The Right People – Creating a Healthy Work Environment

Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, reports that “getting the right people on the bus” is the factor that distinguishes a good organization from a great one. Collins (2001) notes, “We thought that people were a company’s greatest asset. We were wrong. The right people are a company’s greatest asset.” The “right” people in today’s workplace are looking for a work environment that allows and supports continuous education and development. Dentists who include developmental programs reap the rewards of enthusiastic, devoted team members.

In an interview, Dr. Chuck Puntillo of Burlington, Wisconsin, states, “As a leader, working to develop and support my team is one of my greatest joys and one of the most productive things I do.

How does a leader/owner “get the right people on the bus”? The first step is to hire correctly. Easily said. Not easily done. Hire slowly and hire correctly. Turnover of a quality team member is costly—both emotionally and financially. But, this happens. People may leave your practice due to personal circumstances and, of course, the position will need to be filled. Or, if your dental practice is growing, new positions may need to be established.

Determine what characteristics and/or skills you wish for this person to possess. Write (or review) the written job description. Make sure it is appropriate and current for the position you are filling or creating. Describe the attitude you desire. Hire characteristics and attitude first. You can always teach the skills. The job description should contain not only what a person is to do, but the expected end results of his/her performance.

There are numerous places to find applicants, such as the following:

  • recommendations from team members
  • people in your community or dental practice
  • dental society magazines
  • dental society employee listings, dental assistant or dental hygiene schools
  • website placement services
  • newspaper ads
  • employment agencies

If you place any kind of ad, make sure it is punchy, abbreviation-free, enticing, and authentic. Be interesting if you want to attract someone who is interested! Encourage the candidate to send or email a resume. Contact your top choices to invite them for an initial interview. Have the same person place these calls. Spend a few minutes on the phone with the candidate, taking notes about the person’s telephone etiquette and vocal quality.

Have the candidates come to the office for a brief interview with a qualified team member and a brief interview with the dentist. They must complete an application (one that follows all appropriate legal specifications). Assess:

  • Did they think quickly and intellectually?
  • Did they display accuracy of writing skills?
  • Was their appearance compatible with the image of your practice?
  • Were they well prepared for their interview?
  • Were they well groomed?
  • Did they make a professional impression?

(Greenwall & Jameson, 2012)

If they do not come to their interview well prepared, they will probably not change. All team members must be a reflection of your commitment to excellence, quality, and professionalism. Everything you do makes a first and lasting impression on every patient, and that includes the professional appearance of your team.

From these applicants, select your top two or three candidates, and ask them to return for a final interview. This interview will be a bit longer, more detailed, more specific about the position responsibility, salary, benefits and all pertinent details. The interviewer should do about 30 percent of the talking, which leaves the remaining 70 percent to the interviewee. This is true in both interview one and two. Ask open-ended questions, ones that put the person at ease and encourage conversation.

Include your team in the decision about who is selected. Invite the top two candidates to lunch (without the doctor). Or have the candidates come to the office for coffee and conversation. Each person on the team has the opportunity to make or break a relationship with a patient. And, the relationships between and among team members can make or break a practice. So, again, hire slowly—and hire correctly.

Once a person has been hired, carefully create a plan for training in their position. What are they going to do, how is each task and each system to be administered, who will do the mentoring, and how will you evaluate progress? In addition, define the time frames for each segment of the training protocol. The better you provide orientation and training, the faster the person will become competent and productive, the more cohesively they will fit into the team and practice, and the more likely the person will be to stay. Remember: turnover is costly. The time and money you invest in the early days of employment will pay for themselves quickly and multi-fold.

Just because someone may come to you with a great deal of experience, this does not mean that they know how you do things in your own practice. A change in practice usually means a change in how things are done. While experience is valuable, it can be a detriment if how a newcomer performs a task is contrary to how you do things. This may put a “glitch” into a well-functioning system. Spend the time giving a new person the training required to perform tasks within your systems.

At the beginning of a person’s employment with you, orient the new team member to the technical or “hygienic” aspects of their job: personnel policy manual, how and when payroll will be distributed, specifics about the benefit package, hours of work, attire, etc. The new employee should sign a form stating that he or she has read the manual and agrees with your protocols. Create a personnel file for the new person and add it to the other files of all employees.

Then, initiate the didactic training period by reviewing the specifics of the job description and prioritizing each responsibility. Remember to do the following:

(1) Define the expectations and goals that are to be accomplished.

(2) Decide what will be studied first.

(3) Schedule non-patient time for instruction, as well as observation time when patients are present.

(4) Carefully describe what and how you want each task to be done.

(5) Demonstrate.

(6) Have them perform the task with you observing and coaching them.

(7) Once they have met your approval on an individual task, turn it over to them.

(8) Evalute progress along the way. Don’t think that one evaluation is all that will ever be needed. Continuous feedback is appreciated and beneficial to mastery of a skill.

Give a new employee feedback and coaching every day. Assign a person on the team to be their mentor. At the end of each day, the mentor will ask what things are going well and what areas were difficult or confusing. This will allow for immediate instruction, feedback, encouragement, and therefore, continuous improvement. This will lead to confidence as well as competence. Ask for and answer any questions that may arise. The new employee needs to feel comfortable asking questions, otherwise they will keep doing what they think is correct—even though this may not be the case.

Do some special things with the new team member and the team. Integrate them into the “inner circle” as quickly as possible so that they can move from being an individual worker to a member of a team and then to a fully functioning contributor to the practice.

  • Orientation
  • Training
  • Integration

“The people on my team are critical to the quality of care that I consider imperative. They are a direct reflection of me and of my practice. I hire people who have a warm personality, who communicate well, and who are drawn to taking care of people. It’s important to me to enjoy every one of my dental days. And I want to create a work environment where my team members feel the same way. Our happiness with each other and with our work impacts each experience a patient has with our practice. “

Dr. John Jameson