Delegation – It’s Not a Dirty Word
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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For those dentists who are accustomed to doing it all themselves, handing over responsibility for certain tasks can be the ultimate struggle, the impossible dream. They’re trapped in the “no one does it better than me” mindset, or the “if I don’t do it, I’ll lose control” shackles. Consequently, these dentists are stressed out, working and working, yet never able to actually get ahead because they simply can’t relinquish management of the smallest details. They can’t bring themselves to even utter the word, delegation.
Forget quality of life, forget balance, these docs hit mid-career and are living their jobs. The staff, meanwhile, has settled into the “why make the effort” mentality. They’ve learned that the doctor won’t be happy unless he/she does it his/her way. Don’t do anything unless you’re told. Don’t make a decision on your own. Don’t take the initiative to address an issue yourself. And, if at all possible, don’t think unless directed to do so.
Take the case of Dr. Anderson. She insists on taking down the medical histories of her patients. While the staff has offered repeatedly to take care of this, she contends that it is time well spent with the patients. No, it is not. It’s time wasted on a task that should be delegated so that Dr. Anderson can focus on what she does best, the dentistry.
Then there’s Dr. Roberts who wants things to be “just so.” His practice has needed a New Patient packet for months, but he insists on handling this responsibility himself rather than assigning it to a capable member of the team. He wants the documents that cover certain policies to be “carefully worded.” He wants to introduce his staff a “certain way,” answer key questions “carefully,” convey a “certain feeling about the practice” – and he’s convinced no one can do that as well as he can. But Dr. Roberts, understandably, does not have time to take care of it.
Even though something would be better than nothing, he simply cannot hand over control. New patients, meanwhile, cause unnecessary bottlenecks because information that could have been covered in detail in the packet must be explained on the phone or in person. Forms must be completed, routine questions must be asked and answered, and what should be an efficient, seamless system is fraught with inefficiencies.
The reasons for a doctor’s aversion to delegation may be rooted in the need to control or simply a fear of asking for help. In some cases, the dentist may assert that he/she has tried to delegate, but it wasn’t a good experience. Or, she/he doesn’t feel the team is trained well enough to take over certain tasks. Maybe the doctor just doesn’t know how or what to delegate. In fairness, oftentimes the doctor feels a strong sense of responsibility. She/he may well have built the practice from the ground up and may feel that she/he must control all aspects of it. The problem, however, is that for the practice to grow and truly succeed, the doctor simply cannot do it all. But how do you bring yourself to relinquish a few of those tightly held responsibilities?
It starts with identifying what duties to give away and what responsibilities to keep. I suggest you conduct your own time-motion study. Carry a notepad with you for three to five days and write down everything you do relating to your practice, including reviewing patient records, talking to patients, directing staff, calling in prescriptions, completing forms, evaluating prices on supplies, diagnosing and treating patients, cleaning out the refrigerator, etc.
After you’ve gathered your data, assess how you are spending your time. Is your day primarily consumed with activities that are focused on growing your practice – specifically diagnosing and treating patients? Or are you engaged in activities that repeatedly interrupt your primary mission of delivering care? Is your list full of items that only the doctor can do? Or do you have a multitude of duties that the staff, whether it’s the assistant, hygienist, scheduling coordinator, business manager, etc could and should do. Lastly, are there items on that list that no one should be doing because they should be outsourced or are they the result of lack of technology, inefficient space, or broken systems.
There are only so many hours in a day. Ensure that yours are spent primarily on diagnosing and delivering care.
Next week, a step-by-step guide to effective delegating.
Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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