06.26.09 Issue #381 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

One Weak Link Can Clobber Your Reputation
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That well worn but oh so true saying has been around for a long time, and there are few analogies that better describe the dental office team than that one. For some of you, until you have actually experienced it, it’s difficult to comprehend the impact of one single employee - the weak link - on your practice. For those who have been through a difficult employee situation, you know all too well the damage that can be done to your team, your reputation, and to your practice by just one weak link.

Consider the experience of Dr. McCollum.  Taking over a practice from a doctor who had been “winding down,” she immediately saw a swell in production and new patient activity. After a few months of trying to manage the increase with the small staff she inherited, Dr. McCollum gave the business manager, Mary, the okay to hire a helper. The new employee, Rachel, was hired within a few weeks. As far as Dr. McCollum was concerned, all was well until circumstances changed, as they often do. Business manager Mary, who had seemed like a pretty good employee, began to enjoy her role as supervisor so much so that she delegated most major responsibilities to Rachel, while she busied herself with other “duties,” such as surfing the Internet. As critical tasks weren’t getting done or were not completed correctly, Dr. McCollum started asking questions. Invariably, Mary threw Rachel under the bus. It was always Rachel’s ineptitude, Rachel taking too long for this, or not prioritizing that. Dr. McCollum was suspicious, she felt that Rachel had a nice demeanor and, although she was young, she seemed like a pretty good kid.

Dr. McCollum decided to wait and see how things went over the next couple of months and then she would make her decision. Once again, circumstances changed. Practice production and collections began to sag, which Dr. McCollum attributed to the recession, and she determined it was time for a reduction in staff. Since Rachel was doing the majority of the front office duties now and Mary was making more money than she was earning, the decision was obvious. The outcome, however, was not at all what Dr. McCollum had anticipated.

Rachel certainly had many good qualities. She was a friendly person who seemed to enjoy the patients, and, at least at first, made the effort to learn as much as she could. However, what ultimately transpired with both Mary and Rachel illustrates that the very cornerstones necessary to ensure employee success had never been established in Dr. McCollum’s practice. Practice systems in general were very weak, but there was no specific system for employee hiring or employee training, and virtually no accountability. Consequently, the weak link, Mary, hired the even weaker link, Rachel.

Rachel was not only young, she was very inexperienced and utterly unprepared to stand on the front line and represent the practice. She became extremely flustered when the phone was ringing and patients were waiting to be checked in or checked out. She simply didn’t know what to do. If patients missed their appointments or were late, she became rude and condescending. Rachel had no training in how to handle such circumstances with finesse, so she resorted to what she “thought” she should do. And collection calls were nothing short of disastrous. Not only had Rachel repeatedly called people who were not delayed on their payments, she became a bully and the image she projected of the office was likely having as much or a greater effect on Dr. McCollum’s bottom-line than the recession. The doctor’s reputation was quickly being chiseled away by one inexperienced, undertrained employee who was guessing her way through practice systems.

The patient complaints piled up. Dr. McCollum tried to talk to Rachel about the appropriate way to handle these situations, but Rachel needed clear, specific training. Moreover, Rachel needed maturity. The office needed accountability, job descriptions, employee and office policies, staff training, etc. And Dr. McCollum needed a hiring system that would ensure she would never again hire a weak link in her practice.

Next week, is it lack of accountability or the recession that’s been weighing on your practice lately?

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com.

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