12 Steps to Conflict Resolution
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Conflict. It’s stressful, costly, generally unpleasant, and completely necessary to the betterment of your practice – provided that you manage it rather than try to ignore or suppress it.
Yes, conflict is a natural component of human interaction. It’s as much a part of every business as profit and loss. When it’s dealt with constructively and managed well, it can have a profound and positive impact on practice success. Conversely, when it is managed badly it strains relationships, fosters poor morale, encourages gossip and discontent, drains effective teams, and costs practices literally thousands of dollars annually.
Conflict often begins with a minor disagreement, an annoyance, or misunderstanding. Rick isn’t providing the production reports as promised. Anna is walking in late for the daily huddle at least once a week. Caroline is scheduling 60 minute patients in 40 minute slots. Issues such as those come up in virtually all dental practices. But too often they are dismissed as inconsequential and not worth the trouble of addressing. Yet they quietly cause frustration, irritation, and even anger among team members.
But because the employees are afraid to deal with the matters head on, they opt for the passive aggressive approach, engaging in gossip and whisper campaigns instead. “Rick is too busy with his online shopping to run the production reports.” “Evidently, Anna is spending too much time at Wednesday evening Happy Hour to make it to work on time Thursday morning.” “Does Caroline just enjoy messing up the day or what?”
Nasty comments and accusations quietly abound. Eventually, these little murmurs become a daily drama in the practice. Team members tune in to get the latest on this gripping saga. Until one day, the lid blows and those little incidents have grown into a huge unwieldy epic of character assassinations and false accusations. In a word, it’s ugly. And the damage caused can, in some cases, be irreparable.
Conflict may be a reality of living and working, but, managed correctly, it can become a constructive rather than destructive tool in the practice. When individual team members are given clear information, defined responsibilities, and are held accountable for specific outcomes, conflict can be minimized significantly. Employees must know what is expected of them individually and as a team. They cannot be expected to function effectively or cohesively without clear job descriptions and performance objectives. In addition, they must receive regular ongoing feedback in order to make corrections in systems and continuously improve and grow as contributing members of the team.
Moreover, when conflict surfaces, it must be addressed and not ignored. Take these steps to manage issues constructively and directly before they become full-blown battles:
- Establish clear standards for professional office behavior.
- Do not tolerate destructive personal attacks among team members.
- Establish clear office policies and follow them.
- Set aside time to address matters that are causing conflict. Talk to people, not about them.
- Identify the conflict triggers. If the scheduling coordinator is routinely slotting emergency patients incorrectly, assume she/he doesn’t know what you expect. Educate her/him. Help her/him to become more effective.
- Curb the urge to react emotionally and judge, criticize, or attack.
- Curb the urge to make excuses for not confronting conflict. She’s too nice. He’s too argumentative. They’ve been doing it that way forever. They’ll never change.
- Focus on addressing the issue rather than proving who is right or wrong.
- Admit when you are wrong.
- Choose to be a problem solver. Walk calmly toward the issue and work toward addressing it before it grows out of control.
- Take time to better understand each other’s personalities and how different personality types communicate.
- Choose to be positive. Anyone can criticize others and be negative in difficult situations. It’s the leaders and problem solvers, who choose to remain positive.
Certainly, as long as there are people working together there will be conflict. But managed effectively, it can enable the practice and the team to work both effectively and harmoniously toward achieving overall goals together.
Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at email@example.com.
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Thinking of a New Job for the New Year?
Increase Your Value At Work.
The average turnover in a dental office is about 18 months to 2 years for any position. This is a concern for dentists as the cost of recruiting and training new staff can cost thousands of dollars and valuable production time. Studies show that many staff members would stay at their positions if the doctor or management had shown appreciation for their work and had taken an interest in seeing that the team members had the proper training to do their jobs correctly. New technology with all its “bells and whistles” is value wasted without the team onboard to see that it is put to use on a daily basis. Intra-oral cameras, audio-video education systems, charting and perio modules of dental software programs, practice management information all lying dormant or collecting dust.
Many dental employees know the value of new technology and are enthused about implementing the services with patients but often give up when the doctor loses interest or become lax in utilizing the equipment.
Frustration over unresolved issues at the job can cause employees to look to another dental office for “greener pastures” but unless they set themselves apart by diversifying their abilities they may find a situation similar to what they left. Becoming more valuable at your current position will cause the doctor to take a “second look” at you and if there are cutbacks at the office you will be less likely to be terminated. Become a valued team member by following these tips:
- Find ways to save the practice money by finishing tasks in less time and offering to help other team mates.
- Learn the software program and teach the staff.
- Become a problem solver. Identify problems and offer workable solutions at the team meetings.
- Put together a front office or back office-training manual to assist new or temporary staff.
- Show an interest in learning new skills or taking on challenges.
- Offer to further educate yourself to become better at your position with the goal of helping the practice improve production and customer service.
- Execute your job description and be accountable for your work.
Job jumping is the seemingly easy way out of a difficult situation but it should be taken as a last resort. The Advanced Business Training for Front Office, Office Managers and Dentists illustrates the need to “read a resume” to spot “job jumpers.” The importance of taking the necessary time and following the guidelines of the hiring process saves future regrets.
In the book, How to Hire the Best Employee, written by Sally McKenzie, the subject of hiring takes on the many details necessary to hire the right people for the different positions in the practice. Understanding that careful attention to details such as resumes, phone pre-screening, job interviews and testing of applicants are all part of avoiding the hiring of a person who will not be committed to the practice.
The Employee Assessment Testing online is a test that potential employees take to identify the best person for the position based on a measurement standard of actual peak performers in the applicants job title. Replacing an employee can cost as much as five times their annual compensation so this inexpensive tool is insurance in making a qualified decision.
A history of moving from job to job with short periods of time or undefined times on the job is a red flag to those looking to hire you. Dentists, like other employers, look for a stable, reliable person who will take their position seriously and plan to be there long-term. Bringing a positive, upbeat attitude to the workplace is just as important as a glowing and polished resume. Having the right attitude and the willingness to learn and grow with the practice take on a special meaning to the employer who has experienced constant turnover.
Stop the turnover. Take another look at your situation. Make an appointment with your employer to discuss what you bring to the practice and your goals to improve. Show that you will go the extra mile and your boss will too.
For advanced training, testing of applicants, team retreats and more, visit our website at www.mckenziemgmt.com.
Why not improve your performance in 2008. Attend McKenzie Management’s Front Office or Office Manager Training. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 877.777.6151..
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Dr. Nice Guy
Dr. James Falcourt – Case Study #123
Dr. Falcourt’s practice facts:
- 2-year old practice in the same location with the same hygienist and business coordinator.
- The hygienist was only working 1 day a week, even though the practice was seeing 28 new patients a month.
- The practice has 1,050 “active patients”, including the patients that the doctor acquired when he purchased the practice.
- The practice employed 4 team members – 1 assistant, 1 hygienist part-time and 2 full-time business coordinators.
- The practice was collecting an average of $32,000 a month, working 4 days a week.
- There were no business systems in place. There were no job descriptions for the two business coordinators and they performed redundant tasks.
- All the team members were eager to learn new tasks and had great attitudes.
- One of the business coordinators had three years experience in the dental field as a clinical assistant but no training in the business area. The other business coordinator had a great personality and was very computer savvy but no experience in the dental field.
- Cathy, the hygienist, would like to work more days in Dr. Falcourt’s practice but he had not indicated that he wanted more days.
it was obvious that BUSINESS TRAINING was non-existent in the office. Dr. Falcourt had two wonderful employees at the front desk, but without proper training, they could not perform at the level he needed in order to take his practice “to the next level”.
There were no business systems in place, such as protocols for financial arrangements, proper scheduling to daily goals, hygiene retention, accounts receivable management, just to mention a few. The practice was basically running on “auto-pilot” with some occasional concern from the doctor to his business team about lack of production.
The doctor knew very little about how his practice was performing. There were no statistics recorded on a monthly basis, no morning or monthly meetings to discuss areas of concern and no one held accountable for their job performance. He didn’t understand the importance of knowing this information. It was an obvious case of “the blind leading the blind” and the practice was performing in spite of the team!
- Bring in the software trainer and teach the team how to more fully utilize their system, including chairside charting and treatment planning.
- Conduct morning and monthly meetings to review the practice statistics, review the “To Do” List and address new agenda items.
- Praise the team when performance is outstanding and “thank” them every day.
- Be careful about being “Dr. Nice Guy”. Tell the patients what their clinical needs are and how will these needs be addressed.
Monitoring Dr. Falcourt’s practice for six months, returned an entirely different attitude. The team members exuded the confidence they acquired after learning how to implement the systems that were so important in order to run a successful practice. Two additional days of hygiene were added because the patient retention was greatly improved, with another day soon to be added.
Dr. Falcourt’s monthly collections increased to $55,480, an increase of 73% per month. He was delivering the treatment plan that he diagnosed based on the clinical needs of the patient and not being concerned about what he THOUGHT they could afford. His Financial Coordinator was “selling” the dentistry recommended, using tools such as CareCredit™, making the treatment affordable to the patients.
Dr. Falcourt recognized that the practice was not growing or producing as he had expected but he had no idea how to “fix” it. The absence of systems by being ‘Dr. Nice’, had decreased his practice acceptance from patients and employees had no direction. This was not only hurting the practice’s long range goals but the patients and staff.
McKenzie Management’s analysis of the business operational systems helped him to understand the reasons why. Dr. Falcourt was willing to change and adjust his thinking to realize there was a better way to get the results he wanted to achieve and at the end of the day…be a nice guy.
Our experience has shown that professional practices are at far greater risk than their numbers suggest. This is because dental, medical and chiropractic offices are predominantly staffed by women, both of child bearing age and older. Given that society demands these women have primary responsibility for child care [and, today, elder care] and hold a job, they are the ones who most need time off.
If you would like more information on how McKenzie's Practice Enrichment Programs can help you IMPLEMENT proven strategies….. email email@example.com.
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