An Increase in Pay - What are Your Chances?
A global management consulting firm recently issued a report noting that when businesses routinely raise pay for rank and file employees, whose job duties do not change over the years and who are not contributing to the growth of the business, it takes an economic toll on profits. Well, now there’s a revelation! I’ve been making the same point about dental practices for nearly 30 years.
The company uses the example of “Joe” - a machinist whose wages have steadily increased over several years, yet his responsibilities have remained unchanged. As a result, he is significantly overpaid. The report notes that companies are at fault because they give workers annual increases and bonuses simply for showing up day-after-day and year-after-year - much like dental practices. It simply stands to economic reason that you cannot expect more money unless you make contributions to the growth of the practice and/or enable it to save money.
So what can you do to improve your own chances of moving up on the pay scale? A little self-improvement can go a long way. Let me explain. We all have strengths and weaknesses. For example, perhaps you are a chairside assistant. Your value to the practice should go well beyond the obvious - passing instruments and turning over rooms. The question is, are you maximizing or minimizing that value?
Let’s start with the basics. How effective are you at answering patient questions? Maybe your typical response is something like: “I just pass instruments; maybe the doctor can explain it.” Try being helpful instead. Keep track of questions that patients ask and get the answers. If you make the effort to prepare a “frequently asked questions” document for everyone’s use, you are helping the practice to improve customer service, enhancing your value as a contributing member of the team, and illustrating to the doctor that you take the initiative to address shortcomings in the office.
Do you consistently emphasize to patients the excellence of the doctor’s skill? Or do you find yourself saying things such as: “I sure wouldn’t want to have that procedure done!” It is imperative that everyone on the team is a cheerleader for the practice. If you do not have confidence in the doctor’s ability, you need to find another job.
Do you make patients feel comfortable and build rapport? Or do you seat them and rush out of the treatment room to “take care of other things.” Many patients are anxious when they come in for a dental procedure. You may not be one who particularly enjoys chitchat, but you need to engage the patient in conversation anyway. You are the “opening act” for the doctor. It’s up to you to put the patient at ease and make them feel welcome and comfortable. If you come across as aloof, you give the patient another reason to dislike coming to the dentist, or worse yet, another reason to find another dental home.
Do you look for opportunities to reinforce the value of care with the patients? Or are you more likely to be commiserating with them over the high price of dental treatment and everything else these days. It is essential for patients to understand that oral health has been proven to directly affect overall health, and is well worth the investment of time and relatively minor financial resources. If a patient is on the fence about whether they should proceed with recommended care and you help them to make the decision to pursue treatment, you have instantly increased your value to the practice.
Do you openly support all of your teammates, or do you quietly confide to the patient that “Mary Jane doesn’t really know what she’s doing...” Speaking ill of another team member is a seriously egregious offense. No matter what your personal opinion is of a fellow staff member, it is essential that you convey utmost confidence and respect for every employee in the practice. Your comments and opinions directly affect how the patient feels about the doctor, the team, and the practice as a whole.
Certainly, increasing your value as an employee to the practice in hopes that you will be fairly compensated for your efforts is a good reason to invest yourself in the success of the practice. But at the end of the day, the satisfaction of knowing that you are committed to being truly excellent at what you do will ultimately be the richest reward for a job well done.
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Snap Out of It!
It’s estimated that the average person makes between 300-400 self-evaluations per day. Certainly it can be beneficial to know what you're doing wrong and what you could be doing better. It helps you to improve. You vow to work harder and smarter. Unfortunately, for many high-achievers that inner voice becomes the inner terrorist who wields tortuous self criticism.
That inner voice was originally designed to protect you. Freud called it the super-ego, the internalized parent who keeps you in line, warns you about doing things that might be embarrassing or intervenes before you get into trouble. The trouble is that the inner critic doesn’t know when to stop. Left untamed, it can run rickshaw over your physical and emotional well being. It blocks you from being more creative or trying new things. And it definitely interferes with relationships.
Dentists are notoriously perfectionists who expect to be top-notch at everything they do. On the positive side, this bodes well for high standards, precision, accuracy, and follow-through. However, perfectionists also tend to be highly self-critical, of themselves and those around them. They are anxious about meeting their own unrealistic expectations and routinely feel discouraged when they are not perfect. And even when they give themselves permission to feel good about something, it is frequently short-lived. Discounting successes with “It was dumb luck” and “It could have been better” are frequent refrains of a harsh inner critic as it focuses on what you didn’t do (or should have done) instead of celebrating what you did well.
If you believe this kind of self-criticism is good, think again. Research shows that people who beat themselves up have more depression and anxiety, they are more self-indulgent, and they have a lower sense of well-being. It’s clearly in your best interest to stop the self-whipping. Mistakes are a part of life, and resiliency is a necessary leadership competency.
Ask yourself the following:
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then harsh self-criticism plays a role in your life. Fortunately, there is a way out. Telling yourself to stop thinking negative thoughts is not enough. Nor are the “touchy-feely” affirmations of the Saturday Night Live character Stuart Smalley played by Al Franken - “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
The first step to beating the negative thinking is to monitor your thoughts. This is difficult because being self-critical is second nature to you. You’ve had years of practice. It happens so fast you don’t realize it. It’s a habit. One way of making yourself more aware is to put a handful of paper clips in your pocket. Every time you make a disparaging remark to yourself, link one paper clip to another. You may be surprised to see how long the chain of paper clips becomes by the end of the day.
Next, identify the most common negative thought, the one that is most distressing. For example, “I am terrible at managing my employees.” Then, create a positive substitution that is objective and factual. You might use the following (if it’s true): “I was trained to be a dentist and managing a team of people is difficult (or new) to me. I am learning how to be a better leader.”
Now, place a thin rubber band around your wrist. It shouldn’t be too loose or too tight. Every time you are aware of your “terrible” thought, snap the rubber band and replace it with the neutralizing statement. Remind yourself that you are not willing to tolerate the unproductive self-criticism. Practice throughout the day for several days. The unwanted thoughts will slowly diminish as you attend to changing your focus of attention.
Loosen the grip of self-critical thoughts. They are often the barriers that stand between you and greater success. Mark Twain said it best: “I have been through some terrible things in my life and most of them never happened.” Stop beating yourself up for perceived failures and redirect that thinking to the place of possibility.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Who's On First?
The two registered dental hygienists in your practice have finished the patients’ periodontal maintenance appointments, and are in the process of bringing them to the front desk to be checked out. However, when they get there with their patients, they realize that one person is on the phone, another is inputting a new patient’s treatment plan and insurance into the computer, while the other is working on a very involved insurance check that involves multiple patient payments and needs to be broken into all of their accounts.
The front office person that is working on the check breaks away and helps the first hygienist to approach the desk. However, this leaves the other hygienist’s patient without somebody to help them. She explains to Suzy, the patient, that one of the ladies will be with her as soon as possible, and she leaves to prepare for her next patient as she is close to getting off schedule. The patient is perfectly fine with the little bit of time she may have to wait for the front office scheduling coordinator to be with her.
Now it’s Suzie’s turn and the scheduling coordinator is starting to make her appointment when the phone rings. Sadly, the scheduling coordinator is the only person available to answer the phone. Now Suzy the patient, who has already waited for her turn, is being put off again. The scheduling coordinator proceeds with the patient on the phone. Suzy is not all right with waiting any longer and is not happy with the circumstance, thus making her upset with the office.
It would have been much better if the scheduling coordinator answered the phone and immediately informed the patient on the phone that: “I am currently working with one other patient that is ahead of you. Would you mind holding please?” Most people will say yes. This helps to keep the patients in the order that the front desk received them, whether they are on the phone or in front of you.
Being focused on the patient that is currently in your care - whether they are at the front desk, on the phone, or in the chair - is very important. Particularly when it is a new patient and the office is trying to make the first impression - make it a good one that will last with the patient throughout their lifetime in your office.
The person at the front desk that was already on the phone did not break away from her phone call because she is in the process of working with a new patient. The entire staff is aware of this because the office has created a way of informing everyone that the phone call is a new patient. There are offices that new patients call, and every time, no matter what time of day, an answering machine picks up the phone. Then there are the offices that the new patient calls and they are put on eternal hold. What do these situations tell your patients? You are too busy for them and that other people and things are more important.
It is very important to pick up the phone on the first ring, and answer with a smile. It’s easy for people to tell by the intonations in your voice if you feel like you are being bothered or interrupted. If you are the only one available to answer the phone and have to put a patient on hold because you are currently working with another patient, make sure you or another person gets back to them as soon as possible.
Once you have started a new patient phone call, remember that this is the patient’s very first impression of your office. Give them your undivided attention and not only make the appointments they want, but help them with any questions about the office, insurance, or directions - even if it means you have to make some phone calls on their behalf to figure out exactly what insurance plan is best for them so they can come to your office. This is not the time to be worried about posting checks or scheduling an appointment for another patient.
The patient always comes first, because without the patients there will not be any phone calls to answer, no treatment plans to put into the computer, and no checks to be posted. There will still be bills to be paid and salaries that employees are going to want, but without patients, this is not going to happen.
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