What is a growth conference?

March 21, 2012

Issue 6

Consider the meaning of the words “growth” and “conference” Growth refers to the natural process of expansion. All organizations and organisms grow, mature and change. Employee growth is associated with enhanced performance, increased capacity to initiate and implement new tasks and a comprehensive understanding of the employee’s role within the practice.

Consider the meaning of the words “growth” and “conference”

Growth refers to the natural process of expansion. All organizations and organisms grow, mature and change. Employee growth is associated with enhanced performance, increased capacity to initiate and implement new tasks and a comprehensive understanding of the employee’s role within the practice.

Conferences are meetings where information about best practices, diverse views and innovative ideas are exchanged. People attend professional conferences to supplement their personal understanding and to make a contribution.

Now, imagine the power in integrating these two words within the context of a meeting with a team member. The growth conference is a formal feedback conversation during which employees review their contribution to the practice and define their goals for the coming year. The growth conference is the vehicle that links performance goals to salary increases. Growth conferences allow you to base salary decisions on objective, defined metrics instead of gut feeling about attitude and behavior. This conversation is the foundation of your practice’s compensation system.

Growth conferences focus on the employee’s current contribution and define goals for the future. They are not the same thing as performance counseling conversations. The conferences are based on the assumption that you want the employee to stay with the practice and ultimately to merit a salary increase or additional benefits and rewards based on performance. If you have any reservations about whether you want a particular employee to continue in your practice, then you need to have a formal change-oriented feedback conversation in lieu of a growth conference.

The growth conference process

The process begins with the distribution of Growth Conference Packets to employees. Employees are asked to engage in honest self-reflection about their performance strengths and areas for growth. Sample questions in a simplified packet could be:

  • What are your strengths? What do you do well?

  • What are some things you are proud of having initiated?

  • In what ways would you like to improve your contribution to the practice?

  • What are you not doing now that you would like to do?

The packet should also contain a page for goals and a page for an action plan. These two pages are completed during the growth conference itself. They are part of the “contracting for growth” process. The goals page should have room for up to five goals. The action plan should list the supporting actions that will need to be taken in order for the goals to be accomplished along with key dates, benchmarks for success and the dentist’s supporting actions. Employees should be given a week to complete their self-reflection pages and then give a copy of their packets to you. You then complete the reflection pages for each employee.

Five stages in the growth conference

A growth conference typically takes 60 to 90 minutes. Ideally, the entire team gets their growth conferences at the same time each year, corresponding to the beginning of the practice’s fiscal year.

1. Stage One: This is your opening, at which point you establish the tone for the rest of the conversation. Because this is a good news dialogue, you need to frame the opening in a way that puts the employee at ease.
2. Stage Two: You invite the employee to share her thoughts about her accomplishments. Both parties should refer to the completed worksheets in the growth conference packets throughout the conversation. Your role is to ask open- ended questions in order to elicit additional insight and engage in active listening to confirm mutual understanding. Once the employee has finished, you share your perspective.
3. Stage Three: You and the employee discuss opportunities for growth. Notice that we intentionally use this phrase “opportunities for growth” instead of the more common term, “weaknesses.” The focus is on the employee’s potential, not on the employee’s deficits.
4. Stage Four: You and the employee begin the process of translating perceptions and insights into the language of goals.
5. Stage Five: You and the employee record these goals as an action plan.

When this format is followed, growth conferences serve as a bridge between the team members’ actions and the practice’s philosophy, they set clear standards and expectations for performance, they provide the criteria by which an employee’s salary increase is determined and they create an opportunity for mutual feedback. Growth conferences are designed to grow the practice.

 

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