Be Proactive – Nip Problems in the Bud

Whether you are the Office Manager or the Owner it is crucial to nip behavioural problems in the bud and address team issues early in your practice. Sticking your head in the sand and hoping that they will resolve themselves will show you the high cost of your inaction. Team issues can erode your practice from the inside out if not handled promptly and effectively.

Team issues occur when there is a disconnect between values, specifically when people behave in ways that misalign with the culture you have created. An example of this would be when your favourite assistant is always returning late from lunch and setting your afternoon off on the wrong foot. You overlook this behaviour because getting a “good” new assistant these days is next to impossible. The real message that you are sending to the team is that poor behaviour is accepted and will be tolerated throughout the office.

It can be uncomfortable addressing a team member’s issues, it’s not something that most of us feel at ease with. The discomfort though is much easier if dealt with early on. If you take the example of the assistant returning late from lunch on a regular basis then this problem will not only spread to the rest of the team it will also affect the patients. The dentist will always feel rushed to get caught up or the patients will be left waiting long after their appointed time. This internal problem has now given your patients a reason to possibly look for another dental office. This may sound dramatic, but it happens on a daily basis, leaving many offices operating at a mediocre level because they are tolerating an array of poor behaviour. 

The first step to dealing with poor behaviour is to have a one on one informal conversation mentioning the behaviour and how it affects you, the team and the patients. It is best to have this conversation when the poor behaviour has happened for a second time. This conversation should resolve the issue immediately. 

If the initial conversation doesn’t resolve the behaviour then the next step would be to escalate to a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) which should be at a formal meeting, with formal goals and a formal follow-up. There should also be a record of this meeting placed in the employee’s file which may be considered when having the next financial review for this team member. At this step as well as the first step, the team member needs to be reminded how their behaviour is affecting, other team members, the patients and the practice overall. Empowering your team members to take charge of changing their own behaviour is a good step in building a positive office culture. Let your team member know that there is a limit to the number of times you will address poor behaviour.

Be sure that you are using clear vision when looking at team member’s behaviours and you aren’t overlooking poor behaviour in some of your favourite team members. This is only human nature but will cause bad feelings and work against the positive culture you are building in the practice. 

If you are a person who dislikes confrontation and avoids it at all costs, then nipping small problems in the bud will feel less overwhelming for you as well. Don’t walk around annoyed all day if there is something going on that you have turned a blind eye to, you can’t blame the employee if you are accepting of poor behaviour.

Be strong and direct in your verbiage without being demeaning, you will find this approach will be appreciated by your team and you will have positive reactions.

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