Where There’s Smoke There’s Usually Fire
By Nancy Haller, P.h.D., Leadership Coach McKenzie Management
In my leadership coaching work with dentists, the conversations always turn to employee issues. This doesn’t surprise me because being a good leader includes managing the people who work for you. What does surprise me is how often dental leaders have personnel problems that could have been averted if they had been dealt with promptly. All too often crises happen because warning signs are ignored, overlooked or minimized. That sends a message that unacceptable behavior is acceptable.
Poor performance needs to be confronted head-on. Situations that are “mole hills” grow into “mountains” when you don’t address them quickly. Here are some common indicators that trouble may be on the horizon. If you nip small disruptions in the bud you will keep your team on track and you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches.
When an employee calls in sick or comes in late, s/he disrupts office efficiency. Even if it is the first offense, address ALL absences no matter what the reason and do so each time they occur. Let the person know that you noticed they were missing from the team. Begin by being positive. If they were ill, ask how they are feeling. Express concern and compassion. Then inform the person that you count on them with statements such as, “I’m glad you are feeling better because it’s rough on all of us when you’re not here.” They need to know the impact of their actions on co-workers, you, and the practice.
Lack of Follow Through
Assume responsibility for a potential breakdown in communication between you and the employee by repeating instructions. Ask what resources or support you can provide to help the employee to do her/his job. Set deadlines for task completion. Model good follow through by talking with the person on the agreed upon date.
This is a broad category. Some examples are disrespectful behavior toward patients or co-workers, inappropriate or offensive humor, or use of cell phones at work. Balance objectivity with empathy. Everyone has a bad day once in a while. However, don’t downplay the seriousness of the behavior. Briefly explain what you heard or observed and describe what you expect in the future.
Personal Problems That Interfere With Work
Some common situations involve child care, high incoming calls from friends and relatives, relationship problems, car troubles, or financial difficulties. Listen and convey compassion while maintaining professional boundaries. Direct the employee to available resources that could provide assistance. Remind them that when they are at work, you need them to be focused on their job because you depend on them.
Sloppy or Poor Quality Work
Spelling errors, insurance claim submissions with improper codes, or inventory oversights are reflections on you and your practice. Meet with the employee privately. Remember that most people take pride in their work and may not be aware of their mistakes. Provide kind but candid feedback by citing specific examples. Discuss ways that the employee can improve. Follow up until you see progress.
Conflicts Between Co-Workers
Clashes between employees require intervention. Your job is to facilitate the resolution of whatever is behind the gossip, unconstructive competition, or harsh words. Insist that feuding team members “work it out” and offer to help them if they cannot do it on their own. Check on their progress within a few days of the incident.
Lack of Support for Practice Goals
Leadership requires “buy-in” if you are going to influence employee behavior. Be alert for cues of resistance - rolling eyes, sarcastic remarks or side-bar conversations during meetings. Get employees input and address all of their concerns before you try to implement something new. Voice your understanding and acknowledge that change is difficult while continuing to move forward with your plan. If there is opposition to the core values of your practice, have an honest conversation about whether the employee is in the right job.
Shows Little or No Initiative
Be curious about what motivates your employees. What aspects of their work do they enjoy the most? The least? Link that to what you have observed about their job performance. Ask about their interests and their goals. Have discussions to gather this information, and then show them how they can attain what they are seeking by doing their job more effectively and enthusiastically.
One of the best strategies for effective people-management is to address troublesome issues early. It is much easier to correct a problem when it is small in scope. By extinguishing sparks before they become raging fires you will save yourself the aggravation of having to deal with an inferno later.
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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