Do you know what your staff really thinks about you?

August 29, 2012
Renee Knight

Issue 8

We tell you what they might be saying behind your back.

We tell you what they might be saying behind your back.

Your team keeps the practice running. It is your support and without each member, you’d pretty much be lost. You appreciate all that they do, and you’re confident they know that.

Problem is, they may not know that. They may feel under appreciated and unclear of expectations. Beyond that, even though it’s unintentional, you’re probably doing something that makes it more difficult for them to do their jobs and to do them well. You may be comfortable with the day-to-day routine you’ve developed over the years, but you have to stop and think about how your actions, or inactions, may affect the team-and ultimately your patients.

Not sure if you’ve fallen into this trap? Here’s a breakdown of some of the ways you might be slowing your team members down, and what you can do to get out of their way.

Blowing off the morning huddle. If you decide the morning huddle is just for team members and not the doctor, you’re telling your team the morning huddle really isn’t that important, said Lois Banta of Banta Consulting.

Members of the team will rise to the level of the doctor’s expectations, and if you don’t even care enough to show up to the huddle or roll in 10 minutes late most days, why should they take it seriously? It also shows a lack of leadership, something your team members really need. 

“It’s like the head coach not being at the game until the game starts,” said Penny Reed Limoli, owner of the Reed Limoli Group.

You have to be there and ready to go when the team is, Limoli said. If you constantly show up late for the huddle or take extra long lunches, your team members will begin to do the same, and that of course throws the entire schedule off track.

Skipping performance reviews. You know your team members are doing a good job, but do you ever take the time to tell them? Not holding annual performance reviews can become a huge source of frustration for your staff, Limoli said.

Staff members need to know what they’re doing right and where they can improve, and performance reviews or growth conferences are key to making that happen.

“These frustrations can affect how team members perform because there’s confusion about the direction they need to go in their job,” Banta said. “If the doctor is not communicating expectations, the team is left to their own devices to run the practice like they think it should be run. It’s like the doctor telling his team to read his mind.”

And remember, don’t save all your compliments for these reviews. Positive re-enforcement is key to keeping your staff happy. When you see a staff member doing something right or going above and beyond to help a patient or a team member, be sure to let that team member know you’ve noticed.

“Team members need to know where they stand with the doctor,” Banta said. “They need more acknowledgement than just an annual raise. The No. 1 reason staff members quit a practice is they feel unappreciated. Any appreciation will go a long way.”

Be available to your team members. If one of your team members is having a problem and wants to talk it over, he or she should feel like you’re approachable and available, Banta said. Keep the communication lines open, and don’t depend on body language to get your messages across.

“Dentists need to have more interactive and proactive conversations with team members to communicate what they need,” Banta said. “The head in the sand approach is never going to work. Many times a team member finds the doctor intimidating by how they come across with body language. If body language is angry or mad, it will affect the team’s demeanor. Emotions can run high in a practice with the unsaid and not just what is being said.”

Related: Dealing with sexual harassment in the operatory

Taking last minute trips. It’s Monday and you’ve decided you should attend that tradeshow later this week or take a much-needed long weekend trip to the lake. While making these types of last minute changes to your schedule doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, it can really cause trouble for your staff members, Limoli said.

If you’re not going to be around to treat patients, that means your schedule coordinator will have to call all those patients who had appointments on the days you’ll be out and re-schedule them.

As you can imagine, changing appointment times won’t make your busy patients happy, and your team members are the ones who will catch the flack for it. Not to mention the fact that it takes time to make all those changes and fit these patients into an already tight schedule. If you want to keep your patients and your team happy, plan out these trips far in advance, Limoli suggests.

Not clearly communicating the treatment plan. No matter what kind of insurance a patient has or what you think that patient can afford, you have to present the best possible treatment option, Banta said. You can’t diagnose to the insurance company’s needs.

Don’t present just what you think the patient wants, or overwhelm him with so many options the treatment he really needs gets lost in the shuffle. This not only hurts the patients, but also causes confusion for your staff when it’s time to schedule appointments or set up payment plans.

Keeping incompetent team members on staff. It’s an uncomfortable situation. You hired someone to be on your team and felt confident he or she would be a great addition to your staff. But for one reason or another, it just isn’t working out.

All too often, doctors ignore this situation, but both Limoli and Banta agree that isn’t an option. If you have staff members who aren’t doing the job they were hired to do, that means your other team members are picking up the slack. This affects everyone on the team, and only leads to frustration and resentment.

If there’s someone on the team who’s holding everyone else back, you have to do something about it, whether that’s having a serious conversation about what that team member needs to do to improve or parting ways with that employee.

Having to let an employee go is never fun, but there are ways to make this less common in your practice. Make sure you have an office policy guide that you enforce, and that new hires are clear on your expectations, Banta said. Job descriptions should be clear from the beginning if you want new team members to succeed and feel like a valued member of the team.

“If everyone gets along, it results in better treatment acceptance,” Banta said. “Patients don’t feel this underlying current of dissatisfaction. They feel like everyone is working toward the same goal.”

Not offering training. It’s great to update your practice with new products, new software and new technologies, but before you make any purchases, you should talk with your team members about what it means for them and the practice. Get them excited about what’s ahead and what it can do for patient care.

But you can’t stop there. You have to train your team members on any new products or software that you expect them to use, Banta said.  If you want your team to excel, you have to provide them with the basics; you can’t expect them to just know how to use that really cool practice management system you just had set up. Getting them training will make them feel comfortable faster, and will limit the amount of mistakes they make while they’re adjusting to a new system or product.

What you can do to make life easier.  Now that you know what you’re doing wrong, what can you do to help? First, try getting some feedback from your team, Limoli suggests. Encourage them to give you honest feedback, and use what they tell you to set goals for change.

It’s also helpful to think about the kind of boss you’d like to be and to set standards, Limoli said. Be accountable for any goals you set and stay positive.

If leadership is something you struggle with, Banta suggests taking classes or hiring a coach. Maybe set up a team building exercise or leadership classes for the entire team. Learn the best ways to communicate with your team members, and set up weekly meetings to address any issues that have come up in the practice or to celebrate the victories from the past week.

A happy team is key to a successful practice. Great leadership, good communication and proper training for your team will ensure a very enjoyable and productive practice. All it takes is a little effort on your part to make your team members, as well as your patients, notice a positive difference.

“Creating an awareness is half the solution. Once you are aware, that’s the stepping-stone to do something about it. If you walk along in the practice unaware that’s a recipe for disaster. If you ignore the problem that’s a recipe for disaster,” Banta said. “There’s so much unsaid that creates the underlying current of’ I’m not happy I’ m going to leave’ rather than address it. Leadership is a learned skill. It’s actually the stepping-stone to make everything else in your practice run successfully. Good communication, leadership and training on going and everything else is gravy.”