Do you really know what motivates your dental team members?

November 1, 2013

Who among us hasn’t read books or articles telling us the primary motivators for employees are intrinsic rewards like recognition for good work, feedback, interesting work, opportunities to advance, feeling in on things, etc. In a typical list of 10 things, money comes in around fifth.

So why aren’t more of us regularly doing things to motivate our teams rather than as an after-thought? Perhaps because of being so busy that activities to motivate my team fall to the back burner. Perhaps because I wait for an annual performance review to formally motivate my team. Maybe because I am annoyed with some or all of my team and feel frustrated and not motivated myself to motivate each of them! And on and on it goes.

One way to break out of the excuse cycle is to formally schedule time to motivate. It’s a good thing to do if this doesn’t come naturally to you. Because dentists are often legitimately busy doing dentistry and managing parts of the business, one tool that dentists could use is to place an appointment on your private calendar or on your smartphone to remind yourself to take some action to motivate your team.

It doesn’t have to be motivating every single person on your team … it could even be a single person. Maybe every month on your private calendar, you list one person’s name (or several names for larger teams) that you will reach out to in some way to try to motivate them.

Some of you are thinking, “Yeah, good idea but I still don’t have a clue WHAT to do to motivate them!” One simple solution is to ask them! That’s right … just ask them. As a dental management consultant, I have done this with dozens of teams every year and I truly get excellent lists of ideas from which the doctors can choose. These are individualized lists. Each team member is asked to give the doctor(s) a private list of what motivates them at work.

It is helpful to also ask the employees to number in order of preference their top 3 or top 5 motivators. The doctor collects, reviews, and discusses with each person, and keeps these lists in personnel files to access throughout the year for ideas of how to motivate that individual. Note that these lists are not cast in concrete! People’s motivators may change over time as their life circumstances change.

An amazing thing about these hundreds of lists I see each year is that these dental team members fit the norms of the many management studies over the decades that have measured what motivates employees. People actually do list primarily intrinsic rewards versus monetary rewards. Oh sure, occasionally some team members may put “a raise” or “bonus program” on their lists.

In private conversation with him or her, a doctor may discover that this person is saving for a down payment on a house or maybe another person is just five years away from retirement and money has become more vital to her in this stage of her life. No matter what team members write on their personalized motivators lists, it is good information for a doctor to know. Team members feel cared about and their personal interests and needs attended to when their doctor talks with them to learn a bit more about them through items placed on their motivator list.

Sort of an extra bonus for the doctors is that many intrinsic rewards may not even cost the doctor anything besides some of his or her time. You just have to be determined to view this part of personnel management as an integral part of your job as leader of your practice. Schedule these activities in your month as suggested earlier.

Take active steps to learn what motivates your team. Talk with your folks individually. Put some actions into place to meet some of their top needs. Update these lists periodically. Do all of this and I guarantee you that you will begin to feel motivated about motivating others!