Office Manager, or Not?
It’s interesting how people tend to evolve into certain positions in the dental practice. One in particular is that of office manager. In our consulting work, we see a lot of existing loyal employees, such as a hygienist or a dental assistant, who have “graduated” to an office manager position. As is often the case, they are bright and energetic, good with patients, and the doctor perceives that those skills are all that is necessary to be an effective office manager.
Then things start to go wrong. The employee may exhibit too little initiative or too much control. Others on the team may resent their former colleague being “promoted.” The employee has little direction from the doctor. If there is a job description, it’s typically vague at best. And the doctor begins to wonder if s/he has made a terrible mistake. In most cases, office managers are dropped into the position with no training. The doctor assumes that if the individual has been with the practice for awhile, then they know what it takes to do the job. Let me assure you that learning by osmosis has never been an effective training method.
Certainly, if your practice is to make the most of an “office manager,” this person will need a set of skills that goes beyond being a loyal employee and working well with staff and patients. This person should be a natural leader. They have to be comfortable taking the reins on an issue and addressing it. Being a good problem solver by nature is essential because the office manager, not the doctor, should be the first point of contact for the patients and the staff when issues arise.
This person needs to have the right personality traits for the position. They should be both personable and efficient. In other words, they need to be a good balance between thinking and feeling in their temperament type.
Additionally, if this person is going to be best utilized by the practice, they should be comfortable working with numbers and be able to access as well as fully understand practice reports. Moreover, the office manager must be able to work well under pressure; s/he will be pulled in multiple directions.
But that is just the beginning. “True” office managers are responsible for overseeing the practice’s overhead, and their most critical duty is effectively managing the office’s human resources. They are in charge of recruitment, hiring and firing all employees, performance reviews, schedules, grievances, raises, salary reviews, employee policies, and team meetings. They oversee and manage all of the business measurements, have leadership skills, analyze fees, and run profit and loss reports - just to name a few.
The office manager is like the chief operating officer of the corporation. The dentist is the CEO, Chief Executive Officer. Their job description needs to be customized to best fit the needs of the practice, which is why you will not find a generic office manager job description on my website along with all the other job descriptions. Rather, what we recommend is a two-day training course in which the designated office manager learns the “business” of dentistry - including each practice system as well as other management specialty areas. From there, with input from the doctor and the office manager, the job description is built from scratch to best serve the needs of the specific practice.
Below is a sampling of a few of the areas covered in the two-day Office Manager Training Course:
Not every practice needs an “office manager.” Some doctors are comfortable managing the practice as well as doing the dentistry, while others do not want to be burdened with the management responsibilities. My advice - don’t toss around the term “office manager” lightly. This is a position that carries significant responsibility and requires specific skills. If you do appoint an “office manager,” give them the tools to succeed, specifically, professional training.
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As the dental leader, your ability to influence your staff is measured by the trust they place in you. After all, leadership is the ability to get things done through others, and that is directly correlated with your performance. Employees watch you. You are the role model who sets the standard for office behavior.
Building trust takes time. Like a good relationship, trust on a team is never complete; it must be maintained and nurtured. And the degree to which your employees trust you, the dental leader, impacts the overall level of success of your practice.I guarantee you that you will not get top performance out of any employee who does not trust you. If they don't trust you to make the best decisions AND trust you to look out for their best interests, your staff will feel that they have to do it themselves. The time they spend looking out for #1 erodes team cohesion, decreases productivity, and reduces the quality of patient care.
Trust is not a right; it's a privilege that must be earned every day. Unfortunately trust earned over a period of years can be lost in a few seconds. A poor choice of words or a thoughtless act is all that it takes to lose trust.
The good news is that your staff don’t expect you to be perfect. In fact, most employees are very forgiving, if you show a sincere interest in their success. To earn your employees' trust:
Granted, it's not easy to solicit opinions about improving your performance. At the very least, it’s uncomfortable because most of us are afraid or just don't want to hear what anyone else has to say. But that’s exactly what you need to do to find out if your employees trust you.Having been in the business of helping people change behavior for the past 25 years, I know that the process may be simple, but it is far from easy. And unfortunately, the fact that you’ve been successful will be one of your biggest obstacles. Research shows that you will tend to reject or deny feedback from others that is inconsistent with the way you see yourself. It’s hard to admit that you need to modify your behavior.
How you ask for feedback is just as important. What do you think your employees will feel if you say, “Do you trust me as a boss?” If they want to keep their job they probably will answer “Of course”- regardless if that’s the truth.
Rather than focusing on what you have done in the past, get ideas from your staff on what they want you to do from this point forward. Specifically you could ask an employee, "What could I do to become a better boss?" If you aren’t the dental leader, you could say to a co-worker, “What could I do to become a better team player?” Research indicates that requesting feedback in this way still elicits 80-90% of what they would have said, but instead it comes out in a positive way.
Listen. When you ask for feedback, really listen. Listen to the words and read between the lines. Pretend you're watching a movie with the sound off and be aware of facial expressions and physical gestures. Remember that over 90% of communication is nonverbal.
Say thank you… and nothing more. Even it you disagree with what you employees tell you, the only response you should give is, “Thank you.” Don’t argue. Don’t explain. Just thank them and take notes.
Trust is the foundation for practice success. It is built and maintained by many small actions over time. As the dental leader, what you do is the cornerstone of that foundation. Lay the groundwork carefully for what you want your practice to be, now and in the future.
If you want to strengthen leadership and teamwork in your office, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.
What Can I Put On My Website?
If you are like many dentists, you know that you should have an attractive website with interesting information, articles, and pictures to drive potential patients to your practice - but you don’t know how to go about it. Web designers can offer great advice and great organization, but what about content? It makes sense to have dental specific, compelling articles on your site, but what should you write about? Here are some ideas.
Once a month, post an article about a particular service that you provide. The service does not have to be particularly unusual - just relevant to possible readers. For example - many people wonder about tooth-colored “fillings.” While you may consider such a topic old-hat, your readers won’t.
Start off by discussing where you use resins. Potential patients might believe that they are only offered for front teeth. Describe how durable, good looking, and long lasting they can be. Talk about anything you do that is special, such as using a type of insulating material to guard against sensitivity. Tell about how new tooth colored fillings can replace older styles and possibly discolored resins some people may have. You would be surprised at how many individuals believe that they just have to live with yellowed, stained, or worn tooth-colored restorations. At the end of the article invite readers to call the office and ask for a particular person who can answer any questions they might have. “If you would like to know more, give us a call at 555-5555 and ask for Connie. She will be happy to talk to you!”
If you have been involved in any community activities, post pictures! Have you run in a local race, volunteered at a health fair, or provided mouth guards for student athletes? Potential patients are interested to know about these types of activities. They also go a long way in showing who you are as a person.
Have you received an award, presented a program, or written an article for a professional journal? Post information about these as well. Don’t worry about “tooting your own horn.” You deserve credit for giving back to your profession, and patients like being associated with a dentist who is a stand-out in the field.
Have your completed a difficult case that turned out exceptionally well? With the patient’s permission, and/or possibly obscuring the patient’s identity, consider showing photos of what the condition of the patient’s mouth was when s/he came to your office, and what s/he looks like now. People love to see a successful “make-over”- whether it is for a person losing weight, getting a new hairstyle, or making any other type of positive change. A patient’s beautiful new smile is an excellent advertisement for your professional skills.
Have you attended any continuing education programs or incorporated a new technique into the practice? Reporting on new procedures or services can generate readers and engage possible patients who are interested in the technique. For example, many potential patients may be interested in laser applications in dentistry. If you are using a laser, write a short piece on how it makes treatment easier, faster, or whatever your opinion on the technology may be. If you have recently incorporated digital x-rays, write an article describing its’ advantages and benefits for patients.
People love quizzes. Develop a short “test-your-knowledge” quiz about dentistry for children, whitening, or tooth-brushing (be sure to provide the answers). Again, make mention at the end of the quiz of where they can find out more. For example, “Would you like to learn more about whitening? Call Brenda at our office.” Just be sure that Brenda is prepared with some “scripted” answers to common questions!
Think about soliciting a testimonial from a satisfied patient. A happy patient can be approached at the end of a course of treatment to write a short note about their experience with your office. A few sentences can be enough to convey how pleased they are with you and your staff. Remember, the words of a fellow “dental consumer” can go a long way toward creating interest in your practice.
Enlist the help of staff. Offer a dinner out for two for an article written by a staff member that highlights a positive aspect of your practice. For example, your dental assistant might write about how rewarding it is to work in a practice that puts an emphasis on excellent patient care. Your business assistant might write about the efforts the practice makes to help patients make sense of their insurance. Of course, you will need to proofread these articles before posting them to make sure they are free from any unintentional grammatical errors or misstatements.
Look for articles in the popular press that you might get permission to reprint on your site. However, do not simply copy an article without permission. This can lead to problems with copyright laws and create a legal situation that you certainly don’t need.
Finally, look to a source for professionally prepared articles that can be purchased for posting. This need not be expensive. Such articles can provide the content you need, make your site interesting, and save you both time and money.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office”. Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carol is also a speaker on hygiene efficiency and profitability for McKenzie Management. Interested in having Carol speak to your dental society or study club? Click here
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