Be An Undercover Boss Without Going Undercover
Did you happen to watch this past season’s new reality series Undercover Boss? I only saw the last episode (and now a few re-runs) but it’s one of the most intriguing shows for leadership lessons. Each week the CEO of a company goes undercover for a few days in his own organization and works a variety of jobs to observe and gather feedback. While incognito, shoulder-to-shoulder with employees, they discover real problems and real star performers.
It would be impossible for you to go undercover in your practice. But think about what you might see if you could get a sneak peak at what employees really do when you’re not looking. How do they interact with patients? Are they living up to your standards and the responsibilities they agreed to when hired?
Unless you resort to bugging devices or secret video, you’ll have a hard time being the unobtrusive fly-on-the-wall. How then do you find out about the good and the bad in your office? Based on a lot of conversations with dental leaders, one common way is to check everything they do. But this proverbial micromanaging strategy will drive employees away while driving you crazy.
Fortunately there are ways to obtain honest, nothing-held-back input from those you trust with your business. And it doesn’t have to include unethical taping or disguises (although mystery patient calling services are invaluable). The way to learn about what your staff are thinking is simple – ask them.
In 1982 Tom Peters, co-author of the acclaimed book In Search of Excellence, coined the phrase: “managing by wandering around.” He saw MBWA as the basis of leadership. One of the best known and highest paid management gurus, Peters believes that the "technology of obvious" still works today, nearly 30 years later. In MBWA practice, managers spend a significant amount of their time making informal visits to work areas and listening to employees. The purpose is to hear suggestions and complaints, collect qualitative information, and “keep a finger on the pulse of the organization.”
It’s essential for you to know what's happening in all areas of your practice. Therefore the goal is to create an environment where employees will answer your questions honestly. Tell me what I really need to know… What’s standing in the way of us providing exceptional dental care? What do you need to do your best work possible? Leadership is a relationship, a partnership, and your business is a people business. It evolves with trust and credibility. Be consistent in showing desire for their input and acknowledging the feedback. Follow-up consistently because building trust is not a one-time event. It needs to be maintained and nurtured.
Take a genuine interest in employees and in their work. Find out about their hopes and dreams, because those are the very factors that affect their motivation and their ability to get their work done.
Strive to have them see you as a person who listens. Demonstrate the image of a coach, not an interrogator. Be open and responsive to questions and concerns. Ask for suggestions to improve operations, service, referrals, etc. Thank them for their input. As already stated, follow-up is crucial. Act on what you learn or let employees know why not. The last thing you want is for people to think "I made the suggestion but nothing ever happened." That can cause a decrease in morale and sabotage your real intent in MBWA.
Appreciate the efforts that your employees make. Catch them doing things right and recognize them publicly. Be sure they know how much you value them and the positive actions they make on your behalf.
Great leadership and management is about getting out there and talking with the people who make your practice and using their feedback and insight to make your office run more effectively. Being an "undercover boss" is nothing more than helping your employees to see you as someone they can trust, someone they can share their honest thoughts and opinions about their position and the organization without fear.
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. Give your practice a dose of "undercover boss" treatment.
If you want to strengthen leadership and teamwork in your office, contact Dr. Haller at email@example.com.
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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