Connie, the dentist's wife, was on the phone. The doctor
cringed. He could hear her. "She's drama. I don't mean to be catty,
but I swear she thinks the world revolves around her!" she said.
"She's really good with the patients; they just love her! But behind
the scenes, she says bad things about my husband to the staff. I
feel like she's always stirring up trouble with her gossip and negativity.
And he won't do anything about it!"
Do you have an issue with one particular person in your
office? To have the harmony you seek, start by considering the
ramifications to your team and to the health of your practice if the
problem isn't addressed.
The Four Types of Pot Stirrers
1. The Moody Employee
Employee who is very good at his or her job. You think "No
one can collect money and get patients to accept dentistry like she
can. I can't replace her."
But you never know who is going to come into work that day.
2. The Kiss-up
Employee who is always happy to see you. She covers up for her
lack of teamwork and inattention to detail by calling attention to
the things she does well. This person has an "all about me" attitude.
3. The Mother Hen
Employee who is quiet, works hard and picks up after others
who she feels isn't doing their jobs, inevitably enabling others to
work less. She does it with a smile until she explodes in anger and
gives everyone in the office the silent treatment.
4. The Pessimist
Employee who is a leader in the practice (an associate doctor,
office manager, clinical supervisor or front desk supervisor) and
feels employees are expendable. He or she treats staff like idiots.
He or she expects perfection but doesn't train. He or she is a pessimist,
a gossiper and a blamer.
The health of the practice will go down if you allow these
behaviors to continue. Turnover of staff costs you time, money and loss of morale, not to mention the increased stress for you as
the owner. In addition, resentment, tension and frustration can be
felt by patients, which effectively anti-markets your practice.
Evaluate the morale in the office. When morale goes down,
production goes down too.
Issues that drive morale down:
- Inconsistent rules or policies
- Unclear expectations
- Lack of training
- Poor communication systems
How to Identify the Problem
First, look for a pattern of behavior. Does it seem that 80 percent
or more of your management time is going to one or two of
your team members? Confidential staff questionnaires submitted
to an outside, objective person, can ferret out or narrow down the
concerns of team members.
Next, evaluate turnover. Is there continual turnover in a particular
department? Consider doing an exit interview, utilizing the
services of an outside person. For more information on these two
services, see my contact at the end of this article.
Can you get this person to change? Maybe. The challenge is,
most people who cause issues in your practice don't see themselves
as the problem. To complicate matters further, many dentists
are conflict-avoidant and would rather pray she quits than
address the issue. But, I can guarantee, if you don't take charge
of your practice, you'll find these problems arise again, and again
Clear, firm, consistent leadership: Easy to say, tough to do.
But this is what team members want and need, in order to thrive
in a dental team environment.
The First Step
Take a weekend and define your office policies. Look at your
office policy manual. Does it need an update? Then, be clear to
the team about your policies; lay them out firmly but respectfully
at your next team meeting. Once you lay out the policies, you can
and should revisit them about every six months, but if there's a
problem with one individual (or more) address this person privately.
Don't beat on the team for the issues of one person.
In my dental offices, I had a zero-tolerance rule regarding gossip
and negativity. The new hire was informed up front about our policy. If there was an issue with a co-worker, she had to go
directly to the person in question and try to resolve the issue. If
she then couldn't, she brought the problem to me and the three of
us sat down and resolved the issue. Regarding concerns in the
practice, we talked about them, but the rule was that the person
who brought up the issue needed to come with one or two positive
suggestions for change.
The Second Step
Coach daily and train, anytime you see something you'd like
done differently. Be clear about your expectations. Do look for
the good and appreciate the good, as well as coach on needed
changes. Most people need to hear something several times to
make it stick. Be sure you're communicating with clarity. Begin
documenting in the person's personnel record after one or two
For new hires, I recommend a 30-60-90 day performance
review, a lot of training and very clearly defined expectations.
Also, do a 12-month performance review even if it eats at your
gut. Performance reviews, done well, are motivational, forwardthinking
and are about goal setting. For an effective performance
review form, contact me at Rhonda@MilesGlobal.net.
The Third Step
If you've coached repetitively, but the change isn't happening,
sit down privately (or with a witness/office manager) and talk
seriously about the needed change in behavior or work performance.
This is also documented and placed in the person's personnel
The Fourth Step
Sit down for a formal written corrective review. State specifically
and in writing one to three things you want this person to
change. Let the employee know that this continued behavior/lack
of performance "can affect your ability to retain your job." And let
the person know, the change must be permanent, even after the
30-day probationary period.
The Fifth Step
The behavior or lack of performance continues. Make the
hard decision, then do it quickly. Let the person go. State, "It's a
business decision." Or, you might consider offering that he or she
submit a letter of resignation in lieu of being fired. Don't explain
or attempt to reason with this person. Be calm and have the final
check ready. Fire on a Monday or Tuesday so the person has time
to file for unemployment or apply for a job. Obtain the office keys
and consider the need to change locks and passwords.
Coach the rest of the team on what you want them to say, if
a patient asks, "Where's Sara?" To your team, say, "We always
speak positively of previous employees. Please say, ‘Sara had
another opportunity. She's a great person and we wish her well.'"
Then sleep well. You've coached and coached and you've been
clear about your expectations. You've given this person the opportunity
to change. You can hold your head up high and let this person
go because you've done your job as a leader. If you've done
your job, but the person continues with the behavior or lack of
performance, he or she has made a choice.
Even if you know in your gut that the behavior won't change,
I still recommend this process to protect your practice from a
wrongful firing suit. Some dentists say, "Well, I practice in an ‘atwill'
state." Every state is an "at-will" state. You can still be sued
without proper documentation. If you have a legal concern, consult
a labor attorney.
There are many good employees out there; don't let someone
hold you hostage by thinking, "I won't ever find someone as good
as she is at..."Good leaders practice firm, fair, consistent leadership.
Good leaders also make the hard decisions. What hard decision
do you need to make this weekend?