Staff Conflict Damaging Your Practice? Here’s How to Handle It
Lately, you’ve noticed tension between some of your team members. You’ve seen the eye rolls and have even overheard employees complaining about each other. Rather than get involved, you’ve decided it’s best to stay out of it. These are professionals, after all. Surely, they’ll be able to work out their differences without your intervention.
Unfortunately, that often isn’t the case and is just an excuse used by dentists to avoid dealing with staff conflict. Most clinicians would rather focus on diagnosing and treating patients; they don’t want to deal with these types of personnel issues. Instead of addressing conflict so team members can move on, they ignore it – allowing it to fester until it eventually boils out of control and damages the practice.
While you’ll never avoid conflict altogether, there are ways to reduce the negative effects it can have on your practice. I’ve put together these tips to help you handle conflict in your office and actually turn it into a positive that helps your practice grow.
Don’t let conflict bring you and the rest of the practice (including your patients) down. Instead, choose to be positive and encourage team members to do the same. Make it clear you intend to work with the employees involved to find a solution that makes everyone happy, then do just that.
Don’t let your emotions take over. While it’s natural to react to conflict with emotion, doing so will only make the situation worse. As the practice CEO, this is the time for you to be strategic. Remember, it isn’t about placing blame or determining who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s about working with your team to come up with a solution before it causes irreversible damage. Stay calm and talk to the team members involved about what’s going on and how the issue can be fixed.
Develop policies. What should these policies include, you ask? Standards for professional behavior and how you expect your office to operate. For example, if employees think it’s OK to post on their personal Facebook account throughout the day, let them know it isn’t and that you expect them to spend their working hours contributing to practice success.
Once you have your policies together, make them part of the employee handbook that you give to every new hire.
Make daily huddles part of your routine. While morning huddles are great for planning out your day, I suggest you use a portion of these meetings to talk about problems your team members are seeing. Create an environment where they feel comfortable talking about issues. Make sure employees know you value their opinion and you want everyone to work together to find solutions to small problems before they become big problems. This will improve communication among team members and help squash potential conflict before it has the chance to hurt the practice.
Put a stop to gossip. When team members are frustrated, they tend to use gossip, snide remarks and eye rolling to release some of that frustration. This, of course, only serves to fuel conflict and ultimately damage your practice.
There’s no place for gossip in a dental office, so I suggest you make it clear that team members can only talk about co-workers when they’re in the same room. In fact, it should be part of those policies you’re planning to develop. And if someone doesn’t follow this rule and starts gossiping, team members should know to change the subject or walk away.
Ask for updates every month. Lack of clear communication is one of the biggest contributors to staff conflict. Holding monthly staff meetings (as well as those morning huddles) will help improve communication and ensure everyone is on the same page.
During these meetings, every team member should be ready to provide an update on their systems. Then the group should talk about how each system can be improved. Before the meeting is over, task employees with pursuing the strategies discussed and provide an update at the next meeting. That way everyone is involved in moving the practice forward, and everyone knows who is responsible for what.
Embrace conflict. No matter what you do, conflict is unavoidable. As the practice owner, you have to address conflict as soon as you notice it – but remember, conflict isn’t always a bad thing. I suggest you look at it as an opportunity for improvement.
Want an example? Let’s say your hygienist is upset because she isn’t being scheduled properly. She becomes frustrated and starts complaining about the Scheduling Coordinator every chance she gets. You sit down with the two employees to work out the issue, and realize the coordinator wasn’t trained on how to schedule the hygienist. You’re now aware of a problem you can easily fix, leading to improved productivity and increased revenues.
Dealing with conflict makes most dentists uncomfortable, so they choose to ignore it until it eventually gets out of control and damages the practice. Staff conflict can cost you money, patients and employees, so knowing how to handle it is important. Following these tips will help reduce conflict in your office, making for a happier, more productive working environment.
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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Get Team Members to Take Control of their Responsibilities
Case Study #402
The problem: “My team members can’t seem to think for themselves. If I don’t remind them to complete their tasks, oftentimes they don’t get done. I need to focus on caring for patients and running a practice; I can’t worry about making sure team members are doing their jobs. It’s exhausting, and I need to find a way to get them to take control of their responsibilities.”
This was a stressful situation for our doctor, which is why he came to McKenzie Management for guidance. He wanted us to help him empower his team members to take ownership of their roles, so he could trust they were completing their duties each day.
Strong, capable team members are key to a successful practice. By making a few changes, this doctor was able to give his staff the confidence they needed to excel, helping to move the practice forward. Here’s the advice we gave him:
Develop detailed job descriptions. Without proper guidance, team members feel lost. They’re unsure who’s responsible for what, and that means some tasks end up falling through the cracks. You can eliminate this confusion with detailed job descriptions that outline everyone’s responsibilities. Get your team members involved with creating these job descriptions, and make sure every employee sees them.
Write down protocols. Make a list that outlines what tasks need to get done and assign them to specific team members. Then have them write down step-by-step protocols for each task they’re assigned. Be sure to provide proper training so team members can confidently and efficiently complete their duties.
Hold team members accountable. While employees can delegate the tasks they’re assigned if necessary, it’s important they understand it’s their responsibility to ensure those tasks are completed correctly. This gives them ownership of their role and again eliminates any confusion.
Provide a timeframe. It’s not enough to give team members a task and expect them to complete it. You also have to let them know when you want that task to be done. That’s where the timeframe comes in. If you want something done by the end of the day, say that. Make sure employees understand the level of urgency.
Put a confirmation system in place. When dentists ask a team member to complete a task, they often worry it won’t actually get done. Maybe the team member will forget, or not have time to get to it before the end of the day. Instead of trusting the employee will do his or her job, the doctor eventually asks – which wastes your time and often frustrates the employee. That’s why I suggest you set up a confirmation system so you know exactly when tasks are checked off the to-do list.
-Have every team member make notes in the same place on the computer, whether it’s in contacts, clinical notes or the journal. Make sure they understand you expect them to mark when a task is completed. If it’s not marked complete in the timeframe given, that’s when you can talk to the employee responsible to find out what’s going on.
-Tell team members to leave a sticky note in a specific place on your desk with all the information you asked for, confirming the task was completed, when it was completed and the outcome.
-Tell team members you’d like them to send you an email with the same information once a task is complete.
-Let team members know you expect them to give updates on assigned tasks during team meetings.
-Ask team members to put a note in the patient’s record.
Let them know their input is important. Encourage creativity and make team members feel comfortable coming to you with ideas to improve the practice. This will show you value their opinions and contributions. Thank them for sharing ideas and give positive feedback. They’ll feel like the important part of the team they are and will be more vested in the practice’s success.
You should be spending your time diagnosing and treating patients, not worrying about if your team members are doing their jobs. This just leads to extra stress and frustration. Instead of micromanaging, get your team members to take control of their responsibilities. Empower them to perform and hold them accountable. When our doctor implemented these strategies into his office, his stress level went down and his team became more efficient and productive – leading to a more profitable practice.
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