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Coaching dentists to become confident leaders of a profitable practice

You Get the Team You Think You Deserve


If I had the one secret to how to successfully motivate patients and employees, I’d be eating bon-bons in my mansion in the countryside. But having studied motivational research and observed dental practices for the last 20 years, I can tell you what doesn’t work and I can advise you what you should do instead.

In my last article, I explained why bonus plans are not a sure-fire method to increase employee motivation. I believe that incentivizing employees to sell more dentistry has ethical consequences and is not necessarily in the best interests of the patient. In addition, bonus plans don’t actually increase motivation or morale for the long term and often result in a deterioration of both. Throwing more money at employees just doesn’t equate to getting happier, more productive employees.  So, while this is good news for your payroll, it does leave open the question: How do you motivate your employees?

In a seminal book, First Break All the Rules (Gallup Press, 2016), the level of employee engagement could be predicted based on an employee’s answers to 12 questions. Think about how your most to least engaged employees would answer these:

  1. I know what is expected of me at work
  2. I have the materials I need to accomplish my role
  3. I have the opportunity to do what I do best
  4. I have received recognition or praise for good work
  5. Somebody truly cares about me as a person
  6. Somebody always encourages my development
  7. My opinion counts
  8. The mission/purpose of my organization make me feel my job is important
  9. I have a best friend at work
  10. Someone at work talks to me about my progress
  11. I have the opportunities to learn and grow at work

Of these 12 motivating factors, the only one you personally can’t give your employees is having a best friend at work. More importantly, did you notice what is NOT on this list? Employee compensation. Once employees feel they receive a fair salary, it is no longer a predictor of employee motivation. More money does not equate to more motivation.

On the other hand, you know what statistic should have you shivering in fear?  Gallup found that in comparing different teams, 70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager. Consider that for a second and especially that small word “solely.” You are the most important factor when determining how engaged, motivated and productive your team members will be. It’s not the luck of the employee candidate pool, it’s not your geography; it’s not what you pay: it’s you and your style of leadership that determines how motivated and engaged your employees will be.

How This Plays Out in the Dental Office

Let’s return to the title of this article: You get the team you think you deserve. For me, the most pivotable part of that statement is the phrase “you think.” When I work with dentists who have a healthy amount of confidence, self-esteem and emotional intelligence, the odds are that I am going to find a team who reflect those qualities. Do these dentists sometimes make poor hiring choices? Of course, but those employees somehow leave the practice after a short while. I contrast this with other dentists who have chronic team problems. The personality traits I see in these dentists are pessimism, fear and apathy. And presto- these traits are mirrored in their teams who are typically less motivated, less productive and more unhappy.

What You Can Do to Increase Employee Motivation

If you have the traits of the second kind of dentist, do you need to change your personality? Well, it would help, but it’s hard to change personal traits.  Instead, you can start by changing your behavior. Let’s take a look back at the predictor of employee engagement listed by Gallup: Here are three suggestions you can implement to improve your employees’ ratings on these questions.

  1. Meet individually with all of your employees to update and review their job descriptions. Discuss each expectation and revise any that are no longer relevant. This is not a punitive “gotcha” meeting. Your purpose is to ensure that both of you completely understand what is expected and that you can provide the support, resources or training that the employee needs. Contact me if you need job descriptions; I have one for every position – including yours.
  2. Provide meaningful, change-oriented and reinforcing feedback on a regular basis. Note my words weren’t “positive or negative” feedback. Your feedback needs to be crafted so that you are either offering suggestions for improvement or acknowledgement of results. And, word to the wise. Offer more reinforcing than change-oriented feedback.
  3. Take an employee out to lunch. Because so many of the factors that influence motivation are centered around relationships, you need to find time to meet with your employees one/one. Set up a schedule so that you are eating with employees at least once a week. And during lunch, ask questions and listen. Your ROI will be huge.

Employees don’t need complex bonus systems, fancy rewards or trips to feel good at your practice. What they do need is an emotionally intelligent and available boss who demonstrates how much they are valued.

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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

The Stress-Free Guide to Attract World-Class Dental Employees

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