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Victims, Villains and Accountability


You may have lovely employees.  Nevertheless, when things don’t go well, these lovely employees portray themselves as victims, others as villains and you as the ring master responsible for keeping everyone in line. My previous article, Don’t Bring Me Your Problems, described this mentality and the culture of complaints. In this article, we’ll explore how to change your employees’ mindsets and behavior so that they take more ownership and accountability.

The Accountability Crisis

I’m hearing from more and more dentists who share the same frustrations: their employees don’t follow through, they blame each other for problems, they arrive late or call in sick.   Simultaneously, dentists seem to think they need to tolerate this behavior because with employees in such short supply, any employee, even a disengaged employee is better than no employee.

But let’s approach this from a healthier paradigm.  Instead of saying to yourself, “I’m stuck with this because I need a front desk/dental assistant/hygienist -ask a better question:

“How do I make this a healthier environment so that my employees feel motivated, engaged and committed to growth?

Now that’s a great question, we can answer.

Mutual Needs and Expectations

Unless you have hired a bunch of sociopaths, your employees probably want to do well at work.  They don’t want to let you down. They don’t want to get negative feedback from their peers. They don’t want to be resentful or blameful and they don’t want to be resented or blamed by others.  

On the positive side, they want to be respected, rewarded, and well liked. Well, who doesn’t? And that is exactly the point. If everyone agrees on what they want the practice culture to feel like, then everyone can work together to achieve that goal.

A major reason that employees engage in less than positive behavior is that, in most organizations, expectations are implied rather than explicit. This means that you only know you’ve violated an unspoken rule, when you get into trouble with the rest of the team.  Therefore, the first step to creating a more positive culture is to develop a list of ground rules that define behavioral expectations. Ground rules helps everyone create agreements regarding communication, collaboration, and conflict. This enables everyone to align their behavior.

Creating Ground Rules

I’ve been working with several teams to develop their own ground rules. I begin by sending the team an online survey which asks them questions about how they want to communicate and collaborate with each other. I also ask them what they expect from the dentist and then I ask the dentist to describe what s/he wants from them. I consolidate their responses and create a document listing these expectations.  During a whole group meeting, we review each ground rule.  We end up with three categories:

  1. What we expect from one another
  2. What we want from the dentist
  3. What the dentist wants from the team

I also suggest ground rules that relate to meeting behavior such as the following:

Meeting Ground Rules

  • Be punctual and prepared
  • Take ownership of your meeting experience
  • Disagree without being disagreeable
  • Focus on contribution rather than blame
  • Silence equals consent
  • No meetings after the meetings
  • No killer phrases: “It will never work” “We already tried that.”

When I present these ground rules, I ask the team if they can commit to these. We then have an honest conversation about how team members will hold each other accountable and how they want to communicate if someone violates a ground rule.

Victims and Villains

Creating and respecting ground rules is just the first step to developing a practice culture where employees feel more responsible and accountable. At times, we all paint ourselves as hapless victims of circumstance and thus not responsible for poor outcomes. And at times, we also blame others for undesirable results. If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I would have been able to do X, if only I didn’t have to put up with so/so,” then you’re engaging in this victim/villain mindset. This thinking is both insidious and seductive so it takes some time to change.

 In the next series of articles we will examine what you can do as a leader to model a new approach and how you can remake the culture of your practice.

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Inspired Us to Dream Bigger, and it Works

“As an Office Manager, I’ve seen a great difference in my practice since starting with Sharyn. Three years ago our staff was in turmoil with a lot of infighting and gossip and some jealousy directed towards me.

I had given up because everything I did was judged. Now I have learned to have more one-to-one communication and by being more vulnerable with individuals I found my leadership voice. As a team, we’re all focused on the same goals.

Last year, in August we produced $88,000. This year we’re on track to produce $111,000 this month. I know it’s because we learned how to follow through with patients and communicate our expectations while building our systems.

Sharyn has gotten us out of our comfort zone and inspired us to dream bigger and it works.”

–Sharon St Pierre, Sperbeck Dental Care

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