The Importance of Delegation
Dentists have heard the word “delegate” over and over, yet many still do not believe it can actually work for their practice. However, delegation with proper planning creates a team of skilled, responsible professionals.
The key is skill. Skill results from training and hands-on experience. The energy and talent of a team working together are synergistic, with the whole being greater than the sum of the individual parts. If your team has not displayed much in the way of energy and talent, yet they have the capabilities to become a synergistic team, investigate the need for training. Begin a planned program to train individuals in all skills that can be legally delegated in your state.
For in-office training and quality control, develop comprehensive training manuals, one for business office systems and one for clinical procedures. These vital manuals allow you to control the quality of your care and provide the staff with consistent standards and written clarification of your expectations. Videos, books, workshops, seminars, and tailored consultant training are all excellent tools for staff development. On the 180 Degree Dental Journey you will need to trade out drivers and need someone to keep you on track. You can’t drive the entire journey, nor would it be healthy to do so. This does not have to be just the doctor’s responsibility. That is why you want to develop a committed team rather than just a group of people that work in the same office. To monitor staff training and learning, you can create a simple test. Take a few moments to write down the basic points you want the staff member to gather from the learning experience you have selected, e.g., a book, video, webinar, podcast. Next, word these key points in the form of fill-in the-blank, essay, or multiple-choice type questions. Instantly, you have a written method to evaluate the degree of learning that took place. Then, together, you and the staff member agree upon a training completion date and a date for the written and/or oral evaluations.
There is a way to delegate effectively. How well you succeed in dentistry and the 180 Degree Journey depends largely on how well you delegate. To accomplish what needs to be done and be on time, you must be able turn work over to others. A doctor’s primary responsibility is to develop his/her team members, and a primary purpose of delegation is to teach or empower the people you supervise through a strong culture and systems. It is not just to off-load menial tasks.
One of the most important traits of highly “effective” dentists is learning how to delegate. As I visit and talk to dentists around the country, I find a common, consistent trend that doctors find it difficult to let go and delegate all they can within the letter of the law. Surely, we can all agree that having the ability to do less while accomplishing more is a win-win deal for everyone. So why wouldn’t a doctor take advantage of their staff and systems by multiplying your ability to serve their patients while at the same time being more productive? I’ve made a list of some of the top reasons I have been told that somehow justified not delegating certain jobs and responsibilities.
- I can do it better myself. Initially you are correct, but in the long haul you are robbing your team members of improving their skills and growing to be that ideal team member. If you hang on to it, no one else will have an opportunity to learn. Teach them and enjoy the benefits of doing what you do best, producing more. You weren’t that good at it when you first started either. Many still aren’t good even after years of doing it. Take a chance and build a future for you and your team.
- I don’t have the time teach them. It is true that effective delegation takes time. You must plan, train the assigned employee, and follow up periodically. Therefore, you must weigh whether you will save time in the future. Do you spend one day every month on this task? If so, it is worth a day to train someone to do it for the rest of the year?
- I lack confidence in my team members. If you don’t trust your employee, you must examine your reasons closely. Identify specific reasons: Cathey misplaced two charts; not Cathey is sloppy. Watch Cheryl, she doesn’t have the math skills. Are you sure? The solution is to delegate tasks that build skills: in these examples research for Cathey and math for Cheryl.
- Staff just can’t do it as fast as I can do it. You think? Give me a break. We all started off slow and by repetition became quicker. If you don’t allow them to practice and repeat a procedure, how could you ever expect them to get better? Come on, I was in dental school and 97% of the doctors I graduated with were just barely not dangerous. Fast forward after hundreds of repetitive procedures and most of us got pretty quick at it.
- The staff doesn’t know how to do it. True, you never took the time to create systems, measure performance, and train your staff well enough to do a lot of things well, but it is just that habit that creates mediocre practices. Take the time to train, re-train, and modify and simplify systems until it is crystal clear. Your staff will either learn and be able to repeat them or you have the wrong staff.
- I will lose my power of control. This is seldom a problem for doctors with healthy self-esteem. Effective doctors focus on what they can accomplish through their employees, not how much they can control them. If you feel threatened by your subordinates’ accomplishments, work on developing confidence in your own abilities.
- You are so non-assertive that you spend all this time talking and doing procedures that should be delegated because it makes you feel good about yourself. Seeing this over and over has brought me to the conclusion that these doctors are so insecure that they must justify their fees by spending more and more time with the patients to feel good about themselves while getting poorer results. Remember: we want to produce more, collect all, and keep half. Generally speaking, your perception doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the patient’s perspective. In fact, the patients would rather see and talk to the staff while you run on and attend to more important things than some mundane tasks that you could have delegated.
- You are too approval addicted to delegate: It is true that many doctors’ self-worth comes from the affirmations they get from patients, but this isn’t healthy either. Share the glory with your staff and delegate. There is enough praise from patients to go around. You don’t have to be the center of attention to have a growing healthy practice.
- But I like doing it. Some doctors are reluctant to delegate the tasks they enjoy the most. The solution is to keep one or two “occupational hobbies” if you must. Let employees grow by finding the discipline to let go of tasks that prevent you from growing.
- I can’t figure out what to delegate and what not to delegate. Delegate tasks that are routine and necessary and that are development opportunities for that team member. That’s why you hired them, remember? Don’t delegate any duty that is irreversible. Never delegate a true crisis. Bring in help if needed but shoulder the responsibility yourself. Never delegate unnecessary tasks. It would be better to identify activities that don’t contribute to the practice’s goals and eliminate them.
Delegation can be formal or informal, but it’s always important to be clear about your goals and expectations. For better results make sure that you:
- Review your purpose. You must decide what must be done, who should do it, and when it should be done.
- Know your people. You can’t decide who’s best for which tasks unless you learn about your teams’ strengths and weaknesses, and their goals and desires. Ask for input so you can create opportunities for growth.
- Have a “delegation conference”. Explain how the task relates to the office’s overall goals. State the results you desire before listing the required tasks. Say “we’ll need to”, rather than “you’ll have to”. Ask for input from your staff members.
- Establish deadlines, allowing the person to set his/her own deadlines within reason. Make sure the priority of the task is clear.
- Establish a reporting procedure. Schedule regular reviews or get updates so they meet their deadlines. Grant the necessary authority so the person can be effective. Inform other coworkers that Susan will be handling recall. Always delegate an entire task to avoid confusion.
- Follow up. This provides an opportunity for you to stress the person’s responsibility for the task and for the person to commit to it. The is key in developing the Staff Owned mentality and culture on this 180 Degree Journey. Compliment the employee throughout the task, but review work only at regularly scheduled times. Don’t meddle or micro-manage. The purpose of this review session is to protect against failure and advise without reducing accountability. Your aim is development, not perfection. Give feedback and constructive criticism. Always give the person credit for success but take the blame for any failure yourself.
Our goal in life should be to step back and look at everything we do with a critical eye. We need to be both efficient and effective. Delegating everything you can is the quickest way to make this happen. Taking the time to train and implement this strategy will be the most effective way to get there. Your systems are precisely designed to give you the results you are currently getting. Better results require better systems.
Michael Abernathy, DDS