Ask Amy: Looking for a few good co-pilots

March 21, 2012

If I took an educated guess on what topics the majority of The Pride Institute’s phone calls for “help” were based on, I would have to say half of the calls are from hygienists who feel under appreciated, undervalued and underused, while the other half come from dentists who are, quite frankly, a little anxious about their relationship with their hygienist(s). Considering the No. 1 secret to succeeding in these challenging times is a modern, interactive hygiene experience, we need to get to the bottom of what seems to cause frustration for the key players involved in continuing care.

If I took an educated guess on what topics the majority of The Pride Institute’s phone calls for “help” were based on, I would have to say half of the calls are from hygienists who feel under appreciated, undervalued and underused, while the other half come from dentists who are, quite frankly, a little anxious about their relationship with their hygienist(s). Considering the No. 1 secret to succeeding in these challenging times is a modern, interactive hygiene experience, we need to get to the bottom of what seems to cause frustration for the key players involved in continuing care.

It starts with a foundation that both the dentist and hygienist can be passionate about and willing to move forward together on. Don’t even think about hiring, training or coaching a hygiene team to new performance levels without the following:

1. A vision/philosophy for the practice and the hygiene department. A vision is the “why” you and your team do what you do, not the “how” or “when.” If you want a “state of the art, warm and caring practice that exceeds your patient’s expectations, where ideal oral health leads to complete health and well being, where the hygienist serves as co-pilot with the dentist in partnering with committed patients to provide the very best in dentistry,” then you can hire and coach for the specific knowledge, skills and abilities and attitudes (KSAs) that will support and promote that vision.

Your vision should be in your hiring ads, your training plans, reward models and be a daily part of feedback and coaching. What gets acknowledged gets repeated. When you acknowledge through your vision you motivate team members to new levels of success.

2. A written job description that includes: the vision of the practice and the continuing care department; the desired outcomes of the department; the department’s key statistics; the “KSAs” of the position; and a list of all the tasks, in priority order based on the practice’s strategies and goals.

What KSAs are important in your hygiene team? Is it advanced periodontal/clinical techniques? Is it customer service and communication skills? Advanced teamwork and self-directed skills? Don’t assume a new hire or existing team member knows which skills are vital to continuous practice growth.

What statistics/benchmarks will be monitored? Will you monitor hygiene production per day or per hour? Will you monitor no-shows and cancellation percentages, case acceptance percentages on patients of record, the number of adult fluoride, anti-microbial and sealants done on patients in any given month? Is room turnover more important than an excellent hygiene patient debrief that reduces no-shows and cancellations?

When there is a long list of actions that a position is responsible for, you can’t assume the employee knows which tasks are priority. In the absence of the leader prioritizing, the hygienist will default to what he/she feels most competent in. If I believe I have great clinical skills, but  I am uncertain about my ability to handle patient objections, guess what my focus will be? The more complete the job description is, the more empowered a hygienist will feel in taking these opportunities to the next level.

3. A dynamic compensation model that rewards performance and direct contributions to the practice’s growth is essential. Myopic bonus or commission plans focus on just one aspect of the job description. What happens when a hygienist is commissioned on direct hygiene production only? You get a team member who believes the only valuable outcome is production. Don’t you want a self-directed hygienist who actively participates with the rest of your team to achieve ALL of the practice’s goals: treatment acceptance, raving fans who actively refer, ideal balanced scheduling models and co-pays collected at time of service?

An excellent wage and reward plan incentivizes team members to grow in all directions. Growth conferences, salary reviews and informal feedback opportunities are essential to making that compensation model come alive.

How do you know how much you can afford to pay your hygienist? There are several formulas to analyze a hygiene department’s profitability. One of the simplest is the “30-40 Rule.” Hygiene gross salaries and benefits can be in the range of 30 to 40% of direct hygiene production. Within that range there are many opportunities to ensure a well-compensated, informed and committed employee who WANTS the practice to grow.

These are the fundamentals of establishing a forward moving continuing care department. Without them, inspiring new levels of performance can be frustrating. Implement the basics and the No. 1 topic for phone calls to Pride will dwindle to nothing!

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR AMY? E-mail your questions and ideas to tcarter@advanstar.com.