a form that is available to them and give it to the doctor anonymously if they choose. “Rather than saying ‘we have an open door policy,’ the policy needs to say that the employee will be protected if they come forward with a concern. There will not be any retaliation. We want you to come forward so that we can have a discussion. It may be as small a concern as how staff breaks are handled to the more serious issues, such as reporting harassment.”

The most important aspect of this is that there is a written section in which the employee writes down their concern and the doctor writes down the practice’s response to the employee’s concern. The employee knows that the problem will get a response, it won’t just be ignored.

One of the major benefits of a process such as this is that it enables the doctor or office manager to learn much more about what’s happening in the practice and among the team. But the greatest benefit, Mike has found in working with practices, is that both employees and the doctor genuinely appreciate the policy because it makes it much easier for the entire team to deal with problems as they arise. “Let’s face it, when it comes to dealing with concerns and problem employees, if you’re just making it up as you go along you are certainly going to face many more obstacles than if you have a policy in writing that you consistently follow.”

Next week, find out why you need to throw out that Progressive Discipline Policy.

Interested in having Mike Moore write your customized Employment Policy and Handbook?  Go here. Interested in having  Mike speak to your dental society or study club? Click Here.

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Scott McDonald
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Should You Continue To Promote Your Practice In a “Down” Market?

Our company tracks the successes and failures of dentists throughout the United States. After all, we have to know WHERE practices are doing better or worse and WHY. We don’t think we are letting the “cat out of the bag” by saying that most great successes and spectacular failures are not due to external forces. Instead, it is the doctor’s approach to practice, patients, life, and business that will be the motivating force behind the results that the practice will see.

Still, we have to consider the external forces because they WILL have an impact upon the bottom line. These forces are often regional rather than national. Texas is growing. Michigan is shrinking. But we also know that the Credit Market is in distress on a national level. If your practice is in an area hard-hit by unemployment, a shrinking population, an exploding competition level, and withering consumer confidence, the practice will feel the downturn. There is no doubt. But most professionals find themselves in a market that may only have one or two of these negative factors. Is it worth being in practice? Should you continue promoting your practice? Is there a wonderful land somewhere that dentists do not have problems?

The answer to the last question first: NO! Every location will have challenges. There is nowhere that patients will wait for find a great dentist with wads of cash stuffed in their fists; appalled at the thought of being late for an appointment. Sorry.

The question on whether you should continue promoting your practice even when things look grim is simple: “YES!” During downturns, it is perhaps MORE necessary to maintain your practice’s name recognition than during times of plenty. It escapes some people that millionaires were MADE during the Great Depression. Fortunes were amassed because some investors and business owners understood that there is more than a change in the economic weather, there was a shift in how consumers perceived it. It is not so much a matter of climate shifts that are changing but shorter-term adjustments in attitude (weather).

The wise professional will understand that to promote a practice at the height of one’s busiest time does not make sense EXCEPT if he or she is taking the long view. Things always slow after a busy time. We also know that things will always pick up after a slow time. Consistent practice promotion is the best way to keep the practice’s “brand” and/or the doctor’s “name recognition” high. It is the income equivalent of “dollar-cost averaging.” 

Certainly, practices need to shift what they offer in order to meet the changing demands of the local market. There is the perception among many dentists that people care more about money than any other aspect of practice when times get hard. Research and experience say that this is not entirely true. Instead, what people VALUE about what dentistry does will shift with the public mood or perception of the market at the moment..  For example, they will not want dentistry delivered in the same way that they did before. They may want alternatives to payment mechanisms that have been working for years but have stopped. They want something different from the doctor in his or her diagnosis. They may expect something different from your staff than they did before.

The truth about dentistry is that at its core, it is not a service that can be put-off forever. For this reason, pent-up demand will often be the sign of the most economically stressed areas.  Every practice area goes through cycles of consumer confidence, employment, insurance, and competition. This is nothing new. The length and nature of the cycles change but they are always there.

In Southern California devastating fires displaced millions of people, many of whom were the most affluent residents of the foothill communities threatened by the blazes. While we believe that dentistry will suffer a downturn in these locations, no one should assume that dental need has left the area.  If nothing else, it has merely been delayed.

It may seem like an irony but we believe that given the credit crisis, the fires, and lower than expected consumer confidence that the total production of dentistry in San Diego County will be higher in 2008 than at any previous year for 20 years (when adjusted for inflation).

We predict that the practices that will do best are those that will continue to present the core message of their practice; its brand; so that when the patients are ready to come back, they will know for certain that “their” practice is still there to serve them and to accept their referrals.

The time, effort, and money that it takes to promote a practice should be a regular process for every practice rather than an event.

Interested in knowing more about the demographics of your area?  Go here. Scott McDonald is the largest provider of dental marketing research to dental practices.  For more information demographics@mckenziemgmt.com.

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Dr. Nancy Haller
Dentist Coach
McKenzie Management
coach@ mckenziemgmt.com
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Develop a Gratitude Attitude in Your Practice

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.
- William James

It’s Thanksgiving. The holiday dedicated to the celebration of our blessings.

Consider how things might be if you gave thanks every day…communicated appreciation for all the good things others do for you in your practice.

Think about all the people who inspire and help you. In addition to your staff, there may be a vendor who goes the extra mile. Or the mail carrier who has a great sense of humor and adds levity to stressful days. You may feel grateful for their service but is your appreciation obvious to them?

Perhaps you have fallen into the trap of griping (even if only thinking it) about the shortcomings of your employees. Of course your scheduler could chat less and focus more on filling holes in your day. Your clinical assistant could be a better organizer. Reduced tension between the front and back office would be grand.

Be careful. Each grumble puts you into a mindset of depreciation. It’s akin to the half-empty vs. half-full perspective. The former provokes feelings of loss – something’s missing - while the latter leads to feelings of optimism.

At any given moment, each one of us has complete control over what we think. We can enrich the quality of our lives. By raising the level of appreciation in your office you open yourself up to a more bountiful practice.

An attitude of gratitude strengthens employees, makes them more efficient. It heightens morale. It increases teamwork. It makes the office more pleasant. Employees treat patients better. When people feel valued they are more creative and productive.

You say “they know how I feel”, but it’s essential that they hear you say it out loud. True gratitude needs to be personal and genuine. Furthermore, it's not just saying thank you, but how you show it that makes all the difference.

Fostering appreciation in the workplace begins with you, the dental leader. You can make the difference. You can take the responsibility for carrying the spirit of appreciation each day to your practice, letting the power of gratitude revitalize your office.

Appreciation poured into your practice is like water and food to flowers; it helps everything blossom and grow. Things become fresh and alive again. Today, as always, people are craving to be appreciated!

Five easy ways to say thank you:

Write a note of thanks.  Consider how uplifting it would be for your employees if you sent them notes of appreciation, in your handwriting, in an envelope, with a stamp on it!  It needn’t be long but it must be sincere.

Surprise post-it notes. Imagine how great employees would feel coming back from lunch to find a note of gratitude taped on their monitor or to their desk. You can make someone's day by leaving a message thanking them for who they are or the great work they do.

Gift certificates for movies or car washes.   These simple gestures don’t cost much but demonstrate that you value what others do for you, that you’re thinking of them.

Food.  Nearly everyone appreciates bagels and coffee in the morning, or being treated to lunch. Order in a yard-long sub sandwich and watch the smiles on your employees’ faces. Consider an afternoon make-your-own-sundaes. 

Giveappreciation bucks’.  With a little time you can design a fun reward system in your office. Play ‘dollars’ are distributed for good service so that employees can opt to buy items in the practice ‘store’. The selection might include a special parking space for a week, a longer lunch break, or leaving an hour earlier. You establish the valuations so these are reasonable.

Imagine how different your workday would be if ALL your staff expressed genuine appreciation for each other. With the power of gratitude at your disposal, you can bring a new spirit of appreciation in your practice. Try it for a month at your office and see what happens.

True appreciation isn’t just a perfunctory "thank you". It's a meaningful gesture backed by sincerity of purpose that involves feelings. Gratitude is appreciation for the little things, an emotion that opens us up to seeing life in a more positive light. It produces feelings of excitement and joy. It makes the workplace more meaningful, for you and for everyone around you.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Create a practice environment that sustains employee commitment and patient satisfaction. Contact Dr. Haller at coach@mckenziemgmt.com.

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click Here

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