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  Sally McKenzie's
 Weekly Management e-Motivator
  6.04.04 Issue #117

Conquer Conflict in Eight Steps

Sally Mckenzie, CMC
McKenzie Management

      Rolling eyes, snide comments, poor attitudes, staff conflict bubbles to the surface in many different and often subtle ways. It’s easy to ignore these undercurrents of discontent and pretend they don’t really affect you. Look the other direction and maybe the problem will just drift away. Such delusional thinking is certainly comforting until reality kicks in and the ramifications of this approach are plainly evident in black and white: lost productivity, absenteeism, increased cancellations, lower treatment acceptance, costly mistakes, etcetera, etcetera.

The negative attitudes and poor performance that are too often dismissed with an “Oh that’s just Shirley,” or some other lame excuse cost practices thousands of dollars a year. Admittedly most people prefer to turn on their heels and run in the opposite direction than stand toe-to-toe with conflict. But the only way to manage this subversive practice destroyer is to tackle it head on.

The process need not be painful or particularly difficult, but it does need to be clear and direct. Take charge. Yes, it’s easier said than done, and admittedly many dentists would prefer to hide in a patient’s mouth. But focusing on staff communication and accountability can significantly reduce the differences and get the practice back on track. Here’s how:

  1. Make a conscious effort to expand communication with your staff. If they are working against each other, exhibiting poor attitudes and equally poor performance they may not be getting enough direction and feedback from you - the doctor.
  2. Invest a small amount of time and resources in personality testing. Staff members who understand the personalities of their colleagues, including the dentist, are much better prepared to work with them effectively.
  3. Clearly define job responsibilities. With job descriptions, team members understand their roles on the team. Subsequently, they recognize who is responsible for which systems and who is accountable for those systems.
  4. Establish expectations for employees and, if necessary, provide training to enable them to meet those expectations.
  5. Hold morning huddles to address day-to-day issues that can cause rifts, such as placement of emergency patients both today and tomorrow.
  6. Schedule regular meetings with staff and follow a specific written agenda.
    • During meetings, require each employee to report on the system(s) they are accountable for.
    • Discuss what is happening with each specific system – scheduling, accounts receivable, recall, etc.
    • Identify constructive strategies for addressing any concerns that arise related to the performance of specific systems.
    • Assign deadlines and delegate responsibility to individual staff to pursue the problem solving strategies that have been identified.
  7. Insist that clear information be shared among the team. For example, give front desk staff necessary details on time required for procedures and charges associated with those procedures.
  8. Establish clear standards for professional office behavior. Do not tolerate destructive personal attacks among team members. Focus on systems and what is or is not working in the systems. Give employees regular feedback. And celebrate the success of both the team and the individual players.

Staff conflict will not disappear on its own. The best way to manage it is to confront it head on. An understanding of diverse personalities, job descriptions, and maintaining basic office systems all can significantly reduce tensions in your practice.

If you have any questions or comments, please email Sally McKenzie at

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Why Would A Dentist Need Coaching?

Dr. Nancy Haller
Executive Coach
McKenzie Management

Dear Dr. Haller,

You explained the difference between coaching and counseling in your last article. I run a relatively small operation in comparison to a corporate executive with hundreds of employees. I’m having a hard time understanding why a dentist would need coaching.

Dr. New York

Dear Dr. New York,

Certainly the problems of large organizations are not identical to yours. You have a handful of people to look after, not hundreds. But the job of leading is never simple, whether you are the head of a multi-national company or an independent business owner.

Take a few minutes and answer the following10 questions.

  1. Does the job of being the boss frustrate you?
  2. Do you feel that you are the only one who cares about getting the work out day-in and day-out?
  3. Are there employees you try to avoid or work around?
  4. Do you think you communicate clear directions only to find mistakes are made?
  5. Do you find yourself with more and more work trying to compensate for under-performers?
  6. Have you tried to get more commitment and motivation from your employees but problems still continue?
  7. Do you get angry at your staff because they don’t achieve the level of results you expect?
  8. Do you worry that you may not be successful?
  9. Do you feel stretched too thin?
  10. Are you questioning your choice of career paths?

These are the same issues confronting Fortune 500 executives. While budgetary resources may be larger, leadership challenges are equally demanding.

All of us are thrust into many different leadership roles throughout our lives. Somewhere you were asked to step forward – in school, church or synagogue, as a parent, dinner party host/hostess, organizing a carpool or community event, managing a household, guiding a youth sport league. In each of those situations, you had to learn new information, skills, strategies in order to be effective. Learning to be a good leader is no different.

My experience is that dentists are very smart people about what they do, but their experiences do not guarantee that they can run a business that works. The transformation from being an outstanding individual performer to being ‘in charge’ is one of the most difficult changes you may ever go through in your career. The job of being the ‘boss’ is more than giving orders.

For many dentists, the process of going from expert professional to novice leader is a stretch outside their range of experience. The good news is that effective leaders are made, not born. Just like the training you would pursue to learn a new dental procedure or the use of a new product, leadership skills can be acquired with information and rehearsal. Yet, one of the biggest myths I’ve come across with dentists is about this very notion. When it comes to managing people, dentists believe they should somehow know how to do this, and if they don’t know, they need to learn it by themselves.

The potential to become a good or better leader is well within your capability. One thing you must commit to, if you want to practice better leadership, is the willingness to learn from every experience, particularly the painful ones, because they teach the richest lessons. Leadership is about improving yourself and in that process you also strengthen your business. But it will take time and dedication. It may require you to modify some of your behaviors, or learn new ways of responding to staff. It is likely to be uncomfortable at times.

And in order to maintain your commitment, you need support. Coaching is designed to help you to sustain focus and effort toward your goal of becoming a more successful leader. Remember, coaching is an opportunity to learn and grow. It is not a punishment or a sign of weakness or failure.

Here are some additional questions to help you assess your coaching readiness.

Am I willing:

  • to devote 1-2 hours per week to work on myself (1 hour with a coach and at least 1 hour on my own)?
  • to be patient, recognizing that behavioral change (mine or others) takes time?
  • to take a look at my strengths as well as areas for improvement?
  • to be honest and open-minded with myself and my coach?
  • to take risks and step outside my comfort zone?
  • to take an active role in the coaching process?
  • to involve others in my coaching when/if it is necessary?

Everyone can learn to lead. Let me know if you’d like some assistance.

Nancy Haller, Ph.D.

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club?
Email her at


Hiring The Best Team


Belle M. DuCharme, RDA, CDPMA
Director/ The Center for
Dental Career Development

         The success of any venture, whether it is a ball game or a productive day at the dental office, depends on the people involved. Do they have the knowledge and the training to get the job done well or to win the “game”? Professional coaches study the game stats of a potential team member before offering a contract. They also consider the personal strengths and weaknesses of the candidate and how these attributes will affect the other members of the team.

Most dentists hire staff based on the “past” experience at their last places of employment. Do they test the potential employee for the skills necessary to do the job correctly at their office? Some offices ask for a “working interview” to determine the skill level of a potential employee. The clinical candidate is usually asked to clean instruments, seat patients and assist the doctor for simple procedures. The front office person is asked to answer the phone, post some simple payments and schedule some appointments. The staff has an opportunity to see the “personality” of the candidate and decide if this person is a good fit. Of course, this person is on their “best” behavior. This is all accomplished in one day for someone you want as a team member for ten years or more.

Very frequently there is a “rush” to get a warm body to fill a position to relieve the stress placed on other staff members. This can be a fatal mistake, especially if the person you are looking to hire will be managing the business of your practice. Without a thorough understanding of the systems and numbers that create a profitable and smooth running practice how can this new employee be expected to maintain any level of success? Truth is, they can’t. In my many years of going into offices and the occasional “cleaning house” I can tell you that “turnover” at the front desk should be called “bailing out of a sinking ship.” No one wants to fail, however, without the proper training it is inevitable. The following is a list of common reasons why efforts to retain quality staff are not working and why new hires don’t succeed or become mediocre performers.

  1. Job descriptions and or job performance expectations do not exist.
  2. The personality types of the applicants are not considered. (Testing is available for Personality Types here at The Center).
  3. Interviewing techniques do not enable you to learn the most about the applicant and their qualifications.
  4. The dentist embellishes the explanation of the practice and the prospective employee’s opportunities for growth.
  5. References are not checked.
  6. The applicant’s skills are not tested. (Math test for front office)
  7. Existing employees or the doctor trains the new employee when “time permits.”
  8. Procedural manuals or written operational systems for new staff are non-existent.

One office I recall was advertising to replace their Business Manager who was retiring after thirteen years of service. Upon looking at the accounts receivable, I was aghast. There was two and half times the average monthly production in 90 days past due. I asked her why she allowed this to happen. She explained, “There should be enough in accounts receivables to support the doctor for one year should he become disabled in any way.” Her financial policy was “we will bill you.” I was glad she was retiring. What if she applied at your office for your business manager position? After all, she certainly is “experienced”.

An employees work habits and attitude are greatly influenced by their personality type. Personality cannot be overlooked when hiring a new member of your team. There are several different types of personality types. For example, extroverted types like to have people around them in the work environment. Introverted types would rather send a bill or letter instead of asking for payment at the desk. Thinking types tend to be firm minded and have no problem collecting when the fees are due but feeling types may “feel sorry” for the patient and say “we will bill you”. When you understand how personality can influence behavior you will learn to recognize how you can overcome certain traits to accomplish your tasks successfully. Skill and experience are only part of creating the successful team. The right personality for the position is just as important. Here at The Center of Dental Career Development we have a Business Administrator Training Program that provides the necessary skills for your front office manager to become a knowledgeable expert at managing your practice. Understanding how to best create a happy, productive team based on skill, training and personality is an important part of the curriculum. My next article will examine Job Descriptions and attracting the right people.

Remember this: Just because he can swing the bat doesn’t mean he can hit the ball out of the park.

Belle M. DuCharme, RDA, CDPMA

Exceptional Front Office Employees?
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Your Performance Measurements kit includes an extensive workbook with copy-ready appraisal forms and measurement graphs to use for each employee. In addition, you will learn how to determine the number of employees needed for a successful practice, how to design results-oriented job descriptions for all business and clinical staff, use performance charting to objectively measure your employees, and make sound hiring and firing decisions.

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Sally's Mail Bag

Hi Sally,

My new receptionist is willing and anxious to start calling some of our patients that haven’t followed through with treatment. Do you have any suggestions?

Dr. New Orleans

Dear Dr. New Orleans,

It is a proven fact that patients buy the benefits of your services – not your services. They need to clearly understand how they will benefit from making and keeping their appointments.

Educate her to choose words, phrases, and questions that encourage patients to take the desired action and use words that express conviction, such as:

  1. Definitely - “We definitely need to reevaluate that upper right side.”
  2. Absolutely - “I absolutely agree with you.”
  3. Let me recommend – “Let me recommend that Mary, our hygienist, provide you with information on the whitening techniques now available.”
  4. Certainly – “Certainly, I will tell Doctor about your concern with that crown.”
  5. I assure you – “I assure you that you will be out by 4 o’clock.”

Effective communication with the patient also includes effective listening – including listening to objections that you don’t want to hear. The patient needs to be given the opportunity to talk, to express concern, to offer alternatives, suggestions, etc. Demonstrate that you care about what the patient has to say. Don’t interrupt. Again, show respect for the patient. Empathize with the patient.

Always remember: to the patient, the person on the phone is the practice.

Best regards,
Sally McKenzie, CEO

Office Managers
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This issue is sponsored
in part by:
The Center for Dental Career Development
San Diego Workshop Series
Spring & Summer Schedule
 Date Seminar Instructor(s)  
 June 4
 9:00 - 4:00
How to Become an EXCEPTIONAL Front Office Dental Employee Belle DuCharme, RDA, CDPMA  
 June 25
 9:00 - 4:00
The Top ADVANCED Management skills for a Successful Practice Belle DuCharme, RDA, CDPMA  
 July 9
 9:00 - 4:00
How to Become an EXCEPTIONAL Front Office Dental Employee Belle DuCharme, RDA, CDPMA  
 July 16
 9:00 - 4:00
The Top ADVANCED Management skills for a Successful Practice Belle DuCharme, RDA, CDPMA  

The Center for Dental Career Development has been approved under the Academy of General Dentistry, Program Approval for Continuing Education (PACE). Starting 10/19/03 through 10/18/07 members of the Academy of General Dentistry can receive AGD credits for all seminars and workshops sponsored by the Center for Dental Career Development.

Please visit to view a list of upcoming seminars and workshops.

To Register 877-900-5775 or
McKenzie Management Upcoming Events
Date Location Sponsor Speaker
June 25-26 Atlanta, GA Endo Magic Root Camp Sally McKenzie
July 8-11 Anaheim, CA Academy of General Dentistry Sally McKenzie & Exhibiting
July 16 Medford, OR S. Oregon Dental Society Sally McKenzie
Aug 7 San Diego, CA Dental Manufacturers Association Sally McKenzie
Sep 10 -12 San Francisco, CA California Dental Association Sally McKenzie & Exhibiting

For more information, email
or call 1-877-777-6151

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