How to help your staff improve

Where would we be without our staff? About 42 years ago, an older dentist said to me, “You shouldn’t need any more staff than someone to answer the phone.” How wrong he was! Our practice could not provide the level of care we do without our dedicated staff. Remember your mission statement and how important it is for your staff to know what it is. “Providing the highest quality care, for the greatest number of people, while maintaining a balance between our personal and professional lives.” We cannot implement our mission without our staff.

Communicate expectations

So many of us have a love/hate relationship with our staff. I once saw an article titled, “Why your staff hates you.” I hope that isn’t true, but your staff may grow to resent you. I think there are many reasons for this but will highlight a few. As a leader, you must be clear about your expectations. Do your staff know how you expect them to do their jobs? Or more importantly, have you clearly communicated the culture of patient care that you expect? Remember, the answer to these questions should always be “yes.” As leaders, we build resentment among our staff when we are not leading and maybe we aren’t working hard. Last in the morning and first out at night doesn’t work. “Follow me into battle” is what the staff needs to see.


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Do you take an interest in what staff members are doing, or do you think, “They should know what to do after all this time”? Have you given your staff the proper training to know what to do? Are you trying to force them, and do you make them feel insecure about their work? Are you constantly micromanaging? Are you ever encouraging or willing to help when help is needed?

Give and receive feedback

“Wait, wait, wait—I am a really good boss, and I am doing all the things you have discussed in the past!” That’s really great, and if it’s true, we can change the focus of this discussion. The focus should shift from the leader to the staff. Now the question is, how do staff members know that they’re doing a great job? Your staff needs feedback, and it needs to come from you. How do you do that? Through employee reviews. No one likes doing them, but staff members need them and you, as the leader, need to do them. If you have a large staff, you can have department heads help you with reviews, but your feedback is still the most important.

How do we help staff improve? We could all go to a course, listen all day, take lots of notes, and try really hard to implement the ideas the course taught us. We could hire a “coach” that will send lots of books and tapes and require us to implement these cookie-cutter ideas. But do people outside your practice really know your culture?

I’m not saying that hiring consultants or going to courses or reading books is bad, but you do need to make those ideas your own, and those concepts fit into how you want your practice to evolve.

We need to help our team get better and evolve. To accomplish this, I believe we need to give them feedback that is constructive and positive. The best sports teams in the world practice plays all the time. Someone is always watching and reviewing game footage, giving feedback and helping the players get better. Team members must have the skills, and more importantly, the drive to improve.

The building blocks of a healthy team

The only way to do this is to provide feedback and solicit feedback from your staff. When we talk about performance, we have to break down the parts of performance we need to evaluate.

Performance is made up of cooperation, reliability, quality and quantity.

Cooperation is an interesting concept as related to patients and staff. Can the team member work with others? Do they participate and offer input? Above all, are they courteous at all times?

Reliability is so important because team members count on each other. Being on time is so important. It has been said, “When you are early, you are on time and when you are on time, you are late.” Timeliness and doing your best makes all the difference. The only way to do your best and get better is through perseverance. Perseverance is a wonderful trait. We all know that being “steady eddy” is very important. Because this person has stability, and they are someone who can be counted on. Someone who is reliable also follows the rules. Rules are important because they provide guidelines and accountability.

Quality is, of course, of utmost importance. But quality also requires that we be systematic. Doing things the same way all the time is very difficult. When we work in the demanding world of dentistry, we need to be adaptive and embrace innovation. Task quality is worth considering, because we need our tasks to become routine with quality.

Quantity relates to doing the work that you need to do each day. If everyone is working hard, everyone is doing their amount of work because “many hands make the load light.”

What does all this mean? We need to provide performance reviews, but our staff need a chance to self-evaluate and give their own feedback.

Balancing art, science, and business requires our staff to develop and improve all the time and performance reviews will help. Our performance is always based on team cooperationbeing reliablemaintaining quality, and of course we are all facing a large quantity of work. As a team, we can succeed. Review your staff and reward them.


Editor’s note: This article appeared in the September 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

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