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Secrets of the Best Bosses


Why do some dental office teams thrive while others struggle? What do the dentists at successful practices have in common?  And most importantly, can their skills and attitudes be taught and replicated at less successful practices?

In my last article, You Get the Team You Think You Deserve, I listed 10 questions developed by Gallup that measured employees’ levels of engagement and motivation.  After interviewing over 100,000 people, they found that the companies where employees answered these questions positively, had significantly higher levels of productivity, profit, retention and customer satisfaction as compared to their competitors.

But what Gallup also discovered was that the employee’s immediate manager had the most impact on how the employee felt about their workplace and how well they performed. In fact, the manager’s behavior was more important than pay or benefits. Over and over, Gallup found that people left managers – not companies. This is both good and bad news for you. Simply handing out raises will not make your employees feel more motivated or better team players.  It is your relationship and communication with the team that makes the crucial difference. In the next series of articles, we will learn from Gallup’s book, First break All the Rules and explore what the best bosses do to encourage their employees.

The first two questions Gallup asked employees to rate were:

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment to do what I do my work right.

At first glance, you might be tempted to think that these are “no-brainer” questions. Of course, your employees know what is expected of them. And of course, you provide the technology they need to do their jobs. But these questions are nuanced and your team may not be as positive in their answers as you would predict.

Let’s take the first question about expectations. In my 20 years of working with dentists, only a small percentage have created comprehensive, written job descriptions that they review with their new and veteran employees. In fact, most dentists never create job descriptions and worse- don’t communicate their expectations or give regular, helpful feedback about whether those expectations are being met.

“They Should Know What To Do”

I wish I could get a dollar for every time I’ve heard a dentist say this about their employees. You may think your employees should know how to do their jobs; but really, they do not know your standards or desired processes if you haven’t been crystal clear.  And the whole topic of what people “should” know leads to a black hole of shame and blame. Forget about the “shoulds.” Here is what the best bosses do about this issue of expectations:

  1. Create a full job description for every role in your practice

This description is not only a list of tasks, but also describes your standards for success.  Simply listing your expectation that hygienists should remove calculus is not enough. A great dentist also describes her criteria. She answers this question for her employee: How will you know if you’ve done a good job? This means your conversations with your hygienists are not: Are you removing calculus? They are about describing your standards and the markers that indicate that the employee has met those standards.

I can hear your howls of protest and alarm. You are probably thinking, (a) this will be too time consuming and (b) this is going to be impossible to do with front desk responsibilities where you may be unclear about the standards for the job.

So, I am going to invoke my consulting super-powers and give you some hints.

You do not need to tell good employees HOW to accomplish their jobs. In fact, Gallup found that the best managers let their employees determine the best processes. Your job is to describe the end result. What do you want to see, under what conditions and how it will be measured? This means you clarify things like:  how long should it take the employee, what equipment or resources should they use, which patients would they do this with, etc.

Let’s take a front desk example. In describing their scheduling responsibilities, you could say:

Using our ideal day template, schedule patients so that 75% of the day is filled with pre-blocked appointments and we have an open appointment rate of 5%.

This description creates statistical measures of success, and it describes what you want as the end-result. Notice it did not describe HOW the employee would achieve this.  The how-to is something you and your employee can negotiate.  But you will be able to give better, more objective feedback to this employee, because you have defined the result you expect. Can you see how this would reduce conflicts and confusion your practice?

  1. Give constant feedback

Let’s look at this thorny issue of feedback. Your raised eyebrows, disappointed tone of voice or high fives are not feedback. Every single day you need to communicate about how well or not well your employees are doing in regard to your standards. And here is something important to understand about good feedback.  Just like when you create your job descriptions, feedback needs to be about RESULTS, not about whether you were personally happy or unhappy.  Statements like: “Good job,” or “I appreciate your work” or “I’m really disappointed” are about pleasing you. Good bosses take themselves out of the equation and focus on the results of the employee’s behavior.

Here is an example of good feedback: “When you said XYZ, I saw that Mrs. Pittipat finally understood the treatment and then she scheduled. Your communication to her is exactly what we’re looking for in this practice.”

Giving change-oriented feedback follows the same principle. Describe what you saw the employee do, describe the impact of the behavior on you, your patients or the team and then describe what you would like to see happen instead. “When you interrupted Mrs. Pittipat, I could see that she felt discouraged and she left without scheduling the treatment. In future, so that our patients feel heard, wait until you are sure they have finished talking.


When you combine clear expectations with frequent and useful feedback, you enable your employees to understand what is expected of them and why. Your focus should always be on defining results in objective, and ideally, measurable terms. This change in your communication will transform you from a so-so boss to a great manager.

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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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