5 Tips for Building and Maintaining a Great Dental Staff

February 5, 2016
Bill Schu

You may be the quarterback of your dental practice, but it takes the coordinated effort of the entire staff to achieve your practice's goals.

The best dental office and football teams operate like an intricate ballet: many members, each doing their individual job, in service of a larger goal. The quarterback is essential, but if the left tackle forgets his blocking assignment, the play will more often result in a sack than in a touchdown. You may be the quarterback of your dental practice, but it takes the coordinated effort of the entire staff to achieve your practice’s goals.

Here are five essential tips for building and keeping a great staff.

1. Hire for people skills, train for clinical skills. “People skills” means more than being good with patients; it also means the team member’s ability to self-motivate, come to work with a positive attitude, and work well with the other members of the team. Yes, your staff will need good clinical skills, but those can be taught. The general attributes of positivity and motivation can be encouraged, but it helps if you hone in on these attributes during the interviewing process.

2. Invest in your staff, and they’ll invest in you. This concept isn’t unique to dental offices, of course, but it can be particularly important in an environment where the staff might feel like they’re only a support person for the quarterback. Actively solicit feedback from your staff regularly about matters trivial (what small token to offer child patients) and momentous (e.g., what new services your practice might offer to patients; what additional training they’d like to pursue). Investments in people don’t have to always be monetary. Sometimes they can be as simple as giving people the opportunity to make a contribution or have a voice within the practice.

3. Watch and listen to staff interactions with patients. Do this both when the staff member knows you’re looking and listening, and at some times when they might not know. This isn’t spying and it shouldn’t make you uncomfortable; it’s making sure the face that the staff puts on for the patients is the same whether you’re in the room or not.

4. Don’t be afraid to part ways with staff who are not working out. If, for whatever reason, one or more of your team members is taking more off the table than they are putting on, don’t be afraid to make a change. Bad morale can be as infectious as good morale. If team members who are working hard and staying motivated see that colleagues who are putting in half the effort face no consequences, their motivation is likely to dip. You should never make quick or uniformed decisions about hiring or firing, but you shouldn’t become paralyzed into inaction when it becomes clear that a problem is festering.

5. Staff up when necessary. Respect your staff by making sure they’re put in a position to succeed. This means making sure you are fully staffed at all times. You and your partners will have to determine what “fully staffed” means. Yes, there is a magic number of staff needed to make everything run perfectly and efficiently. Schedule too many, and you’ll be inefficient and run the risk of having staff become de-motivated. Dip just one team member below that ideal, and you run the risk of throwing everything out of whack. The phone is ringing but no one can answer it. A patient’s visit is over, but he or she needs to make another appointment and no one is manning the book at the moment. A team member looked at the break schedule wrong and are now both out, leaving patients waiting twice as long for their appointments. Communication is breaking down all over the place, and patients heading for the exit door aren’t showing their pearly whites. Be prepared with a back-up plan if there is a call-out or an unexpected leave; you will need it. And don’t schedule with the idea that everything will go right on every day.

Once your team is in place and running smoothly, make sure everyone is on the same page and that everyone’s first priority is the care and satisfaction of your patients. If your patients see happy, motivated, and satisfied staff, they’re more likely to reflect those same characteristics as patients.

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