10.2.09 Issue #395 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Locked Yourself in the Personnel Prison?
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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“You wouldn’t believe what I have put up with for the last two years.” That is how a doctor recently summed up the situation with a problem employee named Lisa.  The doctor went on to share just a few of his frustrations. “Lisa calls in sick at least once a week or has to leave early because of a “doctor’s” appointment.  She promises to take care of something, such as calling in a patient’s prescription, and it doesn’t get done. I put her in charge of sending out patient packets and she forgot to include key forms, which is why we send the packets out in the first place. Her attention to detail could not be worse. The rest of the team is ready to mutiny, but she’s great with people, so I haven’t done anything about her. However, I think it’s time… past time, actually.”

Why now, I asked, why are you ready to take action? His answer: “It’s affecting my marriage. I go home and I am so frustrated I take it out on my family. I yell at my wife. I’m short with my kids. I have no patience with the people who are most important to me, all because I’m putting up with Lisa day-after-day.”

This is the stuff sleepless nights and angst-filled days are made of. For most employers, dealing with problem staff is the most anxiety ridden of all management responsibilities. In many dental practices, doctors will go to great lengths to avoid even the slightest staff conflict, and the thought of confronting an employee can be utterly paralyzing for those who got into this profession to “do dentistry” and nothing else. Consequently, as the situation above demonstrates, many dentists will tolerate low morale, inappropriate behaviors, and utterly ineffective staff, as well as considerable personal misery. 

The key to keeping yourself out of the personnel prison is to have a solid performance review system in place from the very first day a new employee is on your payroll, and a plan for ensuring their success. However, before you can establish a performance review system, your employees must know exactly what jobs they are to perform. Ironically, it seldom occurs to dentists that they actually have to spell out specific responsibilities in the form of job descriptions for employees. The reaction is typically along these lines, “Well she worked in a dental practice before. I thought she understood these things.” Or, “I’m pretty sure we talked about that stuff in the job interview.” Or, “Don’t you think that should be common sense?” Or, my personal favorite, I’ve told them what I don’t want.”

The job description is the game plan for every position on the team, and if it’s not in place, chances are pretty good that those routine missteps will manifest into major crises with little warning. Every job description should include a definition of the position, the skills necessary to perform the job, and specific duties. Consider the following example:

1. Define the job
Treatment Coordinator: Informs patients what treatment is required, the benefits of completing treatment, financial obligations and options available, schedules first appointment. Welcomes new patients to the practice and builds rapport with new and existing patients.

2. Spell out specifically what skills are necessary for the position
Candidate must be articulate, well organized, a good listener, and sensitive to patient concerns and objectives. Must have the ability to understand and clearly explain dental procedures, the ability to work with computer systems and dental software, must enjoy working with and helping others, must be able to handle rejection.

3. Outline the specific duties and responsibilities of the job
Discuss treatment plans with doctor prior to meeting with patients. Prepare predeterminations. Conduct case presentations. Measure results using an established system, and regularly report results to the team. Monitor case acceptance. Enter patient treatment into computer system. Serve as a liaison with insurance companies regarding patient financial arrangements. Serve as communication liaison to the team and regularly report on concerns raised by patients to enable staff and doctor to address those issues. Provide other assistance as needed, including appointment confirmation, patient processing, and front desk and clinical assistance.

Be sure to avoid the common yet dangerous pitfall of overlapping job duties. Instead, cross-train so that each area has coverage, even when the point person is out ill or is unavailable. Take steps to spell out your expectations of employees through job descriptions and you’ll both have far fewer sleepless nights.

Next week: Performance Reviews - essential to building a strong “core.”

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com. Interested in having Sally speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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