What can you do now that will increase the value of your practice? Implement a fair but firm Human Resources Management System that includes job descriptions, performance reviews, and employment contracts.. As you know, your human resource is your most valuable resource, and that is why it is most fitting on Labour Day to discuss the value of your human resources to your practice.
‘Labour Day has been celebrated on the first Monday in September in Canada since the 1880s. The origins of Labour Day in Canada can be traced back to December 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike for a 58-hour work-week The Toronto Trades Assembly (TTA) called its 27 unions to demonstrate in support of the Typographical Union who had been on strike since March 25. George Brown, Canadian politician and editor of the Toronto Globe hit back at his striking employees, pressing police to charge the Typographical Union with “conspiracy.” It is also interesting to note that George Brown (George Brown College is named after him), on March 25, 1880, a former Globe employee, George Bennett, dismissed by a foreman, shot George Brown at the Globe office in Toronto. Brown caught his hand and pushed the gun down, but Bennett managed to shoot Brown in the leg. What seemed to be a minor injury turned gangrenous, and seven weeks later, on May 9, 1880, Brown died from the wound. ‘ (source; Wikipedia)
We have certainly come a long way from 1880 and labour laws in Canada protect employees, but there is very little protection for employers. Dentists don’t learn employment labour laws in dental school, although they need to hire and manage employees to have a successful practice. Unless you have a degree in law in addition to your DDS, it can be difficult to guide your business through a potential minefield of HR problems and often it is the unsuspecting dentist who loses the battle. Even dentists who have felt that they treated their staff well, provided bonuses, sent them to convention and on courses, have still ended up in difficult human resource problems that are financially and emotionally draining. Dental employees know what their rights and are willing to call the labour board any time that they thing they are not being treated fairly.
Unfortunately, many dentists don’t’ know what they don’t know when it comes to employment labour law in Canada. They may think everything is fine when it’s not, and/or they may think that they are doing the right thing for employees by giving them raises. If you provide an undeserving employee with a raise in her salary, you are essentially saying “good job” “keep up the great work”. If you have to terminate the same employee at some point, you could be setting yourself up for a ‘wrongful dismissal’ claim because she was doing such a ‘good job’ that you gave her a raise. Salary increases should only be awarded on merit of performance. If the employee doesn’t perform well, don’t give her a reward!
Most dental practices that I consult with do not have job descriptions in place nor do they conduct regular performance reviews. Performance reviews are essential to managing staff. They provide an opportunity to communicate in a positive way and make performance corrections if needed. This process helps the dentist and empowers the employee to do their best and enjoy long term employment at your office.
Here are some ways that you can implement an infrastructure for your Human Resources System to protect the employees and the employer:
1. Clarify Performance Expectations
Job descriptions are essential. When hiring a new employee, he/she should be provided with an employment offer letter and a job description. They need to know what is expected of them. Your employees cannot read your mind and not all dental offices are alike. The work habits that they have developed at other offices may not be suitable for your office.
A well written job description will also serve as the basis of the performance reviews, which should be conducted annually at minimum. This provides you with the ability to fairly assess your employee’s performance based on what she actually does. .
2. Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound)
Specific – be clear about what the measurable outcome of the daily activities should be. For example, reducing the accounts receivable by 10% with $.00 over 90 day accounts. Clearly define what the expected outcome should be. Help your employee to see the goal posts to know where to focus her efforts.
Measurable – What is measured is achieved. Make sure that the goal is quantifiable, and at the same time, make sure that the measurement process is not too labour intensive, which would defeat the point. There are some consultants who encourage employees to maintain statistics and graphs that are not meaningful for the employee. Then the process of measuring becomes a non-value added task.
Attainable - The goal has to be a stretch to give the employee an opportunity to challenge their capabilities, but it must be reasonable to be able to achieve. If the goals is too outrageous or completely unattainable, it becomes a demotivator. The employee feels that they will never be able to achieve the goal, so why bother.
Relevant – The goal has to have meaning to the employee. I consulted with an office once and asked the lead assistant to keep the sundries at or below 5% of the monthly production. She looked at me as if I were speaking in a foreign language, and was quick to point out that I didn’t know what I was talking about because I wasn’t at the practice on a daily basis. She told me that it was “impossible” to keep the sundries that low. I learned two very important lessons from my encounter with her;
1. I didn’t give her relevant information and based the performance expectation on something she did not feel that she had control over
2. She didn’t know the definition of sundry supplies. So, I asked her, “do you think that you could keep within $5000.00 per month with spending. I also gave her guidelines about what sundry supplies actually are. What you don’t use this month, you can apply to next month, and if you need major equipment, let’s talk about planning for the spending (i.e. capital planning).” She reluctantly agreed. I tracked this lady over a 6-month period and her overall spending for sundry supplies came in at 4.5%. This is the same lady who told me it was “impossible” to stay within 5%. What I learned from this experience was to make the goal relevant to something that the employee can actually control. Clarify the expectation, make it measurable and attainable, and the outcome will be favourable
Time Bound - To stay on budget and on time, tell your employees when you expect to see the outcome. I had a client who held team meetings every two weeks and his staff asked me to ‘talk’ to him about changing the frequency to once per month. As a consultant, I was also cognizant of the fact that he was blocking off two hours of productive time, buying his staff lunch and not generating revenue, so I was happy to address this with him to find out whether this was a necessary activity, or an unnecessary extravagance. His response surprised me. He said that he will continue to have biweekly meetings and that he was not negotiable on this point. His reasoning was that at each staff meeting the staff would set 3 goals, no more, no less. They were expected to achieve those goals by the time of the next meeting. If the staff continuously achieved their goals, every quarter he would reward everyone with a special surprise, i.e. everyone would get an extra uniform, or he would take everyone out for lunch, or do something special for his staff. I thought that the concept was brilliant because it built in accountability and achieved results.
It is also important to provide your staff with the time, tools, training, technology and trust to be able to reach the goals. Otherwise, they don’t take you seriously.
Create and implement an Employee Policies Manual that all team members must sign for receipt of the manual or handbook The Employee Handbook sets the terms and conditions of employment at your office. This provides the employee with information that showcases the benefits and/or privileges that are provided for employees over and above those required by law. This is a useful tool for the purpose of orienting employees to the organization’s culture and employer expectations.
The manual should cover everything related to your internal workplace policies and what standards your staff are expected to comply with. Some items that should be included are what are considered grounds for dismissal, the office dress codes, vacation policy, anti-violence and harassment policy, performance criteria, bereavement leave, etc. This manual will save you a lot of headaches down the road as it outlines your terms and conditions of continued employment at your office and it provides you with the right to discipline and employee if she chooses to violate any of the terms.
3. Conduct performance reviews annually. Performance reviews are essential to good business management. It is important to conduct fair and objective performance reviews based on the line items in the employee’s job descriptions (which should also be reviewed annually since they often change and evolve). Performance reviews should be a separate process from salary reviews and be separated by time. For example, your performance reviews should be done approximately 3 months before your fiscal year end. That way if you are making salary adjustments, you will know whether or not your budget can support the increases or bonuses. You have to have the money in your budget to award salary increases and they should be based on performance merit, not just an expectation.
Conducting performance reviews help you to spot problem areas and implement corrections if needed. These are opportunities for growth and performance improvement. Employees always assume that they are doing a great job. They require your feedback to tell them how they are doing and sometimes to make corrections in their behaviour. Your intent is to have a long term relationship with your employees and performance reviews will help to guide this process.
Employment Contracts - It is especially important to have all employees sign an employment contract. This protects the doctor as well as the employee in the long run. Items that should be included in the contract should reference the policies in your Employee Policy Manual and should also include non-solicitation agreement, a non-disparagement clause and restrict the former employee of poaching your current employees with the intent of enticing them to be employed at your competitors. Employment contracts provide clear cut guidelines and expectations of the employee. Having contracts in place may also help to increase the value of your practice. The cost of having the contracts prepared by an employment lawyer is well worth the investment.
Prepare to Terminate – Be ready and willing to fire employees when necessary. If there is a problem employee in your practice, don’t wait – it’s not going to get better, it will only get worse. Identify problems early and deal with them expeditiously. Terminate the problem quickly but do it correctly. Don’t take the advice of a colleague who might tell you that you can just pay the employee severance and it’s all over. Unless the colleague is an expert in employment law, it is best to consult with a lawyer who specializes in employment law in Canada. The initial investment can save you a bundle of money, time and emotional heartache that may follow later.
Don’t suffer from Labour Pains – implement a Human Resources System that is sustainable and practical. Keep your performance reviews up to date. Don’t wait until something happens, correct employee behaviour in a positive way and help guide them through your journey and be ready for any bumps in the road. Make Labour Day a celebration of your employees and a grateful reminder of why you are a success.