THE MYTH of MOTIVATING YOUR EMPLOYEES
As is often the case, a doctor posed an interesting question. Allow me to set the stage: This was a young doctor who had purchased a practice for too much money from a retiring doctor, inherited the old staff, and hired Summit to help make some improvements in the practice. He has become disillusioned with the old staff being slow to adapt, with lack of follow through and no improvement in results. He has become particularly fed up with a front desk staff member, plans to free up her future, and calls me with a question. He tells me that the staff that he inherited with the purchase of the office are impossible to motivate. He feels like he must micro-manage everyone and always check to see if they actually followed through with what they said they would do. He goes on to say: “I am interviewing this potential staff person in 3 hours for the front desk. What should I do and what should I ask her?”
This is a common situation: A simple problem with not such a simple answer. For some reason I felt I had to give him the long version of what should take place. The real “what, when, where, and how” of selecting, hiring, and successfully integrating the next “core” staff member. You’ll notice that I said CORE STAFF MEMBER. Nice thing about an economic downturn is that there are lots of great staff and doctors just waiting for an opportunity to work for you. You have what we call a “target rich environment”. There will never be a better time to upgrade your staff and free up marginal staff members that just are not up to the task. The problem is that you have to become the leader that makes the right decisions in a timely fashion. Your goal should always be to bring in someone that has people skills, is self-motivated, and is enthusiastic about learning and performing their job. A “core” staff member is someone who puts the team and your vision above their own interest. They get it. They own the problem, and they deliver the results. Anything short of this is not acceptable. You feel like they truly make the patients and your job go more smoothly. Without them, the team would not function properly. Think about. Why would you hire any other kind of employee? Why settle for less? Why would you pay someone to make your life miserable? I have never regretted freeing up someone’s future, only waiting too long to do it.
As far as motivating your staff, it cannot be done. You can inspire a great employee, but motivation comes with the candidate. You hire for attitude and train for competence. They should appear at the interview with motivation and people skills. This is what you are hiring. Not 10 years of experience. I would have to say that some of the worst hires I have ever made had 10 years experience and some of the best had no dental experience at all. It all came down to attitude and self-motivation. As a leader your job is to hire the best person available, train them well, and give them authority to do the job and then get out of the way and let them do it. In leadership, your first job is to define reality. What is core in your practice? What are your expectations? How do you measure the results you expect? It is called the “Hawthorne Affect”: What gets measured gets done. Vince Lombardi said it best when it comes to motivation. Following a winning season, the coach was asked: “How do you motivate your players?” Coach Lombardi turned to face the reporter with a stern look and sneer and replied: “My job is not to motivate my players! It is to keep eleven motivated players on the field at all times”. This is pretty black and white. Stop hiring experience and thinking they can be motivated. Hire the candidate with motivation and people skills, you can teach anybody to suck spit.
Let me finish with an outline of the answer I gave the young doctor with seven steps to only hiring excellent “core” staff.
Have a great policy manual with detailed job descriptions. No one took a job wanting to do it poorly. The problem is that without a detailed job description you are constantly changing the employee’s responsibilities without letting them know. It is not uncommon for me to have the doctor write the job description of his assistant, and also have the assistant write what they think their job is, and upon comparison, find out they do not even resemble one another. This is probably the number one reason your staff fail to shine. They develop an attitude of indifference to avoid conflict. They hide to not be picked on. Get Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Read it. Re-read it. Apply its principles. One last thing: Your policy manual and job descriptions are never finished. They must constantly be reviewed and updated to reflect your continual improvements and expectations. Find a problem and solve it. Add it to the policy manual.
Remember: You are always hiring and interviewing. It goes back to the strategy of always looking to upgrade your staff. As a leader, you can never rest on what was good enough yesterday. Your current staff must always be willing to change and grow. If fact, having the ability to embrace change is a key trait of a core staff. Truly, your staff needs to see you as a consistent, caring leader that challenges not just the staff, but also yourself.
The part-time staff member: We always had a part time staff member that really was a “Girl Friday” or “Jack of all trades”. She was one of the most important people in the office. A part-time front desk or clinical assistant who was as good, or even better than our full-time staff. Psychologically, the full-time staff stepped up their own game knowing that if they failed to inspire our patients, stay self- motivated, and produce results, they could be readily replaced. This part-time person also was able to fill in for pregnancy, illness, or vacations. This may sound a little harsh, but your staff should be a little concerned about being fired for the right reasons.
Always measure what you want done. I have a younger brother who is a landscape architect. Before he leaves any job, he always says: “Green side up guys, green side up.” In other words, there are always one or two things in any job that should be your primary focus. In his case, keeping the green side up. For example: For hygienists, we always measure the production on a weekly basis, the number of crowns presented, and the number of soft tissue scaling cases. If a hygienist was doing well at these three things, they would be doing a good job. Front desk might be the percentage of appointments kept, percentage of money collected over the counter, and conversion rate of calls to appointments. Do these well and you know you are inspiring patients and doing a great job. As I said before it is called the “Hawthorne Affect”: What gets measured, gets done.
Consequences: Do everything correctly but ignore consequences and you are destined to have just a group of people working for you. When I asked a doctor: “How many people do you have working for you?” He answered: “About half of them”. The sad reality of leadership is that you have to make the tough calls. What you allow, you encourage and empower. Failure to act quickly to eliminate marginal staff says volumes to those trying to perform at the top of their game. You are either a poor leader or a fool not to eliminate marginal players. Having a staff does not mean you have a team. Most of you only have a dysfunctional group of people hired to work under the same roof. Your goal as a leader is to develop the team, not just a group.
Become a better Leader: You might ask your staff: “What do I need to do to become the boss, leader, or doctor you thought I would be”? Feed your mind with great leadership examples. John Maxwell’s monthly email newsletter is one of the best sources I know. It is called “Maximum Impact”. It will build a better leader, and you will build a better team. I told you what the fist job of a leader was: Define reality or what is core in your practice. Number two is to preserve this core while embracing change. The final job of a leader is to say “Thank You”. No one ever had a great practice without numerous people helping them.
Embrace the “Staff Owned” model of practice management: We have always preached a “Purpose Driven, Doctor Led, Staff Owned” business model. The ownership mentality of the staff comes from involving them in the decision making as well as giving them the numbers. Teaching them the business of dentistry, relying on them as partners in your practice growth, and rewarding them with a well-designed bonus system are all key elements. Never be afraid of letting someone go. Your expectations and growth will automatically attract a better candidate for the position. Always trust your staff to make the final decision on who to keep or who goes. They are more intuitive and will be better at understanding who will fit with the team in order to make it grow.
Never stop learning. Find a coach and grow your practice. Our motto at Summit has always been “Produce More, Collect All, and Keep Half”. Staff hiring and upgrading is an integral part in getting the results you deserve.
Epilogue: It all funnels down to this. There are only two types of employees. Employees that need more training, and employees who need their future freed up. Think about it this way.
An employee makes a mistake: This is your fault. You either did not have an adequate job description and policy manual or you did not train them well enough by communicating the job and your expectations. You retrain them in the fashion that they will learn their job (Everyone learns differently). Their job is to give you the results you are paying for. I keep hearing that “we don’t have the time to train our staff”. You do seem to have the time to rehire, fire, rehire, fire, tolerate mediocre results, rehire, fire, and accept a marginal profit from an average practice.
The same employee makes the same mistake: It is their fault. They are formally reprimanded and asked how they and we can prevent this from ever happening again. We also mention the consequences of failure to follow the policy manual and job description to the letter.
The same employee makes the same mistake again. Your fault if you do not free up their future. Your actions or lack thereof say multitudes to the rest of the staff. Lack of action will lead to the lack of a real team. Make the hard decisions and reap the benefits.
This young doctor is one of those clients who decided that last year’s results are not worth repeating. He decided he would do whatever it took, and is up 20% in production over last year, has increased new patients by 30%, and lowered his overhead by 6%. He is a doctor who has problems and works to solve them and makes continual incremental progress. He has lost his excuses and found his results. This will not be the statistical “Average Dentist” who by age 54 has been involved with drugs, divorce, financial insecurity, and wasted his professional career. He will have choices. Better questions tied to positive action will give you those better choices on the 180 Degree Dental Journey.
Michael Abernathy, DDS