4 Tips for Orthodontic Practice Leaders on How to Engage Staff

In his article, “Motivating Employees Should be One of a Leader’s Top Priorities” (Forbes, June 20, 2017), William Craig points out four key ways to motivate staff. You will find them below, accompanied by our suggestions tailored to the requirements of a dental/orthodontic practice:

1) Show a dedication to promoting employee happiness. Craig cites studies conducted by the Social Market Foundation and the University of Warwick’s Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Economy which show that productivity increases by 12-20% when leaders offer “a physically welcoming atmosphere in which to perform their duties, flexible scheduling, opportunities to unwind and reasonable benefits packages that meet their daily needs…” We at iDENTIfy would like to add that we have learned over the years that all too often supervisors overlook the need to know their employees better as individuals. Great workplace leaders understand this, and take the time to sit with down with team members for conversations regarding their expectations, interest levels, grievances, or anything else of significance to their day-to-day experience on the job. And in the course of such conversations, you may acquire a greater understanding of where their talents lie – and where employees have the opportunity to utilize their talents on the job, they tend to do better work, because they like it. In short, promoting employee happiness can help your dental practice solve major problems, meet great challenges and obtain extraordinary results.

2) Welcome feedback. High-Reliability Organizational leaders make it clear to staff members that you are open to their suggestions as to how things can be improved. Craig writes: “If you focus on this collaborative aspect of doing business, you’ll be amazed at how much more motivated your staff will be, and how happier and productive they are as a consequence.” iDENTIfy’s research and experience substantiates this, however, we want to caution you to be careful regarding your approach. For example, instead of asking multiple questions during the two-way feedback process, we recommend that dental leaders use the phrase, “Tell me more!” because it’s less likely to inflame fear and defense mechanisms in staff. Try it and see what happens!

Tell Me More

High-performing dental/orthodontic practices, especially those who are on a quest to achieve High- Reliability, should consider holding strategic brainstorming meetings or retreats at least once a year, so that they can collaboratively plan for the future, especially ways to add more value to the practice. We often remind dental practice leaders that, “If you aren’t thinking about the future, then you’re already behind!” These get-togethers offer the potential for tremendously positive effects on your practice, including invoking excitement about the future, identifying and reinforcing best practices and desired behaviors, building team spirit, improving communication and rewarding good work, just to name a few.

Remember, though, to periodically remind staff at huddles and frequent cross-team meetings to keep these values and ideas fresh in their minds. Furthermore, you shouldn’t wait for a once-a year-meeting or event to come around to explore via discussions with staff and doctors the value your practice has to offer patients. Set aside some time, a working lunch for example, and ask them to help you create a list of values and ‘value statements’ that can be utilized not only in daily conversations with patients, but in advertising. Value statements help place value in a context that patients can understand. Include values that relate to the practice itself and treatment options that the practice offers, then ask yourself, “Can we do anything to add more value?” There are probably a number of such things, so be sure to promote a safe environment where people will feel free to speak up.

3) Be a good example. According to Craig, “Basically everything you say and do – and even the degree to which physical appearance and bearing says, ‘I care about what I do’ – can be considered part of the example you’re setting. And a great example means empowered and motivated employees.” We agree. To succeed, dental practices must carry out every phase of the business very well. The most successful practices share deeply-felt values that define their success in concrete terms, for staff and doctors alike. Dental practice leaders should actively hold people accountable when they deviate from the practice’s standards while knowing how to encourage team members, actively reinforcing positive behaviors. In every practice, people are greatly influenced by those who exemplify and model these defined values, whether or not they have an official title.

If the values aren’t specifically defined by dental practice leaders, staff will define them on their own, often with disastrous results for both the practice and the patient experience. iDENTIfy’s pilot study found that those practices failing to properly define, communicate and model values functioned poorly, because staff wasted a lot of time trying to figure out what they should be doing and how they should be doing it. This, in turn, led to many formal and informal procedural inconsistencies that transferred directly into shortcomings in the patient experience.

4) Give your employees some leeway in meeting organizational goals. This can be critical to employee retention. Craig writes, “If they feel that they don’t have the freedom to pursue their goals and meet their expectations their own way, within reason, they may feel that you’re not offering them enough challenges and may take their talent elsewhere.” We at iDENTIfy encourage dental practice leaders to describe what the final results look like, but we prefer to withhold step-by-step guidance, as we believe that such attempts at micromanagement on our part have the potential to stifle creativity and erode employee/supervisor trust.

A call to action: Make “employee engagement” a top priority in your dental practice today! We will continue this discussion of how your dental/orthodontic practice can best promote employee engagement in our next blog, which will focus on an article by a different author, with a different perspective. To read Craig’s piece in its entirety, please click here.

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-Read our other articles on topics such as Leadership, Operational Excellence and High-Reliability Concepts:

Ten Steps You Can Take Right Away to Improve the Reliability of Your Dental Practice

High-Reliability Concepts: Insights of Value to any organization.

Trude Henderson, is the founder of iDENTIfy, Inc., a startup elective dental and medical practice improvement software company. In 2016, she was the first to introduce High-Reliability Organizational Concepts to the dental industry. For questions, contact her directly at Trude@GetIdentify.com. Follow Trude on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/trudehenderson/ (no email required)

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