Evaluating your staff

The most important asset in a dental practice isn’t the equipment, the office location or the doctor’s clinical skills. It’s the people. It is important to hire good staff members and retain them. However, in today’s world, that isn’t easy.

In working with thousands of practices since 1985, Levin Group has found that staff members on average will remain with a practice for approximately three to four years. Consequently, the ability to train new people quickly and efficiently takes on increased significance.

Instructing new staff falls heavily on the longest serving team members – doctors need to know who is (or who should be) part of the long-term ‘core’ team. A formal evaluation is the most effective way to find this out.

Evaluating team members in a performance review every six months is a good way to keep the practice running smoothly. Unfortunately, many dentists have difficulty remaining objective about their workforce. They often believe that they should love their staff and adopt the attitude that they are like family, but there is a problem with this approach. While it is good to have an inclusive atmosphere, the fact remains that staff members are not part of most dentists’ families, and they will come and go over the years.

Team members should also score their own performances and discuss the results in the formal review. This gives the doctor the opportunity to compare it against his or her evaluation. The formal review is not a last-minute conversation, but rather a scheduled event where the employee knows that an objective discussion will take place.

It is important to discuss the following:

• What the team member does well

• How the team member can improve

• How the practice can provide support to the team member

• How the practice itself can be improved.

Another step in the evaluation process is to set a career path for each team member. This would typically include a continuing education and skills improvement plan. If they are encouraged to improve between performance reviews with the knowledge that their progress will be monitored, they usually begin to add dramatically to the practice.

Those individuals who are given these opportunities and fail to grow have either reached their plateau or are candidates that should be considered for replacement. A doctor will not be able to follow a model of spending 98% of his or her time chairside productively involved with patients unless the team can rise itself to handle day-to-day operations at a certain level.

As a team grows and becomes more effective, it can anticipate events and activities that will occur throughout the day, which makes the doctor’s job easier. When dentists do not have to spend time monitoring their workers or verifying that tasks have been properly performed, the stress level of their practice drops and they can spend more time focusing on patient care.

Unfortunately, we no longer live in an era where an employee stays in the same job for decades. Change is inevitable and often comes at inopportune times. Evaluation gives the doctor the chance to identify key members of staff who will join the core team and train new starters.

In addition, evaluation identifies underperforming team members who only require some additional training to do their jobs better. Quite frankly, it can also show that some employees may not be a proper fit for the practice despite support, training and career path development.

You should have one particular objective when evaluating every team member – to create a well-tuned group of individuals who understand their responsibilities and are motivated to do them well.

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