Embracing Difficult Conversations

Few of us enjoy delivering a Performance Improvement Plan or can take the time for regular One-on-One meetings. In many offices, it is the task of the Office Manager or the Owner to complete these tasks. Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) can be uncomfortable to deliver since their purpose is to point out the details of what a team member is doing wrong while asking for a change in behavior. At a One-on-One meeting, you are asking for feedback on the office culture and the internal workings of the office, which can be uncomfortable to hear as a leader of the team.

One-on-One meetings are best completed on a regular basis. That may mean once a month, once a quarter, or once a year and usually six months after a performance review. Remember, the purpose of these meetings is not for discipline but rather to provide an opportunity for the team member to give their feedback on the office culture, environment, and daily workings. We very often have brief informal conversations in the hallway about the office, but it’s better to formalize this practice and follow a set format that will allow for open discussion.

First, set a formal meeting time for your One-on-One meeting so that the team member feels prepared. Also in advance, provide them with a paper that includes the questions you will be asking so that they will have time to prepare and document their answers. The first is usually, ‘on a scale of 1-10, how do you feel things are going in the office’?  It’s a very open-ended question but it allows the team member to think about the office as a whole. However, if you have been tracking specific issues you would like to follow up on you could tailor that question with some specific details. Allow the team member to give their answer and then ask why they gave that score. Once they have explained their rating, ask them what could be done to bring that score to a ten. You will be amazed at some of the creative ideas that may come up! On the other hand, if a team member answers 10 from the start, then you will need to dig a bit deeper to elicit an answer that may be more truthful. People often answer with a 10 because they either don’t want to hurt your feelings or they’re indifferent about improving the office environment. Do the work and find out what their true feelings are.

Secondly, provide your comments on their suggestions at the end. Let them know that they are insightful. If they have suggested something that you can commit to right away, let them know. For suggestions that require long-term decisions or decisions that may not fit with the office, tell the team member that you’ll keep these on the drawing board for future consideration. Don’t shut them down completely, enlighten them as to considerations that would need to be made first.

A PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) is used to correct a behavior or attitude that doesn’t fit in with your office culture or protocols. A PIP is best delivered close to the time that the behavior is happening so that you are clearly able to point out all the details.  A PIP also needs to be scheduled so that the team member doesn’t feel ambushed. You require proper documentation for a PIP meeting which should state, and record as follows:

  • The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the following:
  • The impact this circumstance has had on the patients, team, practice or dentist:
  • The protocols to be applied to this situation are as follows and have been reviewed in detail:
  • Corrective Steps that the team member will take following this meeting to reduce the likelihood of this behavior reoccurring:
  • Any steps that the practice will need to take to support the team member in correcting this behavior.

Conclude by setting a date for another meeting to check in on the progress and corrective steps that were chosen. The team member will be required to sign this report along with the owner or the Office Manager. The team member is provided with a copy of the meeting notes as well as the copy that will be entered into their employee record.

Clearly, these are two completely different types of meetings to hold with team members, and it’s important to conduct them in a timely manner.  Successfully executed and delivered, you’ll find that each will have a very positive impact on your practice.

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