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3.14.08 Issue #314 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Dr. Nancy Haller
Dentist Coach
McKenzie Management
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Invest in Your Practice: Develop Your Team

I work with my husband, who is a general dentist. For some time now our staff members have not been motivated and they are acting like school children. They always have issues with each other. It seems nobody can get along with each other. This has become very frustrating for both me and my husband. I am at a point that I do not know how to handle this problem anymore and it is affecting the productivity of the office. I would appreciate if you could give me some guidance.

You pay your office staff well. They are experienced in the dental field. But little things still don’t get done unless you tell them what to do. Even worse is the sniping and conflict between members of your team. It takes up a lot of your time when you should be seeing patients. You wish you didn’t have to deal with employees. You see them as a burden.

Your employees are an investment, not a burden. From small businesses to large corporations, people are the most valuable resource of any organization. In Fortune 500 companies, employees are now referred to as “human capital” and they are typically the greatest untapped resource of any business!

Lackluster job performance frequently results when employees don’t know that anything more is expected of them. Blaming your staff for not meeting your unspoken expectations is like complaining about a waiter who failed to bring the ketchup you never asked for.

Leading employees need not take lots of time, especially if it becomes part of the normal day-to-day functioning in the office. It starts with agreement on expectations about job duties and responsibilities. Once there is alignment, follow up with timely feedback, better known as performance reviews.

Those words can cause negative reactions. Most dentists think of performance reviews as the yearly chore that should be done but frequently isn’t. It eats up lots of time as you try to recall events of the past 12 months. No wonder you avoid performance reviews. Here’s a model that will make the process manageable.

First, move away from yearly reviews and into quarterly developmental meetings. The purpose is not to review an employee’s behavior but to have an open discussion about what you need from each other to be successful.

The process works best if you model courage and encourage growth. This starts with you, the dental leader. Schedule a special team meeting to talk about the “big picture”…what you want for your practice. Set purpose by describing the context of what you expect. For example, “By improving in each of our roles, we will be more productive and provide better patient care. In turn this will lead to higher revenue and that means more income for everyone.

Build perspective. Briefly share your own strengths as well as your needs for self-improvement. It is likely that your staff already know what you’re good at and what you need to do better. By verbalizing it you show good awareness and you set the standard for continual learning.

Next, involve your staff in their own development. Ask each of them to write their own job description. This is actually pretty simple if you break it into three main areas:

  • Responsibilities (what are their job duties)
  • Strengths (what do they bring to the table that helps them perform their duties)
  • Potential Areas for Improvement (what will they do to be more effective in the office, team and practice).

You also write a job description for each employee independently. This doesn’t need to be a Pulitzer Prize winning piece of writing. Get the main ideas on paper even if it’s in a simple outline format.

Schedule an individual meeting with each employee to establish job responsibilities. Compare your respective job descriptions. Talk openly about areas of agreement. Give sincere compliments about the employee’s strengths and the things she/he does well. Then move the conversation to areas where there are gaps.

During the dialogue, remind employees of your overall goals for the practice and the benefits for them. Give them behaviorally specific feedback about what to continue doing (their strengths), what to stop doing (actions that are not productive or helpful), and what to start doing (their developmental need). Avoid defensiveness by keeping your focus on the “solution” not the “problem.”

Monitor employee performance. As I noted above, annual appraisals are insufficient for employee training and development. Monthly reviews should be scheduled with each team member. As their performance improves, reduce the frequency to quarterly. Build a climate of feedback in your office.

Next time: Giving feedback that works.

Create the right environment that sustains high employee performance and commitment. Contact Dr. Haller at

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