5.7.10 Issue #426 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Your Employee Made a Mistake? Don't Penalize, Party
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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If you read this newsletter regularly, you might have noticed that I dedicate a fair amount of space to telling you how you should be addressing shortfalls in your practice systems. This week, I’m taking a little different approach. I want you to plan a party. Now, this isn’t just any party. This is a “screw-up party.” I have to give author Bill Bartman credit for the term and I love the concept. The idea is that you embrace the mistakes, you acknowledge the weaknesses, and you celebrate the fact that you have “screwed up.”

I can virtually guarantee that you and everyone on your team has made at least one major mistake in the past 6 to 12 months. Mr. Bartman refers to an employee who made a $10 MILLION contract error. The company managed to whittle it down to $1 million, which most of us would still consider a huge blunder. But the point Bartman makes is that if he were to have crushed the employee, who is otherwise very good, he would have shut down the flow of creative problem solving and new ideas, not just from that employee but from others as well. The “chilling effect” as we know it - where speech or conduct is suppressed by fear of penalization.

Frequently we find employees who are too paralyzed to take action. They are afraid of making mistakes. They are afraid of being reprimanded. They are afraid of disappointing or angering the doctor. They have to secure approval on everything from the way they answer the phones to the way they punctuate a sentence. Consequently, the practice is virtually immobilized because no one has permission to think, to improve systems, or, as the case may be, occasionally screw up. Dentists, being notorious perfectionists (a quality that patients dearly appreciate), are keenly focused on doing everything right. Understandably, you are mortified when you or members of your team make mistakes, even though you fully understand that to err is human. Like everyone else, some days you and your team are simply more “human” than others.

It is through mistakes that you and your practice have grown, and perhaps throwing a party once a year to celebrate the blunders rather than stuffing them in the closet, hoping they go away and never embarrass you again, is something to consider. It’s easy to celebrate how great you and your team are and the successes you enjoy. But what about the tough challenges, the hurdles, and the many things that just went wrong that you and your team had to face? The fact is that while the experiences were likely not enjoyable, yours is a better team today because of them. Giving you and your employees permission to be human and make mistakes, at least occasionally, may actually help to avoid bigger blunders in the future.

Case in point, I recently had a conversation with a doctor whose Collections Coordinator accidentally charged a patient $1,120 for a $120 procedure. The patient called the office furious. The matter would have been resolved at the end of the day, but at the time the patient was checking out, things were chaotic at the front desk. The doctor, unfortunately, got an ear full from the patient. During these stressful economic times, it’s easy to get upset and fly off the handle with employees when things go wrong.  After taking it from the patient he promptly ripped into the employee, which he later deeply regretted. In this case, both the doctor and the employee made significant errors, one was an accidental mistake the other was poor judgment. Nonetheless, it was an opportunity for both to grow personally and professionally from the experience. 

Fortunately in the scenario above, the doctor did offer a sincere apology to the employee. They also looked at the patient check-in/check-out system to determine how bottlenecks could be addressed and pressure eased during hectic times. None of us enjoys making mistakes. Nonetheless, they are a fact of life and work. A “screw-up” party gives everyone a chance to acknowledge blunders, talk about them openly, offer creative solutions to help prevent them in the future, and most importantly, move on.

Next week: Is This Your Practice’s Biggest Blunder?

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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