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By Dr. Rhonda R. Savage

"It wasn't in my job description that I'd need to pick up after the scheduling coordinator."

What drives a business into the dirt? Negativity, gossip, chronic lateness, favoritism, micromanagement or a sense of entitlement?  Where I see a relationship suffer, also, is from unclear expectations or unmet expectations.  The above quote signals unclear expectations. 

What drives a business upwards, towards the sky? Engaged team members make the difference!  The term "team" needs to include the manager and owner(s); leaders need to hold themselves to a higher standard than the staff.  

With staff, too many believe that they're entitled to a paycheck because they simply show up.  However, in many years of dental consulting and speaking, I believe that people inherently want to do well.  They want to engage and contribute.  People who don't contribute feel more negative about themselves, others and the business because they know they should be doing more. Your people will feel better about being in your business if you create an environment that requires them to do so.  Your team is looking for, expecting and need firm, fair, consistent leadership.

Sometimes the problem is the doctor or office manager.  If it's you (the boss or office manager) that's a problem, define the change you need to make. Write down your goal (the change) and outline the steps.  Get a coach to hold you accountable, and then ask the question regularly: "How am I doing?" Promise not to bite the person who delivers the feedback.  Instead, say, "Thank you," or, "Thank you.  I'll try to do better."  

If you (the leader) have a good attitude, but a few of your team members don't, it's time to change!  The old adage is true: "A few bad apples will spoil the entire bunch." Negativity and bad attitude are catching.  Much like the spread of an infectious virus, these naysayers will pull down the spirit of everyone who listens to them or is around them.  

Let's hit on some of the behaviors you may notice within your team:

1.  The critical voice:  
"Did you notice that Tina hasn't been setting up the operatory properly?  She's been here long enough and should know how to do this.  Plus, she's never ready to assist."  The critical voice will use words like, "always, never, won't or can't."  Others on the team know this person, and also know they will never be able to do it right.

2.  The jealous voice:  
This person often feels that everyone deserves the same treatment and the same pay; raises should be based on time on the job, not based upon performance.  "I deserve equal treatment regardless of talent or performance."  A sense of entitlement often feeds this voice, caused by past or present employers who are conflict avoidant.

You'll never be able to pay this person enough in their eyes, nor will your benefits ever be enough.

Gossip often is a tool this person uses to 'stir' the pot.

3.  The inability to admit I'm wrong voice:  
"It wasn't me, I didn't do it."  This person doesn't accept blame or responsibility.  "It must've been...someone else or attributed to something else."  This voice has an excuse for everything and deflects the discussion away from him or her..  

4.  The "I'll never get over it" voice: 
 This person would forget the little toe nail you clipped off three years ago.  The topic won't go away in their mind, even though it's been hashed to death at multiple team meetings. You want to say, "Alright, enough already! It's time to get off the 'pity-pot' and move on!" Grudges are held, bitterness builds and the silent treatment abounds.

5.  The "it's all about me" voice:  
"Did you see how I got Fred Smith to accept the crowns today?"  (Did you notice how great I am?)  This person needs constant praise and strokes.  Sadly, no matter how much you 'stroke' this needy person, it's never enough.  This person believes that much of the success of the office is because of him or herself.  Often, the doctor believes this too and keeps this person despite the low morale in the office, saying, "But she collects money better than anyone else ever could! I'll never find anyone else as good as her."

In addition to this line of discussion:  
Favoritism, whether real or imagined, will drive morale down. Favoritism also is demonstrated when one person gets away with a behavior that others wouldn't be allowed to do.  What happens when one person gets away with stuff you wouldn't allow or wouldn't want?  One of two things result:  Others begin to model the behavior, or worse yet, the leader loses the respect of the team.

6.  The defensive voice:  
"I'm so sensitive; if you talk with me I'll burst into anger or give you the silent treatment"

The repetitive behaviors of explosion in anger giving others the silent treatment are never good for a dental practice.  These types of behavior are not professional and can be forms of manipulation. 

Let's discuss steps you can take that can get 'negativity' off your ship.  It's time to clarify the culture you expect, pull in the anchors (negativity, bad attitudes, laziness, gossiping, micromanagement, favoritism) and change the course of your ship towards success, happiness and less stress!

Pulling in your anchors:
Begin by establishing a culture of excellence.  In the book, Soup by Jon Gordon, the parable begins by stating:  "You create a culture of greatness by expecting great things to happen." This is a good read; I'd highly recommend it to all leaders in the dental practice.  Your culture of excellence begins by creating a safe environment, clear boundaries and expectations of behavior and goals.

Begin with a team meeting and a discussion of values.  I wrote an article on values and expectations that you'll enjoy, titled, That's Not My Job. For a copy of this article, click here

Doctors, come prepared with 'value' words (the words that describe your values) and ask the team, for one minute, to write down the words that matter to them.  Have one team member go to a white board or large wall post-it note, and create a summary list of all the team member's words and the doctor's words go on top, in a different marker color.  

Then discuss your expectations of behavior, as a team, based upon the values.  Vote on the values that will drive your practice forward towards success rather than sinking in negativity.  Once you've voted on these values, and if someone isn't upholding your values, doctor, sit down with this person and define your behavioral expectations.

(Don't go back and continue to beat the team up for something they know is a one or two person issue.  Use your team meeting to explain your position and the results/ramifications of continued behavior.) 

After the philosophy has been defined to the team, you might revisit the topic once a year, but you need to then sit down specifically (quickly) with the one person.  You need to address this person privately.  Be specific, simple and clear: Be direct.  Document the discussion.

Continue to hold this person accountable to your expectations.  If the behavior persists, and you've documented well, you have a choice:  Fire the person, or give one more chance:  Do a formal, written, corrective review which both parties sign (it's not an option to sign; refusal to sign is grounds for immediate termination).  If the behavior persists, dismiss the same day. Have the final pay ready and severance pay, if this is required.  

Changing the tides and sailing to the future:  
Become a goal oriented practice.  Let your team members know how meaningful each job is that they do.  This means you need a good understanding of your front desk systems.  If you don't have a good understanding, consider the purchase of the DVD: The Savage Front Desk.  You can find it here

Abraham Maslow once said, "The only happy people I know are the ones who are working well at something they consider important." In his book, Maslow on Management, he says we should make assumptions of people:

Assume that your people have the drive to achieve, they are improvable, and they're stronger than we give them credit for...they want to do better and be successful!

People need a sense of involvement and accomplishment to be truly happy. How can you develop your goals?

Start with 4 questions, as outlined by Brian Tracy, in his book, Goals

1.  Where are we now?
2.  Where would you like to be ideally in the future?
3.  What did we do right, to get to where we are today?  What have been our biggest successes so far, and why did they occur?
4.  What do we do right now, to get from where we are to where we want to go?  What should we start doing that we're not doing?  What should we NOT do?

Dental teams, doctors and office managers, want to know where the practice is headed in the next 2-3 years. Often dental offices focus on short term, monthly goals and don't include the team in on the long range goals, but this is what motivates a team!  

• They want the vision and to know the goals
• They want to be included in developing the steps to accomplish the goals
• They want to know how what they do matters to the practice and the future of the practice.

Develop a list of goals, what budget do you need, what are the steps, and by what date will this step be accomplished.  

Here are some potential goal categories:
• Marketing
• New technology
•  New materials
• New techniques
• Facility updates
• Continuing education

Choose two short term goals and one long term goal. Don't try to do too much all at once, but always be working on goals.  

High morale gives the team energy; high team energy results when they're making a difference and see action taking place.  Have a zero tolerance for gossip, negativity or behavior that drives a practice down.  This means, as a leader, you'll need to lead by example.  You also may need to make the hard decision if someone cannot pull in their anchors and move forward in a positive manner.  Good leaders take action and make the hard decision.

"Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working well together is success."  
James E. Hunton



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