Chicago Midwinter Meeting: 4 Steps to Transforming Toxic Dental Practice Employees

Speaker Judy Kay Mausolf equipped those gathered for her continuing education session on Thursday, Feb. 23 at the Chicago Midwinter Meeting with skills they can use to fix the problem employees in their dental practices. The key, Mausolf explained, is putting in the time and effort to tame the drama queens. Often, that’s as simple as setting and maintaining standards.

Is this how your front desk has been handling patient calls? Maybe it's time for a heart-to-heart with some of your problematic employees. According to Judy Kay Mausolf, changing problem employees is about establishing and sticking to behavior standards. That was part of her message during her continuing education session at the Chicago Midwinter Meeting on Thursday, Feb. 23.

Dental practices, like any other business, can have their share of discontented, toxic employees who make coming to work feel like drudgery.

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But if you think you don’t have the time or knowledge to tame your drama queen employees, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is it your responsibility, you have more resources to help turn around team morale than you might expect.

That’s the message Judy Kay Mausolf gave to attendees at her Chicago Dental Society Midwinter Meeting session on Thursday, Feb. 23. Mausolf, a popular speaker and dental practice consultant, runs Practice Solutions, Inc. in Lakeville, Minnesota.

The dynamics of each practice may be unique, but employee problems often stem from a common root.

“Usually the dentist hasn’t set clear standards as the practice grows, especially when problem employees have good technical skills or are good with patients,” Mausolf told Dentist’s Money Digest in a separate interview. “Dentists may be reluctant to address problems or may not realize how damaging it is to allow employees to treat patients better than their coworkers.”

According to Mausolf, dentists often experience an “aha” moment: “If toxic behavior is no longer allowed, it will stop,” she said.

But, she cautioned, change requires that the entire team decide as a group what their work culture should be like.

To her, the basis of change comes down to two key questions dentist and staff must ask themselves: What is foundation of the practice? And what behaviors support that foundation?

Mausolf offered several pointers to help dentists create a more caring atmosphere at work.

1. Cultivate Positive Energy.

For Mausolf, infusing the team with positive energy is an essential part of improving workplace culture. That’s why the acronym “Optimistic Radiant Attitudes Nurture Great Energy” (ORANGE) encapsulates her message. “The color orange creates a feeling of happy, positive energy,” she said. “That’s exactly what happens once you start putting positive energy into the world: you get it back and then some.”

According to Mausolf, your focus creates your attitude: “Focus on the positive and you will be positive.”

It’s too easy to define our day by the negatives, Mausolf said. She encourages her clients to instead look for three positives in every situation: “If you find a reason to feel good, you’ll feel good.”

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2. Understand the Power of Language.

Mausolf reminded attendees that using words precisely is a powerful tool for improving workplace attitudes. “Labels create energy, so when you call something negative like ‘stressful’ or ‘difficult’, that’s what you’re creating,” she said, noting that she prefers neutral words like

“interesting” instead.

3. Develop Positive Office Rituals.

Mausolf encourages clients to work together to develop rituals that foster teamwork and shared workplace values. One way to do this is to create a “kudos environment,” that encourages employees to recognize their coworkers’ positive contributions. The most common way to do this is to create an appreciation board with a supply of sticky notes for people to write and share for all to see when someone does something nice for them, she said.

Another option is to hold a monthly book club at team meetings, focusing on nonfiction books that promote teamwork and other related qualities. Mausolf recommends classic business titles like Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, as well as Mac Anderson’s pithy books (like Simple Truths and The Power of Attitude). She has also published two books herself.

How you run a book club depends on the team’s level of engagement, Mausolf said. “Some teams love this idea and want to read the whole book on their own, while others just want to review a single chapter for 5 minutes at the beginning of a meeting,” she explained. “The important thing is how the book’s concept can help your team work together better.”

4. Celebrate the Team’s Successes.

Mausolf closed by urging attendees to take time to enjoy when things go right for the team. “What we do is stressful and it can be too easy to see patients as sets of teeth and not people,” she said. “But if you stop celebrating the joy quickly goes out of life.”

Mausolf believes dentists are in the midst of a cultural change, one that will benefit them and their employees. “Dentists are tired of coming to a place they’re not excited about themselves, so they’re eager to improve their practice culture,” she said. “The most important questions dentists need to answer is what they want in their culture, and then what is standing in the way of achieving that.”