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NETMA stands for Nobody Ever Tells Me Anything.  I decided to take a couple of questions that I have gotten this month and give you the answers that I shared with the doctors.  Both questions were asked about a marginal employee that needed to be replaced.  One was from a younger dentist in a start-up practice and the other came from a 55+ year old dentist with a long established practice about a long-term employee of 20 years.

The question concerned a front desk person that needed to be shown the door.  She was very firm with other staff, very critical of change, and actively sabotaged changes that the doctor wanted to implement in the office.  Bottom line is that the dentist had decided to let her go.  Good news is that each doctor felt like they had already found an excellent replacement.  The Question was:  Should I bring in the new hire, and let the girl that they are planning to let go help train her? This would be prior to, and before the doomed employee knew anything was going to happen.

Answer:  While there might be some advantages in letting the new hire learn what she can from the old employee, it would be more likely that she might pick up the very traits that the doctor was dismissing her for.  I would worry that the attitude, actions, and results of the poor employee would be the first thing the new hire would pick up.  While the new hire has experience from another office, it would be a mistake to expose her to this existing employee.  I would let her go first thing in the morning of the first day of employment for the new employee.  This should be done with a witness and no explanation other than that you have decided to part ways.  In this case both doctor’s spouses worked part time and could come in every day for a week or two and help at the front desk while helping the new employee with the systems, software, job descriptions, and with the overall integration into her new position.  NOTE:  Hire slowly, and fire quickly.

It is interesting that most of us struggle with the difficult decisions that often time involve freeing up someone’s future.  We spend far more money and effort avoiding the confrontation than actually taking action would involve.  You have heard this from me before but it bears repeating: You hire for people skills and an innate self-motivation.  You cannot train someone to be self motivated, nor is it your job to try and fail to motivate the unmotivated.   Hire for attitude and train them for competence. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, found that the best companies and best leaders never spent time trying to motivate a marginal employee.  They felt that spending extra time on an underperforming employee to try motivating them only brought the good employees down: What you allow, you encourage. It is like telling them that you are willing to reward results that you tell everyone else you would not tolerate.  Stop spending time on marginal staff.  There are two types of employees:  The ones that need a little more training and the ones that need their future freed up.

Take the time to write a list of all the things you find frustrating in your office.  Prioritize them as to importance, and commit to eliminating all of them ASAP.  If you could just successfully erase the first couple of areas, you would immediately see a change in your attitude and stress level as well as a renewed commitment on the part of your office staff.  Don’t make next year a mirror image of this year.  Make the commitment and act swiftly to eliminate all of the barriers to success.

Michael Abernathy DDS
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