By: Trude Henderson
Picking up from last week: in our blog appearing on August 31st, we discussed the first 2 of 4 approaches designed to help your multiple-location dental practice provide a consistent brand and better customer experience.
Below we offer simple High Reliability Organizational (HRO) strategies designed to address these challenges (see #3 and 4) confronting such dental practices, as reported in our pilot study.
3. Employee engagement may decline as the distance between one location and the home office increases. Why is this? The majority of employees (both current and past employees that spent most of their time in satellite offices) that I interviewed and/or surveyed said that they felt “disconnected” in comparison to employees at the home office. After asking them to explain what they meant by that, I came to the conclusion that they did not feel that they were as important to the mission as those at the home office. Some also voiced concerns that they were functioning as ‘the supervisor’ but not getting paid for it. What can you do to improve employee engagement? Some suggestions:
a. If your satellite office doesn’t have a supervisor on site at all times, consider having a supervisor in charge pay frequent surprise visits, but don’t make these “gotcha sessions.” Rather, make them team building and relationship-building lunches or lunch-n-learns, for the purpose of getting to know employees better and building trust. In addition, check in occasionally via webcam or facetime to offer words of encouragement, as well as to remove ‘road-blocks’ that cause frustration. We found that it was common for satellite office employees to say things like, “We’re the stepchild,” or “You only get to do that if you work at the corporate office.” The goal should be to help employees feel appreciated, included and part of the bigger picture. An improvement in accountability should follow—but this should not be the main purpose of the visits. Also, don’t appear to be asking your non-supervisory employees to function as pseudo-supervisors, with the added responsibilities but without the extra compensation that this entails, just because you’ve chosen not to place a supervisor in the office. This can quickly provoke feelings of resentment that transfer directly to your customer experience!
b. When hiring front office coordinators, consider utilizing personality assessments as an added tool during the interview process. Many practices fail to hire and retain the right people, which can make all the difference. What is needed: “high fit” (defined as “how well a candidate or employee matches a job and organization,” (2016, May 3), staff members equipped with sales skills who know how to demonstrate value— an aptitude for asking the right questions and answering objections effectively. We have found value in assessing candidates with a Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) to determine fit, potential and training needs. Utilizing an assessment tool helps integrate a practice’s ideal True North behaviors into the hiring process, describing how a particular candidate might align with the values based on their HPI results. Our pilot study revealed that front office teams that were 100% Hogan “high-fit” experienced 300% less turnover in a 12-month period than those who relied only on interviews, references and intuition when making hiring decisions.
c. Consider hiring only employees who live within a reasonable distance (meaning their driving time rather than number of miles between offices) from the office or offices that they will be traveling to, and don’t expect them to travel to too many offices. Remember: the paycheck is not usually what gets people out of bed in the morning and that if they spend too much time away from their loved ones, they won’t likely remain engaged. This is important because if they aren’t engaged, the customers they serve likely won’t be either!
4. The biggest challenge is sustaining any positive changes. To make them stick:
a. Make your continuous improvement efforts part of a ‘continuous conversation.’ It’s very easy to allow competing priorities to distract you and to abandon the continuous improvement process, but doing so or being “too silent” could be some of the biggest mistakes of your career. Like leadership, your reputation or brand can take years to build and only minutes to destroy. Keep the language of continuous improvement fresh on their minds!
b. Show appreciation and say, “Thank you” often. You cannot go overboard when it comes to showing gratitude. We recommend planning for visible improvements in performance and then recognizing and rewarding the people who make those ‘wins’ possible.
c. Encourage employees at all levels imagine ways that their work process might break down or cause variances, and to be deeply concerned about complacency, routines and lack of engagement. All can adversely affect the customer experience, as well the future of your practice. Show appreciation for employees who bring these types of issues to your attention. Your first instinct may be to show displeasure in the situation, but watch your words and body language because it’s common for employees to mistake your disappointment in the situation for disappointment in them. Most employees want to please the boss and if they sense that you’re upset, they may begin withholding information. The implications for your continuous improvement journey couldn’t be worse!
d. Make sure that your on boarding process includes an explanation of your True North ideal behaviors and continuous improvement expectations. Doing so sets expectations from day-1, as well as helps to integrate employees into your practice culture more quickly. (Remember: your culture is a mirror image of your brand.) We have found that not only are supervisors more satisfied with new hires’ performance, but that new hires are also more engaged and more satisfied overall.
e. Keep doing small things because they add up. The co-authors of the best-selling The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner said, “You do big things by doing a lot of small things.”
f. Pay close attention to what is and what is not working, and take action when necessary. HRO’s understand whether they are winning or losing at any given moment. They encourage transparency and decision-making, and their operational initiatives are based on information obtained from feedback surveys, observations and other metrics. You can never receive too much feedback.
g. Never stop learning. Knowledge is KING and HRO’s are continuous learners. You can find a surfeit of free information at dentaltown.com/dentistry, the founder of which, Howard Farran, DDS, MBA, has said, “Stay hungry, my friends—and hustle.” We would add that you can you never receive too much instruction in anything related to leadership and operational excellence. You must always remember that, essential as it is, technical competence will not by itself enable your dental practice to enjoy its full potential.
h. Demonstrate resilience. Leaders of organizations that successfully sustain a continuous improvement journey stay the path and actively help staff and doctors understand the urgency for prompt problem solving and the need for preventing problems before they occur. They also help them connect or reconnect to the ‘why’ behind their tasks.
i. Never stop exemplifying and modeling ideal behaviors. Help your supervisors and employees articulate the connection between right behaviors and practice success! In every practice, people are greatly influenced by those who exemplify and model these defined values, regardless of whether they have an official title. If the values aren’t specifically defined by practice leaders, staff will almost certainly define them on their own, often with disastrous results for both the practice and the patient experience.
You, the dental practice leader, deserve to feel proud of heading a multiple-office organization, but it is best to remember that the greatest rewards are reserved for those practice managers who make people (both patients and employees) the priority and consistently inspire a culture of continuous improvement. From our own experience, we have concluded that practices only become sustainable when their leaders model a service-oriented culture and seize opportunities beneficial to all stakeholders. Be that LEADER!
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Farran, Howard. (2017, August 29). dentaltown. The 7 Deadly Sins of Dentistry.Retrieved from http://dentaltown.com/dentistry
Hogan Assessments. (2016, May 3). Retrieved from http://www.hoganassessments.com/
Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2007). The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Rochlin, Gene. (1996). Reliable Organizations: Present Research and Future Directions. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management.
Shingo Institute. (2016, Jan). Leading a New Era of Enterprise Excellence.Retrieved from http://archive-org-2014.com/org/s/2014-10-26_4813234
For more information about High Reliability Organizational concepts, read our previous blogs:
Read Part 1 of this blog here
Connect with Trude Henderson on LinkedIn