One of my closest friends is the office manager of a dental office where I used to consult. Through her I get the inside scoop on the continuing soap opera at her office and an employee’s perspective of how a dentist can break down his employees’ will to live. Let’s learn from his mistakes.
Mistake #1: Buying peace through placation
Dr. S has determined that he cannot live with any tension in the office directed at him. So, when employees are in any type of conflict, he bribes them to stop complaining. He hands out spot bonuses and gift cards like Halloween candy. Don’t like how the hygienist is speaking to you? Here is a gift card for you and here is a gift card for the hygienist. Don’t like making reactivation calls? How about a raise to help you through? Has this resolve any problems? Nope – what it has done inadvertently is reward complaining.
Mistake #2: Playing favorites
Sad to say, the employees all know that the more attractive you are, the more you will get away with. Everyone has to come to morning huddle on time, except … well … except if you’re very pretty. How does this affect the other employees? Well, everyone but the Dentist is rolling their eyes.
Mistake #3: Discontinuing team meetings
Dr. S doesn’t want to disappoint his patients and he wants to maximize his production. So, he jettisoned team meetings in favor of more patient time. The result? Additional chaos, because the team doesn’t have any way to plan, problem solve or upgrade their skills. Decisions are made behind the closed door of his office where he agrees with whatever the last employee said. And if you point out that the latest decision has negative repercussions, well here is an expensive handbag to make you feel better.
Mistake #4: Cutting back but taking expensive vacations
Dr S stopped sharing the practice’s statistics when he cancelled the team meetings. But he has warned the team that they are not as profitable as they once were and therefore, they can’t afford to replace the staff members who have resigned, meaning everyone else will just have to absorb the work load. He told this to team the day before he left on his 2-week vacation to Hawaii. (Oh, how I wish I was making this up.)
What You Should Do Instead
I am not a therapist and I don’t play one on TV, but sometimes dental consulting bleeds into personal coaching. Dr. S has some long-standing misconceptions about conflict and responsibility that have led him to make some terrible decisions. And ironically, his avoidance of conflict has actually led to more conflict and tension. Like many dentists I work with, many of his leadership decisions come from a place of fear. Fear that people won’t like him, fear that patients won’t wait for an appointment and fear that conflict will be so catastrophic that he needs to do anything to tamp it down.
So, what lessons can we learn from this hapless dentist?
Lesson # 1: Get comfortable with conflict
Want to hear some good news about conflict? It increases peoples’ energy; it forces people to examine their beliefs and if handled well, it can actually result in improved communication and better systems. I have a methodology that I teach dentists on how to mediate conflicts between employees so that there is a safe and honest conversation. I also want you to recognize that almost every invention and every advancement in your life happened because there was a conflict between what you were experiencing and what you wanted to experience. Conflict can be, and often is, a catalyst for growth.
Lesson #2: Treat employees fairly
Do you like some employees more than others? Probably. But they shouldn’t have different rules than everyone else. And just to be both super clear and super confusing, treating everyone fairly doesn’t always mean treating everyone exactly the same way. Sometimes, being fair also means acknowledging your employees’ different circumstances. A bottom-line question you can ask yourself if: Would I do this (or not do this) for another employee?
Lesson #3: Use team meetings wisely
I know that dentists fear that meetings will either be painfully quiet or free-for-all complaint sessions, but there are easy ways to structure meetings so that important decisions get made and the team can plan for the future. To take away some of your pain, I even lead team meetings once a month for most of my clients. Every meeting needs an agenda that has been co-created by the team. You may also want to divide the meetings into sections: statistical information, problem-solving and training. But avoiding team meetings is only going to generate more conflict in the long run.
Lesson #4: Be a role model
Look, appearances matter. You cannot tell the team they are on an austerity diet while you simultaneously buy new computers or go on an expensive vacation. When the team see you doing things that clash with your purported philosophy or values, you lose all credibility. People do not believe what you say; they believe what you do. If you recognize that you have been inconsistent, a true leadership action would be to acknowledge your mistake and how your behaviors impacted the practice and then tell the team what you will do differently for the future. This is exactly the process you would want from a team member, isn’t it?
Over the years, I have unfortunately seen some dentists who have killed their team members like they were anti-motivational assassins. But I’ve also seen dentists who have grown and learned and in return, I’ve seen their team’s blossom. Which kind of dentist do you want to be?