I’m So Tired of Her Attitude by Dr. Rhonda Savage

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:
  • Gossip
  • Negativity
  • Inconsistent rules or policies
  • Favoritism
  • Micro-management
  • 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 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 coaching sessions.

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 record.

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?

  Author's Bio
Dr. Rhonda Savage is the CEO of Miles Global, an international dental training and consulting firm. Her speaking and publishing topics include women's health issues, leadership and business management.

Her 35 years in dentistry include roles as a dental assistant, a front office staff member and a private practice dentist. Dr. Savage knows the demands of quality patient care, leading a winning team and the running a successful business.

Dr. Savage brings a unique energy to her work. A Lieutenant Commander in the Navy during the years of Desert Shield and Desert Storm, she received the Navy Achievement Medal and an Expert Pistol Medal, earning her the nickname of "The Beast." She's a "straight shooter," aiming at the critical issues that dental practices face today. Visit MilesGlobal.net for her training products. To reach her regarding speaking to your organization or consulting services, e-mail her at rhonda@milesglobal.net


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