Over the course of a year, I speak with literally tens
of thousands of dentists, hygienists, assistants, office
managers and front desk staff. One question that I am
asked by many of them is, “Should I have a staff
retreat, and why?” There are many important factors to
take into account when thinking about having a staff
retreat, and the first one is why you want to have it.
Many dentists tell me that they would like to have
a staff retreat as a thank you to their staff for the great
job they do all year long. That isn’t a staff retreat, that’s
a staff appreciation week (or weekend or day). In our
office, we take one day a year when we close the office,
and we take the entire staff to New York City for the
day. We walk around, shop, eat, sightsee and take in a
Broadway show before taking the last train out of the
city and back home. That is the “Thank You” for our
staff, not a retreat. We do not discuss strategic planning,
internal and external marketing or business at all.
A staff retreat can be used on a small scale as a
reward for hitting their goals, or as an employee “Thank
You,” but staff retreats are really meant to reach a very
specific set of goals that the business owner and management
have decided are important to them. Without
these clearly defined goals, there is no way to know if
your retreat has been a success or not. You need a thermometer
to measure things, and your goals are that
thermometer. Doing the following activities outside of
the office decreases the stress that your staff feels during
regular staff meetings in the office and creates “outside”
relationships that can grow in the office and improve
staff moral and the teamwork attitude that every office
needs and craves.
The location and duration of your staff retreat can
have a very real affect on the productiveness and effectiveness
of the retreat. You must take into consideration
your budget for the staff retreat. If the weather is
agreeable and money is tight, a local park with some
picnic tables can work well. On the other side of the
spectrum are the offices that will take the staff and
spouses on a weeklong cruise. Most offices fall somewhere
in the middle. A weekend away at a moderately
priced (do not read cheap) hotel will tell your staff that
you care and appreciate them, while providing a meeting
room for the actual business and team building
parts of the retreat. Take into account scheduling,
budgets and desired outcomes as you consider the
location for your staff retreat. The important thing is
that people are relaxed and comfortable.
Before deciding on a location, think about what
type of retreat you would like to host. Are you going to
concentrate on team building to increase moral in the
office? Would you prefer a brainstorming session, talking
about ways to increase production, effectiveness of
the staff, ways to improve the patient experience in
your office, starting from the first phone call to the
minute the patient leaves the office for the first time?
Strategic planning is important for any business. Try
dividing your staff into teams, giving each team one
project or problem to address, and define a clear
amount of time when they come back to the whole
team and present their three solutions or ideas. Let the
entire team discuss these limited ideas, concentrating
on finding the best possible solution or concept.
Training is one of the best reasons to have a staff
retreat. Oftentimes, with the hustle and bustle of daily
work life, we lose sight of the little things that make a
big difference in our case acceptance percentages, integrating
new technology or new concepts to the staff or
just reiterating items that might have been discussed
previously in one smooth, concise and well-planned lesson. Having a weekly staff meeting is a great start,
but it is just not possible to fit all the important things
into one or two hours. Look at the retreat as a refresher
course. Your staff will retain much more when they
aren’t worried about the perio case coming in after
lunch, or rushing to get home to their hungry children
at the end of the day.
Once you know what type of retreat, how long
you want it and where, you’ll need to focus on who
will run it. Often, the owner, manager, dentist or dental
spouse will take this responsibility. It must be
someone who will be at ease, who will be able to put
the staff at ease. This person will be responsible for
making sure everyone knows the ground rules of the
retreat, the agenda and what the expectations are.
These things must be either laid out in advance or at
the very beginning of the retreat. Many owners prefer
to have an outside moderator run the retreat for them.
The staff might feel more comfortable speaking their
mind if they know that the moderator has set the
ground rules and that everyone is there for the betterment
of the practice and the business. The entire staff
must feel safe and secure enough to speak their mind
for the improvement of the practice.
Whoever you choose to run the meeting must
have a very clear understanding of what you want to
get out of the retreat. Many practice management
consultants offer this as one of their services, so consult
with yours to see if it is something that they can
offer or assist you with. Many will handle all the
details from start to finish keeping in mind your
budget and desired results.
No matter who, where, when or what, following
these simple steps will let you be certain that your
staff retreat is a great success.
- Have your expectations laid out in advance.
Remember the thermometer!
- Create an agenda and be sure to stick to it.
Make sure that you have included time for
relaxation. Down time is important and it is
during these times that some great relationships
can be created or repaired.
- Be sure that any assignments are taken seriously
and completed on time.
- Know the ground rules and stick to them. Do
not let personal feelings get in the way of productivity.
Be honest and give everyone a chance
- While coming up with all those great ideas, be sure
to include how they are going to be implemented
once you get back to the office. Great ideas do
nothing but collect dust if they are shelved.
- After you are back in the office, prepare a review
form for each attendee. Be sure to ask for their
complete and honest feedback on the retreat as
a whole and for each individual session.
If you follow these simple steps, your retreat can
be the great success that you want it to be, and can be
the best investment that you make in your business
Rick Garofolo is the president and CEO of DentalSubs.com
and The Practice Mechanic (a practice management consulting
company). He has spent the past 20 years in marketing,
management and consulting, working with hundreds of companies
all over the world. He has been called the “Gordon Ramsey” of the dental
world and has produced consistent results of 80 percent revenue
growth in one year or less. You may contact Rick with any questions or
comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.