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5.5.06 Issue #217

Define the Rules of Engagement; Vision, Goals, Duties

Sally McKenzie, CEO
The McKenzie Company

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A few years ago, the Gallup Organization released the results of a poll indicating that nearly 25% of employees in the country are unclear about what they are expected to do, they don’t have the materials or tools necessary to carry out their responsibilities, or they are waiting for information from their boss. Worse yet, 70% of all employees are simply not engaged in their work. In other words, they don’t care. And if there is one element that every dental practice needs to succeed, it is a team of people that cares.

Do your employees know what is expected of them? Have you spelled out their duties? Have you given them the tools/training they need to succeed? Do they understand that your success is their success? Unfortunately, if yours is like too many practices, employees come in and are simply expected to hit the ground running.

Typically, if they’ve worked in another practice it’s just assumed they know what you want. If they aren’t carrying out responsibilities as they should be, the doctor or office manager might make a few casual references to improvements that could be made, thinking that should be enough for the employee to know what they need to fix. Meanwhile, the team member is waiting for direction, but when that direction never comes or, in some cases, is negative or demoralizing, they simply disengage themselves from the practice. They may continue showing up for work until something better comes along, but they don’t understand their role or see the value of their contribution to the practice.

Think about your team, do your employees know what is expected of them? Do they feel valued? Can they clearly see how they fit into your practice? Chances are pretty good there’s room for improvement. Start with your practice vision and goals, share them with the team and help each other remain focused on them. If you haven’t established a vision and practice goals, do so and involve the team in the process.

Help each employee understand their individual part in realizing the established objectives. Staff members who are able to see the relationship between their roles and practice goals are much more effective and far more motivated to succeed than those who feel they are just another cog in the wheel. 

Most importantly, give employees the direction they need to carry out their duties effectively. Employee job descriptions are essential for clearly articulating exactly what is expected and why carrying out specific duties is essential both to individual success and that of the practice. Involve the employee in developing the job description, which will encourage individual ownership and responsibility, and provide an example description such as the following:

  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. Articulate, well organized, good listener, sensitive to patient concerns and objectives, ability to understand and clearly explain dental procedures. Ability to work with computer systems and dental software. Enjoys working with and helping others. Can 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 report regularly on 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.

Take steps to spell out your expectations of employees, provide job descriptions, make every effort to emphasize each team member’s value to the office and watch them become far more engaged in their own jobs as well as the success of the entire practice.

Interested in having Sally speak to your dental society or study club? Click Here.

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How Sharp is Your Saw?

Dr. Nancy Haller
Executive Coach
McKenzie Management

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Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

You ask, What are you doing?

Can't you see? I'm sawing down this tree, the woodsman says impatiently.

You respond, You look exhausted! How long have you been at it?

Over five hours, he returns, and I'm beat! This is hard work.

You inquire: Well, why don't you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw? I'm sure it would go a lot faster.

I don't have time to sharpen the saw, the man says emphatically. I'm too busy sawing!

The story is from Steven Covey's book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It illustrates the importance of stopping periodically to assess and strategize. Unless you pause to evaluate your circumstances, it’s difficult to improve. A retreat offers that opportunity.

A team retreat  is a time out, a valuable period of reflection and development. A team retreat is an effective way to clarify goals; to gain commitment and loyalty; to build trust and openness; and to raise awareness and skill.

Hopefully you are not thinking like the woodsman…I don’t have time. As the old saying goes, if you fail to plan, then you are planning to fail.

Whether you have a new or mature team in your office, periodically it’s important to step back from the day-to-day work routine and look at issues in more depth. This allows you and your staff the ability to review, discuss and plan those things that are key for team success.

Retreats increase communication between all employees. They can provide input on their work as well as the direction of the practice. Consequently they develop ownership and loyalty. Retreats engender more commitment, and more initiative.

Although team retreats offer both fun and education to employees, effective team retreats go beyond simple recreational bonding activities. In the process of a team retreat, employees build bridges for results (what do each of us need to do to help the team); processes (how do we communicate, make decisions, and solve problems in the office), and behaviors (for improved productivity).

If you are considering a team retreat, here are some guidelines.

  • Think about what you want to accomplish. Establish clear outcome goals.
  • Set the time frame. Retreats vary from four hours up to two or more days.
  • Prepare. If you want a top quality retreat, it is important to plan ahead.
  • Establish a tone that is relaxing, entertaining and keeps people interested.
  • If you are not familiar with retreats, it would be wise to have a facilitator.

Keep in mind that the retreat is only one step on a path to performance development. Therefore, your design should include follow-up retreats to ensure continued progress.  
Make time to 'sharpen your saw'. Call me – I can help.

Dr Haller can be reached at For more information on Dr. Haller facilitating your Team Retreat go here

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Quality Patient Care

Leslie Peariso
The Center for Dental
Career Development

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Picture this: You’re a dental front office administrator, the phone is ringing off the hook, the copy machine is jammed, one dentist is out of the office for a week on vacation and the Financial Coordinator just called in sick. Each patient that comes in seems to have a thousand questions you don’t have time to answer.

You put as many calls on hold as you can, hoping you can get back to them before they hang up. You rush through the patients checking in, whether they are new or existing, without a simple smile or hello. You’re barely able to juggle it all and it’s not your problem anyway, right? Wrong.

You see, the patients who you put on hold, only lasted about a minute before they hung up and this could be detrimental for a practice. Phone lines 1, 2, and 3 could have been new patients. They’ll call another practice over waiting to try and get in at your practice. Line 4 could have been someone wanting to reschedule an appointment who then hangs up over holding and now you have a hole in the hygiene schedule. They had the courtesy to call to cancel, but you had the discourtesy of putting them on hold and not getting back to them.

What about the patients that were checking in when you merely jammed the paperwork in the clipboard and demanded them to fill it out and bring it back to you when they were finished? They are sitting there trying to determine why they would want to be cared for by someone so rude and are hoping the hygienist/dentist is a whole lot more comforting. After all, you don’t know if that patient has dental anxiety, is nervous or insecure about the professional cleaning or about their smile. You don’t know if the patient is in pain and is uncomfortable. Why? Because you didn’t portray that you cared long enough for them to express it to you. You didn’t give them the slightest impression you cared.

Patient care incorporates customer service and it is essential that this is as important to the practice as it is to the patient. You may be having a really hard day, but as a customer care and service provider it is essential you CARE about your patients. After all, you are a patient and a customer somewhere too and you would want the same level of treatment and service from anywhere else.

Now, sometimes you are just too busy to take all the calls while checking patients in and out. If you find yourself as a front office administrator, in this scenario more often than once, there are solutions. Simple things like a telephone message on hold system can educate patients while they are on hold about the services you provide and in the long run, attempt to keep them on the line a little longer.

Another solution is a voicemail box that allows them to leave messages in specific boxes. For example, the patient has the option of leaving a message in a general mail box, in a mailbox for a specific dentist or hygienist, in a mailbox if they want to schedule or cancel an appointment or they can continue holding. At least this way, the patient has options and feels that they are still being helped.

In terms of patients standing at your counter, catching you in a flustered mess mixed with a touch of bad mood, it is the difference between being a quality patient care provider and not being one. And it is the difference between attracting more patients for the practice to grow. Word of mouth referral is the number one patient generator in dental practices. Even though by noon your day is starting to level out, you just affected more than the four patients who hung up and the three you were rude to earlier in the morning.

If you only have certain people in the office who handle certain tasks, think about cross training. What if one of those people in your office is sick or has a family emergency and will be out suddenly for a long period of time? Can your practice handle that? Are you prepared? The dental practice has to be able to function smoothly so that your patients are not affected. You never know when your system is going to go awry, but if you are prepared and know how to handle those situations that may come, your patients will not be affected and the image you portray as a practice will not be harmed. For more information on training for dental front office positions go to or email

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