3 Leadership Lessons for Every Dentist
Upon entering your first “real” dental practice either as an associate or as an owner, it’s likely that one thing became abundantly clear very early on: Along with that DDS degree, you’ve unwittingly earned a full-ride in the school of hard knocks…and oh what a ride it is. With little warning and even less preparation, many dentists are tossed into leadership roles seemingly overnight. It’s a job requirement that can leave newer and even experienced dentists shaking their heads in bewilderment. They quickly discover that teams don’t lead themselves and there’s a lot more to being “in charge” than most would ever imagine. While there are multiple pitfalls that can plague new leaders, below are three to steer clear of in your role as “The Boss.”
#1 - The “No Surprises” Directive
You might be embarrassed in front of a patient or colleague. You might have to dine on your least favorite entree - crow. You are NOT happy and you make it perfectly clear to your team. They are not to let this happen again, but it does - or something else - because stuff happens. Problems arise, best-laid plans unravel, and people make mistakes. And there you are as the leader of your team, exposed, vulnerable and (gasp) imperfect.
You told them you did not like surprises, yet there’s a veritable smorgasbord of unexpected situations, snafus, and problems spread before you. Why? How did this happen? Because you asked for it. Not directly of course, but if you tell your team that you don’t like surprises, don’t want bad news, or simply dismiss them when they need to talk to you about something, you’ll get exactly that - no news, no information, and no notice of that brewing storm on the horizon.
Work is about solving problems and finding solutions. If it were all fun, we would be going to “fun” every day. Instead, we go to work. Open the lines of communication in your dental practice and create a safe environment in which your team members can share concerns, problems, and, yes, bad news at the first hint that something is amiss. Then together you can work to address it long before the problem, situation, or ugly circumstance chews you up and spits your battered pride out onto the pavement in front of your practice.
#2 - Assuming Everyone Understands
Spell out your expectations and the employees’ responsibilities in black and white for every member of your team from the beginning. If you choose not to, they will simply keep performing their responsibilities according to what they think you want. If you honestly just don’t know what you want or how to explain it to your employees, you are not alone. Many dentists regardless of where they are in their careers struggle with this. Get answers. Seek help from a competent practice management consultant. Establishing clear expectations for your team early on will save you years of stress and unnecessary employee failures. And that leads me to the next pitfall…
#3 - Hiring Under Pressure
Next week, can you lead your practice to profitability?
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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Accountability – It’s Not a Dirty Word
In business, it is often said that what got you to where you are today won't keep you there. The same holds true for the business of dentistry. After all, being an excellent clinician requires ongoing training and education; it doesn’t stop with your DDS, DMD, or specialty degree. And although delivering quality dentistry may be the cornerstone of a first-rate practice, that alone won’t sustain your business over the long term.
Your success is contingent upon much more than the letters behind your name and the quality of your work. That, by comparison, will probably feel like the easy part. Achieving true excellence demands that you marshal the energy, respect, and dedication of a group of people who may be very different from you. They likely have different levels of education, different priorities, different challenges and, most certainly, different personalities.
You depend upon this group to make great things happen in your practice every day. And they depend on you for inspiration, motivation, direction, and accountability. If they are inspired, they understand the mission and the purpose of their roles and why they are essential to the success of the practice. If they are not, they will be mere cogs in your practice wheel, never really connecting their responsibilities to the effectiveness of the practice, not to mention their own success. If they are motivated, they want to deliver excellence every day in every interaction. If they are not, they won’t care and most likely they won’t stick around for long – if you’re lucky that is.
If they have clear direction, they understand your expectations and the measures of success. And if they are accountable, they are empowered to take action. If they lack direction and accountability, they will be quick to point fingers and assign blame when things go wrong – as they will, regularly. Whether you acknowledge it or not, everything in your practice depends upon staff fully understanding what you expect and being fully empowered to deliver on those expectations.
Unfortunately, the word “accountability” has taken on negative connotations in recent years – associated with negligence or incompetence. Staff can be suspicious of the term and view being “accountable” as being “liable.” In actuality, it should be the foundation for empowerment upon which trust and confidence is built among the entire team.
And while clear direction and accountability have been proven again and again to be integral to the success of every office, often they are absent. Why? Because providing clear direction and establishing systems of true accountability require time, energy, and a sincere commitment to do things differently. They cannot be achieved until written expectations for every team member are established. These require specificity, yet many practitioners hold on to vague generalizations. The old “everyone does everything” doesn’t work in today’s demanding workplace. Certainly, you need cross-training, backup systems, and protocols so that other staff can step in when necessary. But individual employees need to know what is expected of them individually, and they must have the tools and training to fulfill those expectations.
Too often, dentists fear specifics because they incorrectly assume that being specific will lock them into something they may not like at some point. Or they shun necessary training and education for staff because they worry that the employee(s) will leave, so the practice continues to languish. In other cases they simply can’t imagine that their teams could handle additional responsibility, so they set themselves up as the wise sage, the only person with the answers. All eyes turn to them every time there is a question or problem. They believe this is the best way to maintain control. In actuality, it is the best way to stymie practice potential.
Certainly, your role as leader is critical. But if you’re consistently stepping in and taking over, by default you set yourself up as the only person in your practice who is truly accountable for outcomes. And if you haven’t discovered it yet, I guarantee you will ultimately realize that approach is to your practice’s detriment.
If you’ve always been the one with all the answers and all the control, creating a culture of accountability will be no small undertaking. It will mean adopting both new mindsets and skillsets. In doing so, you will enjoy a level of success, prosperity, and professional contentment unlike anything you’ve ever known before. And that, doctor, is a promise.
Interested in speaking to Gene about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Benefits of Hiring Returning Workforce Employees
Dentists are not fond of hiring new staff members, especially at the front desk. Hiring a new employee isn't a decision that should be taken lightly, as it doesn't fall lightly on the practice budget. But without a skilled Business Coordinator at the front desk, the work does not get done. And that's the bottom line for dental practices, even though the investment may make the dentist cringe. How many times have you tried so hard to match the skills of a candidate to the demands of the open position, that the most important characteristics of a person have been relegated to lesser importance or forgotten entirely?
The key to a person's worth is their attitude, integrity, honesty, intelligence, communication skills, and the ability and willingness to learn. Technical skills are important, but without the key ingredients, the technical skills of the applicant may be irrelevant. Too often dentists look for current “experience” - meaning they will hire someone already working for another dentist who can “step in” to the position with little to no training - without placing much relevance on personal characteristics.
Long-term employees have always been valued by dentists, especially those who are skilled at what is most important to the success of the practice. Yet the average turnover in a dental office is still about 18 months to 2 years. The reality is that you could be hiring someone who has worked in 5 dental practices in 10 years.
If you think the pool of potentially excellent dental employees is getting smaller, you are mistaken. It is just that you have narrowed your focus to include only those with the most current dental office employment history and those with training on your software program.
Take Dr. H, who placed a well written ad for a Business Coordinator on an internet job board addressing the personal characteristics and philosophy versus current job history of the potential applicant. He said that current dental office experience and knowledge of dental software was desirable, but he would offer training to the right person. “Betty” answered his ad even though she had not worked in a dental practice for 7 years. During that time she had spent individual time with her child and had also worked from home doing marketing research. Betty loved dentistry and the interaction with patients, and was ready to return to a full time position but was having trouble finding work because she had been out of the dental workplace so long. After completing the application process, Dr. H hired Betty. She was a fast learner and had the integrity to take the time to learn the dental software program as quickly as possible - and in less than two weeks she was running the entire front office the way Dr. H. had envisioned.
The economic downturn put a lot of talented, educated and hard working people out of work. Many of these people have the personal characteristics that you are looking for in your dental office. Some might be older than you are seeking or may have been out of work for a year or more, but they deserve a second look. Study the background and work history of those who might qualify and make sure you are diligent at checking references and doing background checks and credit checks.
Training dental employees is necessary for the success of the new hire and also for the success of the practice and the rest of the team. Investing in training and continuing education for the dentist and dental team is insurance for the growth and profitability of the practice. Software training can be accomplished with hands-on professional trainers, webinars or training manuals. Most dental software companies have software support either by internet or phone that is a huge benefit to anyone using the program. Learning dental terminology, procedures and codes involves some study and applying what is learned to the course of the dental workday. An applicant who is willing and able to learn new skills and has the desire to be the best they can be will succeed in the position.
For Business Coordinators, Office Managers and other front office positions, professional business training that is one-on-one and customized to your practice is available through McKenzie Management.
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