Communication: When Commitments Arenít Kept
The topic of my last article was the importance of clear expectations for employee accountability. Try as you may, however, there are times when staff members don’t keep their commitments. They are human and mistakes happen. The reality is that people on your team are bound to slip-up at one time or another. At that point you have two choices: you can tolerate mediocre performance or you can insist on a team that follows your standards and executes on your goals. If you choose the latter, you must start holding your employees accountable.
One of the best strategies for effective people-management is to address troublesome issues early. It’s much easier to correct a problem when it’s 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.
The key to creating a successful performance conversation is to emphasize what the employee needs to do to succeed in the future, rather than focusing on what has caused them to miss the mark in the past. Here’s an example to illustrate how to improve your communication and coach an employee.
Mary is your Front Desk Manager. She has a challenging job that entails scheduling, billing, and general reception duties. You have a busy practice that requires her to juggle “customer service” with detailed tasks. Overall she does her job effectively. During the past two weeks, a few patients have complained that Mary was rude to them. You are concerned about this and schedule a private meeting with her.
You: “Thank you for meeting with me today, Mary. I wanted to discuss your performance. There are many things you are doing well.” (Give Mary 2 or 3 specific examples such as accurate billing/collection, keeping the schedule full, etc). PAUSE. “I also want to talk with you about your interactions with patients because I’ve heard some complaints.” PAUSE and let Mary respond.
Mary: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m friendly with the patients.”
You: “I think it would be helpful to review a couple of specific examples so let me give you those” (provide 2 or 3 behavioral descriptions such as ‘Mr. Smith said that you were rude, that you told him he didn’t know what he was talking about’). “Tell me your side of the story.”
Mary: “Some patients ask such stupid questions. It just annoys me. I’m too busy.”
You: “I know you have a difficult job and a lot of responsibilities here in the office. The fact remains that you are the first and last point of contact. You set the tone for how patients view me and the entire team. I need you to put patient service first…no matter what other work you have to do. Without patients none of us has a job.”
Mary: (in an angry voice) “Why are you making such a big deal out of such a little thing? I was just having a bad day.”
You: (in a calm, kind, firm voice) “I agree that you might have had a bad day. You juggle a lot at the Front Desk and I appreciate everything you do for the practice. I also know that patients need to feel valued and appreciated. We can’t go backwards. Starting from today I’d like to give you the opportunity to work on developing a friendlier and more patient approach with everyone who comes into our office. Patients are our customers and service is #1 in our office.”
Mary: “Well, maybe…I’ll see what I can do” (or, “I can’t make any promises but I’ll try”; or “Alright…whatever you say.”)
You: (in a calm, kind, firm voice) “Your tone tells me that you’re not fully committed. I'd like you to think about what we discussed and whether or not it's something you can put the required effort towards developing. In the meantime I'll put together a written summary of our discussion so that you are clear on the expectations I've outlined. Let's get back together tomorrow and you can let me know what I can do to help you.”
No one likes to hear that they're doing something wrong. It’s natural that people will react differently. Create messages that avoid inflammatory wording. Anticipate how the employee is likely to react to feedback and prepare for how you will respond. By concentrating on the desired results rather than the employee's perceived shortcomings, you improve the likelihood of a positive outcome. Demonstrate leadership courage. Give effective feedback and get a more committed team of employees.
To assist you in building skills in feedback, read the “Communication Series”
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
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