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How to Deal with Change in the Dental Workplace

The only constant in life and in business is change. Changes are happening in the dental marketplace with offices opening almost on every corner. Large corporations are buying existing practices and building new practices in many locations. The dental marketplace is very competitive which is creating a secondary problem of a shortage of staff. It is difficult now to find assistants or administrative staff to fill vacancies that exist.

As a leader it is important to know that you can’t dictate change, you need to orchestrate it. When you introduce changes in the workplace, it is important to explain why change is necessary. Lay out some facts, the raw data and evidence, i.e. the overhead expenses, staff costs, downtime, etc. The two major benefits to the dental team of making changes to the daily operations are staying in business and staying employed. In order to help your dental team to commit to embracing change, they need to feel good about the process and know that they will have the training and support that they need during the process. This will help everyone to be patient while they are working their way through the new learning curve.

The more employees understand about how the business works, the more likely they are to accept and support change. Begin by sharing non-confidential information about the state of the business to help the dental team understand information such as production goals vs. production costs, overhead expenses and the like. Provide relevance by teaching employees how to apply the information to enhance their own job. The results will help each team member to feel like a true partner in the running of the office.

Share the Positive Results

Nothing motivates employees more than knowing they’re making a difference. Help your dental team to see the positive differences that they are making for those they serve and for each other. Your dental team needs to be able to see their part of the big picture. Show your staff the physical link between the end result of making your patients happy, healthy and comfortable. Doing that reinforces two messages 1) we don’t make just provide dental services, we change lives 2) we couldn’t do that without you! In dentistry, a dentist cannot deliver the great quality of service without his/her support staff.

Attitude of Gratitude

Don’t take your team members for granted. Dentistry has a high rate of turnover and there are many offices trying to recruit your staff. Good performance should be reinforced with positive consequences. It is important to show appreciation through daily actions and behaviours. Look for opportunities to give verbal positive feedback. Try to catch your employees doing something right and appreciate employees who meet or exceed your expectations. Recognizing employees is one of the best things that you can do for your employees. As a result you feel good when giving positive feedback, employees feel good when they receive it and they’re more motivated and therefore more likely to repeat the performance that you want and need in the future.

Deal with Problems Quickly

If there are performance problems, they will not get better by ignoring them. It is important to confront performance problems early. This is hard for many dentists because they want things to run smoothly so they can do dentistry and not have to deal with staff performance issues. The problem is that the other employees are watching and waiting for the dentist to do something. The problem behavior affects the rest of the team, which creates tension in the office. It is important to deal with issues early and calmly before they get out of control.

Staff Appreciation

Just like everyone else, great performers don’t like to be taken for granted. Even though some may not admit it publicly, in private most realize that they need to be worked with, involved, recognized and rewarded. In other words, they need to be coached. A great way to make sure that the star performers are recognized and motivated is to get them involved in decision making, strategy setting, procedure development and problem solving. Delegate extensively and avoid micromanaging them. Encourage each team member to teach and mentor others. Celebrate their accomplishments and successes and provide them with specialized training and other career growth opportunities. Show interest in their work and their lives away from work. As a leader, the key to dealing with super stars is to demonstrate through words and actions that you know and appreciate the fact that they are doing great work.

Be a Role Model

Set the example. Like most dentists, you operate in a fish bowl constantly being watched. Your staff looks up to you and they are all watching and learning. They’re learning about what’s acceptable behaviour in your office, especially when it comes to matters of ethics and integrity. There’s no getting around it, the dentist must model the behaviors that he/she expects from others.

Building accountability for proper behaviour involves keeping your eyes and ears open to what’s happening and providing ongoing feedback. Regularly meet with your employees to discuss their performance, share observations and emphasize the importance of integrity driven practices. Through feedback, reports, meetings, etc., make sure that you are aware of what is being done and how it’s being accomplished.

Display zero tolerance for ethics violations. If one should occur, take swift and deliberate action. Employees don’t resent that type of accountability, in fact, they actually support it. To challenge yourself and your staff to examine how ethical you are, begin by looking at the way you treat and talk about each other, the type of jokes that you share, the commitments you make and keep, and the credit that you appropriately share with co-workers.

These and other behaviors like them reflect who you are and what you stand for. Looking at them helps you to understand that consistency is essential. Everything counts for your dental team, and especially for you as their leader. As a dentist, you can’t possibly focus on your mission without also focusing on the team that makes your mission happen. Getting big things done is about leadership and walking the talk.

Success is the result of clearly defined goals combined with well thought out plans and how you develop your team. To stay in business it is important to take the time to develop the talents of your team. The more employees understand about how the business works, the more likely they are to accept and support change. Nothing motivates employees more than knowing they’re making a difference. Your dental team depends on you, just as you depend on them. Your actions, whether good or bad, are the performance standards that they will follow. Model the behaviors that you expect from others. Helping everyone turn those good beliefs into everyday behaviors is how leaders create a great place to work.

About author
Sandie Baillargeon is a leading authority on how to increase the effectiveness of medical and dental business systems. Ms. Baillargeon is author of two text books, Dental Office Administration and The Canadian Dental Office Administrator, published by ITP Nelson Canada. Sandie is the owner and operator of Dental Office Consulting Services, which specializes in dental business planning, staff development, consulting and continuing education seminars. Visit her website at www.dentalofficeconsulting.com or contact her directly at (905) 336-7624.
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