We ended last week with a short discussion about staff, and you should have read the chapter on benchmarks and overhead and staff ownership from The Super General Dental Practice. (www.supergeneralpractice.com for your free copy). Before we start discussing the second principle for a successful bonus plan, let me remind you that a bonus system will not fix a broken practice. As we said before, it is a multiplier for that good practice. One note: I got a few calls from doctors last week. Let me say that if you are using a different bonus system for different positions or doing some iteration of the fish bowl, draw out a dollar amount reward, you will want to move away from this short-term, poor way of incentivizing staff. It is fine for a month or so, but it is not a long-term strategy. In fact, it creates groups of workers rather than a team. If the practice does well, everyone should benefit. Everyone is responsible for this growth curve. When you reward individuals, you take away the culture of having a self-policing, self-correcting staff. Owners won’t allow mediocrity in their midst. Staff ownership will give you what you’ve always wanted: Less stress, longevity of staff, and consistent growth.
Successful Bonus Principles continued:
• Staff must feel in control of practice development. Your job is to hire employees for attitude, train for a skill level, give them the authority and permission to do their job, and get out of the way. What’s funny is that most of you will hire for skill level or number of years in a dental office, only to be disappointed again. Dentistry is a small, consumer driven business. Our staff’s main job is to handle people, not suck spit. Sucking spit and using a computer is just what takes place while they are doing what I hired them far. They were hired to escort my patients through our practice and their appointments in such a way as to create a bond with a patient who always shows up, pays us, and refers everyone they know. Some of my worst hires have been staff that, on paper, looked great because of years in the profession, only to find out that they were constantly changing our successful systems back to the way that they did it in their previous office and had extremely poor people skills. Most of my best hires were staff with incredible people skills and the desire to learn. No preconceptions, no changing our systems, just a hard worker whose goal in life is to make our patients love us. It is this special Esprit-de-corps that drives your culture. Don’t short change yourself by settling for mediocrity in staff and systems.
• No way to manipulate the plan. Our profession is littered with offices that started a bonus plan, set a goal, and then after the staff successfully completes the gauntlet, finds that the doctor changes the rules so that they get no bonus. Kind of like playing cards with your older brother or sister when you were a little kid. No matter how you think you understand the rules to win, you always lose because the older sibling changes the rules after the fact. You must think this through and make sure you never ever manipulate the outcome of your bonus plan. Integrity in everything you do is paramount. You have to model the actions and commitment you expect from your staff. There should not be a double standard where you show up late, leave early, and countermand every system you expect others to follow.
• Doctor is accountable as a team member. You are not above the law. You are one of the troops. I was always the first one at the office every morning and the last to leave in the evening. At the end of the day, I was taking out the trash and helping to suck that soapy solution thru the vacuum lines. We were a team, and I held up my end of the deal. I never asked anyone to do something I had not done or wouldn’t do myself. If you let the team down you need to apologize and do better. The yardstick you use to measure the performance of your team should be even more challenging for you. Leadership and enthusiasm filter down from the top, not up from the bottom. I always thought that if I was flying back from a speaking engagement, and the plane went down, they would go the funeral and be back the next hour producing just as much without me as they did with me. I was just a pair of hands and a member of the team. You can always tell when the staff embraces your bonus system and owns the process. When this happens, they push you to produce more and they come up with ideas to manage the practice. They will even be upset when you take time off from the practice. A successful bonus system is built on a new commitment from the doctor. You have to show up and deliver every day regardless of the noise and challenges. It is show time all day long. The staff will take their cue from you. Don’t start this process if you don’t have the energy and commitment to take it all the way.
Michael Abernathy, DDS