Training Your Staff and Leading Your Team


Training Your Staff and Leading Your Team

Training your staff can be a huge job even if they already have experience. You need to set up a training plan so that each time you hire a new employee, they can immediately begin training in the way you deem best. And, do not stop at training each person in his or her individual job. Give them some cross training so they can work together well and fill in for other team members as needed.  The first step in building a highly-trained team is setting concrete training objectives.

Assess the Current Training Levels of Your Team Members

During the hiring process, you should have checked credentials, education and recommendations for each new team member. But, until you work with them for a time, you will not know enough about how well they retained their training or the quality of their experience in the dental field. For the first few days they are with your office, observe them closely to notice gaps in their training. If you designate someone in your office to act as training coordinator, you can leave some of the observations for them to do. At the end of the first week, confer with the coordinator to assess together what additional training the new employee needs.

Set Training Objectives

Training objectives are specific things you want your staff to know when their training is complete. The objective must not only be doable, but it must also be measurable. Then, when the employee has accomplished the required learning, you will know it. In the dental clinic, you can set three different types of training objectives:

  1. knowledge
  2. skills
  3. attitudes

When you are first starting out with your practice, you might be in charge of all the training. Or, you might choose to leave the training plan in hands of another employee who can act as training coordinator. Whether you manage the learning plan or not, you will undoubtedly be doing much of the training for the back office staff at least.

Employee Manuals

If you have ever had a job before starting your dentistry practice, chances are you have seen an employee manual for that job. Corporate dental clinics supply their dentists with a specific dental employee manual to use. However, if you have a small private practice you may need to create your own. There are various ways to do this. One is to use a downloadable template and fill in your own expectations as the differ from the template. This can be a dangerous option, since many of the templates available online are not legally correct. Another way is to hire a company that specializes in creating custom employee handbooks. This may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it can save many more costly mistakes in the future. It can avert legal problems as well as office disputes. In short, it lets your new employees know exactly what you expect of them and what they can expect from you.

Some of the employee requirements that might be contained in the office manual include:

  • uniform or dress code
  • tardy and absence policies
  • reasons for immediate termination
  • their responsibilities concerning patient privacy
  • internet and social media use policies
  • how to prevent or deal with workplace safety issues
  • overtime or on-call pay
  • leaves of absence
  • benefits
  • and any other issues you deem appropriate.

Communicate Your Vision for the Practice

If you read the beginning chapters of this book, you have already thought about and possibly developed your personal vision for the practice. Now, you need to share this unique mission with your new staff and impress upon them the importance and benefits of pursuing your goals for the dental clinic. You can write a mission statement and require new employees to learn it. Even better, you can refer to your goals often – both when your staff members are achieving your goals and in any situation in which they seem to be straying from your vision.

Training for Attitude

New employees come with many different attitudes toward work in general and toward the dentistry profession in particular. New hires who have worked in other dental offices may have adapted to environments that were set up to be entirely different from the one you are trying to create. So, you usually end up having to train your new employees to treat your patients with kindness and consideration. You may need to help an experienced employee unlearn the lecturing, scolding mentality that was once a standard feature of dental office employees and embrace instead the attitude that your patient is a guest of your practice. You set the tone by your own actions and words. It is also important to let employees know when they are not treating patients the way you want them to be treated.

The Importance of the Probationary Period

You can get a quick snapshot of prospective employees’ ability to learn during a working interview, as mentioned earlier in this book. However, you will not know with any certainty how well the new employee will get along with others and do their job on a daily basis until they have been coming to work for a while. Choose a 60-day or 90-day probationary period during which you can evaluate their contributions to the team. If at the end of that time you see them as a liability rather than an asset, you can part company more easily than you could without the probationary period. Then, you can get busy finding that person’s replacement without any legal hassles. Also, having a meeting with the employee at the end of the probationary period can give you an opportunity to give feedback to help them improve if you do decide to keep them..

Learn to Delegate

As a dentist, you can probably do any task in the office, at least to some degree of proficiency. However once you have hired staff to help you run your dental office, you will have other employees who can do certain jobs as well as or better than you can. What is more, your time is extremely valuable. Others who have less education, training and/or experience can do many of the tasks, leaving you more time to provide the treatments the others cannot. As discussed before, here are some things you should be able to delegate to various members of your office staff:

  • front office tasks
  • bookkeeping
  • sterilization of equipment and instruments
  • dental lab work
  • inventory and ordering of supplies
  • chairside assisting
  • office cleaning

If you find yourself taking over these basic tasks because you feel impatient to have them done in a correct and timely way, then you need to consider whether you have made any errors in choosing your office staff. Also, if the staff members are failing to do things correctly, consider giving them additional training. Remember: just because you can do something, it does not mean that task is yours to do.

Cross-Training Staff for a Well-Integrated Team

Your dental hygienist is not likely to be the one scheduling appointments for patients, and the bookkeeper is not usually the one to do chairside assisting. However, the more each team member knows about each job, the more smoothly your practice will run. Why? The reason is that if everyone is busy (and if they are not you are probably overstaffed), then there may be gaps in coverage for tasks that can be carried out by anyone in the office.

So, does your dental hygienist usually answer the phone? Probably not, but he or she should know how to do it if there is no one else available to take the call at that moment and he or she is free to do it. By the same token, giving your front office staff some rudimentary training in dental assisting can help them understand what the business is all about, be able to communicate better with patients, and feel more a part of the overall mission of the dental office.

Providing Top-Notch Leadership

You do not become a great leader for your dental practice by having the right genetic code or inherent abilities. You can lead by sharing your vision, creating office goals, and inspiring your team members to participate in achieving those goals. You already have 3 types of power at your disposal:

  • Legitimate Power – You own the business, so you have natural authority over it.
  • Reward Power – You have the ability to reward good behavior with time off, bonuses or other benefits.
  • Expert Power – As the dentist, you are the top-level expert on your practice, sharing that, of course with other dentists in your group or partnership. If there is ever a question about dental procedures, you are the top authority on the subject in the clinic.

The other type of power you might have is personal power. This can come to you easily if your personality is suited to it, or it might be a bit more of a challenge if it is not. However, over time, you can develop your personal power by:

  • boosting your self-confidence through experiences inside and out of the office.
  • being consistent with requests.
  • learning as much about the dentistry business as possible.
  • taking leadership courses or attending seminars..
  • reading books on leadership and applying those principles.

Understanding Why People Work for You

Management research has shown consistently that getting paid is not the only reason people work. If it were, there would be no volunteers. People want to get some psychological or social benefit from their work. They want to feel their life has meaning and that they can contribute something valuable. Think of your own job as dentist and business owner. Are you in it only for the cash you can draw out of it? Probably not, and neither are your employees. Being aware of this can positively impact your ability to lead. As you give employees recognition and reward them with psychological and social benefits, they are more prepared to follow you in creating a successful dental practice.

Checklist for Building and Leading Your Dental Office Team

  • Assess the training needs of new team members at the time of hire.
  • Designate a training coordinator who will create and manage the training plan.
  • Create concrete, specific and measurable learning objectives for your team’s training.
  • Train your office personnel to express the right attitude and follow your practice philosophy.
  • Hire an HR services company to make a custom employee manual for your practice.
  • Cross train your team members to fill in as needed for other team members.
  • Delegate tasks that do not require your level of expertise.
  • Develop your personal power for leadership.