Spare the Backlash, Give Feedback
It’s likely you realized early on that as the owner of your practice, there are many hats you must wear. You are, after all, “the boss.” You are the one your team looks to for direction, guidance, mediation, fairness, etc. And for many dentists, it’s those “other duties as assigned” that create the biggest headaches in running a practice. Employees are a needy bunch. You have to tell them what to do. They often require additional training. They can be mercurial. And one particularly frustrating characteristic of most employees - they want regular feedback from you, their boss. If only signing the paychecks was all that was required to effectively manage a team. Now you need a solid set of skills, a strong sense of integrity and professionalism, and a willingness to encourage excellent performance through motivation, accountability, and, yes, plenty of constructive feedback.
Most dentists pat themselves on the back if they give employees feedback once or twice a year. “Feedback” as many see it would be that perfunctory exchange that is commonly attached to the annual salary review. If there are no problems, most likely the doctor tells the employee they are doing a fine job, slaps a couple extra percentage points on the paycheck and quickly strikes this routine matter off the to-do list. There, done, next.
Perhaps you are one of those bosses who reasons that if the employee gets a paycheck and isn’t shown to the door, that’s feedback enough in your book. “If I weren’t happy, they’d know it. Why would I need to give any more feedback than that?” If that’s your story, you’re probably filling vacancies in your office rather regularly.
Or maybe your idea of feedback is dropping a subtle hint here or there. The dirty instruments pile up in the sink and you stick a post-it-note above it with a frowny face. Or let’s say you’re looking at a record shortfall in income this year and you casually mention in a staff meeting that money is a little tight. This isn’t feedback. It doesn’t help the collections coordinator understand that she needs to increase over-the-counter collections immediately. It doesn’t tell the scheduling coordinator that those “scheduling to meet production goals” are established for a reason. The staff members leave the meeting assuming everything is fine where they are concerned. After all, if money were a serious problem, surely you’d do more than mention that things are a little tight. Meanwhile, you are sure the team is going to take some real steps to improve their performance. Wrong.
Vague generalities don’t work, and they don’t constitute feedback. So how does the dental practice actually incorporate effective feedback into its systems? First, drop the notion that feedback is part of the performance/salary review. They are separate issues. Performance rewards must be based on performance measurements, but that is another article.
Your team needs a daily dose of this thing called feedback. Constructive feedback should be given and received daily to help employees to continuously fine tune and improve the manner in which they carry out their responsibilities. Feedback given and received constructively is that unseen magical ingredient that helps them to improve and to grow. It’s also the dentist’s most vital tool in sculpting average employees into effective, high-performing team members. But expecting anything constructive or positive to come out of occasional doses of feedback is like having patients who brush their teeth occasionally yet expect to have excellent oral health. Doesn’t happen.
Verbal feedback can be given at any time, but it is most effective at the moment the employee is engaging in the behavior that you either want to praise or correct. If Sue at the front desk negotiated payment from the ever difficult Mrs. Jones with the deft and political acumen of a highly trained peace keeper/financial genius, then tell her! Similarly, if her handling of a situation is not consistent with the practice’s overall performance objectives and/or your practice philosophy, explain constructively how you would like for her to handle these types of situations in the future.
Verbal, on-the-spot feedback should be the goal. The environment of the practice should be one that encourages positive feedback and openly provides constructive feedback when necessary. Choosing to avoid opportunities to give employees feedback is like choosing to help them to fail.
Next week, creating the feedback loop.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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