When I was hired on as an office manager for Murdock Family Dentistry in Billings, Montana, nearly a decade ago, I was brand new to the world of dentistry. Up until that time, my experience with dentistry was limited to my regular hygiene appointments with my own doctor. While I brought plenty of professional and academic experience in business administration to the role, I didn't have a deep understanding of the emotional work that plays into a dental practice's success.
Ah, the emotional work. It's often the most challenging aspect of practice leadership because it is notoriously difficult to nail down. Dental practitioners and clinicians, in my experience, are naturally drawn to the certainty and clarity of scientific fact – but when human emotions, fears and motivations come into play, things can get confusing and overwhelming for practice owners very quickly.
Don't get me wrong – I get it. As a practice owner and clinician, a dentist has a lot of responsibility resting squarely on their shoulders. Ultimately, a dentist's goal is to deliver exceptional patient outcomes —but as a business owner, the dentist knows that things like the quality of the team and efficacy of practice processes are inextricably linked to efficiency. In that work is the murky world of team relationships, personal challenges, competing agendas and a lot of emotion.
Spear Online learning and practice management resources can certainly make these challenges easier to tackle, but it still requires the courage to wade into these challenging aspects of practice leadership.
As a chapter president for the American Association of Dental Office Managers, I have the opportunity to discuss this challenge with a variety of dental office managers – from those who work at very small practices with a single doctor, to those who represent larger practices with multiple locations and associates. Nearly every doctor feels these struggles acutely in their day-to-day work. Simply put: You are not alone!
From those same conversations with fellow office managers, however, I've also noticed a trend within many doctor-office manager relationships within dental practices: a lack of trust and teamwork.
In my experience, dental office managers are extremely motivated to make their practices successful. They crave the challenge of making ongoing improvements within the practice but often feel their doctors are hesitant to include them in conversations about how to help the business grow. Over time, this leads to office managers feeling the stress of practice management more acutely, which will naturally rub off on both team members and the practice owner.
If this scenario sounds familiar to you, don't fret. I can personally attest to being in this very situation not so long ago. At the risk of sounding like a bad infomercial, I can also tell you it doesn't have to be this way!
These days, I operate as both a guide to the team and as a filter for my doctor. Since I have regular conversations with our practice owner, Dr. Casey Murdock, about what he wants to achieve, he can trust that I am able to implement changes and manage the development of practice team members without his direct oversight. He can focus on making improvements to his clinical work while I focus on changes within the practice that will make that clinical work easier to accomplish.
Together, our complementary skills make us an extremely effective team. But that trust was established through a lot of patience and hard work. Below are some of the strategies that played a crucial role in our success when rolling out initiatives for team alignment at Murdock Family Dentistry. Every practice is different, but these tips will help you pave the way toward true team engagement from the inside out!
Running a successful practice is only possible through collaboration with empowered senior team members – especially when it comes to implementing any practice-wide changes or initiatives. Attempting to unilaterally roll out and manage these changes will result in burnout for the practice owner, poor adoption across the team, or both.
As the practice owner prepares to implement changes within the practice, they can identify a practice team member the entire team respects and trusts to support them. Ideally, this should be someone who works closely with the team day-to-day and understands each team member on a personal level, but also who has seniority within the practice. In many cases this is the office manager, but another team member could be a stronger fit.
Prior to discussing goals with the wider team, the practice owner can set a meeting with this senior team member to discuss the vision for the practice. In this meeting, the practice owner should state their personal goals, as well as practice goals, and make sure this team member can provide feedback on goals specific to the practice team.
These insights may seem comparatively unimportant in the context of wider practice goals, but they will ultimately play a crucial role in achieving true and lasting change within your practice.
As a member, you can use the new personal and practice goals section in your enhanced Spear Online profile as the framework for this discussion. Ask your Customer Success Manager for more details.
Make it personal
Whether we like it or not, it is difficult to be fully committed to something we don't personally connect with – especially when it comes to our work. Anyone who has ever held a less-than-stellar job knows this all too well.
The same goes for dental practice staff. Of course, team members are likely has plenty of pride in their work regardless of their personal connection to the practice vision. But an extra layer of “what's in it for me?” will give any team the development plan it needs to believe in that vision.
If a practice owner wants their team showing up to work with enthusiasm and motivation each day (and I'll venture to say that most do) then it's all about making it personal to them. This is where that key senior team member can help. Team members may feel more comfortable discussing topics like career aspirations and personal goals with this person, as well as more sensitive topics like frustrations or concerns.
Rather than setting a meeting to discuss practice goals as a group, practice owners can allow this senior team member to facilitate this discussion in the way they feel would promote open and honest feedback from the team. This will shed light on where the true issues lie within a practice, as well as what each team member needs to feel motivated and engaged.
Establish a framework (and stick to it)
The insights gathered through the process of discussing goals with the team sets the stage for success – but the real work begins now. This is the most challenging and perhaps most important part of the entire process: Establishing a consistent framework.
The way a practice owner structures their team development plan will depend largely on the resources they plan to use, and the goals they want to achieve. With my practice, the Spear team meetings and role-based courses for practice staff available through our practice's Spear Online membership became the backbone of our development plan, because it allowed us to explore important practice topics in a larger group while also empowering individual team members with role-specific training that matched their personal aspirations.
To create a sense of team ownership and engagement, we also opted to allow our team members to select team meeting topics that were of interest to them while still contributing to larger practice goals. Each month, we would cover a new team meeting topic together, and assign role-based courses to specific team members to complete throughout the month.
There is no one “right way” to structure your team development framework. What is crucial is sticking to it. Whatever cadence you select for scheduling group or individual training time – whether it be weekly, monthly or quarterly; half an hour at a time or three hours at a time – make sure it's something you and your team can stick to regardless of the everyday challenges of running the practice.
This commitment will demonstrate the importance of your team development plan and reinforce the importance of participation for your team members. Plus, it will make the process of giving and receiving feedback with team members easier to navigate since you have demonstrated your continued commitment to their growth.
With these three tips in mind, you'll be able to foster engagement across your practice. But your mindset is most crucial to success.
As a practice owner and clinician, it's that leader who sets the stage for transformation within the practice. Whether the dentist realizes it or not, the team looks to them to determine what matters most in the practice. Exuding enthusiasm about making positive changes in the practice and actively recognizing and rewarding those in the practice for doing the same helps to create a culture of excellence from the inside out.
And if you're a Spear practice like us, you already have all the team training resources you need at your fingertips through Spear Online team meetings, role-based courses and practice team pathways. So, what are you waiting for? Get to work!
The enhanced Spear Online profile allows you to add personal, practice and learning goals for you and your team – and track team engagement with assigned courses and pathways. Visit your Spear Online profile to add your details or contact your Customer Success Manager for more details!