Finding, Keeping and Investing in Good Employees

Describing someone as having a great personality when setting up a friend on a blind date can be an ominous sign. Personality, fine, but what does he or she look like? But when it comes to hiring dental practice employees, finding someone with the right personality is often a preferred tradeoff to coming in with the right skill set.

“I strongly believe that if you find the right personality, you can train almost anyone to do the job,” said Neil Gajjar, DDS, MAGD.

It might seem like an easy task to find quality dental staff. The reality, however, is that it’s extremely challenging.

Why? Neil Gajjar, DDS, MAGD, of Mississauga, Ontario and president-elect for the Academy of General Dentistry explained the issues are two-fold: wage expectation and risk.

“The moment you start advertising for someone with dental experience, the wage expectation is very high,” Gajjar said.

So just hire someone without extensive dental experience, right? Well, that’s where the risk comes in. First, there’s a long training process and learning curve to get them up to speed. Then once they’re trained, they go somewhere else because the wage is higher.

“Because it is such a specific niche type of market, it’s tough to find employees,” Gajjar said.


Gajjar shared an approach to hiring that has worked well for him since opening his practice 18 years ago is to hire the personality. Hire someone who is dedicated, trustworthy and has an outgoing and personable character who can put patients at ease and comfort them.

“I strongly believe that if you find the right personality, you can train almost anyone to do the job,” Gajjar said.

That means dental practices should be prepared to consider tradeoffs when hiring new employees. So in addition to sacrificing initial skills to find the right personality, you might also need to sacrifice a little personality for the right skill set.

Gajjar’s process is unique. He has two employees from the front desk conduct the initial interview, and two people from the clinical staff conduct the follow-up interview. He tells them to choose the employee, so they need to make it work.

“I sign off on the person being hired,” he pointed out. “But all the interviewing and training is staff driven. It has worked because there’s buy in.”


What about long-time, valued employees who, one day, say they have been offered a position elsewhere with higher pay that is closer to their home? Gajjar stated that this can become a delicate balancing act. Sometimes, for the very good employees, it’s not all about dollars and cents. They want to work in an environment where they’re appreciated, and it feels like home. They are not as likely to leave when offered a much better salary.

But that’s not always the case.

“If you have a family of four or five, and you need more money, and someone is offering it to you, it’s legitimate to come to your boss and say, ‘I’m being offered more. I don’t want to leave. What can you do?’” Gajjar explained. “That puts us in a difficult situation.”

Sometimes, he said, you have to increase that employee’s wages because they have been there for years and know all the patients. But that can start a trickle-down effect, and before long other employees are asking for raises.

“Sometimes you have to say no and cut the cord,” Gajjar said, adding “it’s the cost of doing business.”


Gajjar said that one of the biggest lessons he has learned in working with the Academy of General Dentistry is that when things go badly it doesn’t mean you’ve hired the wrong person. Most of the time, he clarified, you’ve got the right person but in the wrong position.

“We all have to keep our eyes open,” he explained. “We’ve hired this young lady for reception, but she has a great aptitude for sales, and can convince patients to have treatment done and make them feel at home. That person should become your treatment coordinator, not sitting there at reception checking people in and out.”

That means re-investing in the strong aspects of an employee’s strengths. But it’s also cost effective to train people in their specific strong points because they enjoy it. Encouraging individuals to build on the strong foundation they already have will demostrate a commitment to their personal and professional development.

“It’s a much larger investment from a management perspective to train somebody from zero to ten, then somebody who is already at five,” Gajjar said.

In addition, the minimal costs could lead to a substantial increase in revenue. Gajjar explained that convincing patients their health is a priority, and that prevention is cheaper than curing, is not easy. If there is someone in the office with those skills, and they can increase production in your hygiene department by 30 percent by utlizing them, it will bring about an influx of patients that will also drive other departments in the practice, such as restorative or cosmetics.

“If you have people coming in, and they’re telling others where they go, you have the ability to build on your patient base,” Gajjar said. “Overall, it’s a bottom line increase.”

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