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The Eleven Essentials of Effective Staff Meetings, Part 2: Getting it Together in the Name of Customer Service
Written by Alan J. Goldstein, DMD Wednesday, 01 September 2004 00:00
his article is part 2 of a 3-part series that describes the Essentials of effective staff meetings, their ground rules and their structure. These Essentials were inspired by inquiries from colleagues who asked how we keep our meetings on track and productive. We don’t offer our technique as the only way, just our way. Part 3 in this series will tell what actually happens in our meetings, the nitty-gritty. Lest the reader think that everyone on staff follows the rules all time, let me disclaim that notion. We break the rules because we are not perfect, and then we work on our imperfections. We strive to be better. Isn’t that how it should go in the real world? We feel we have created a regular, professional context to work on our imperfections, and that is pretty neat!
“You know what’s wrong in America—I mean maybe it’s wrong all over the world, but I can’t speak for Buenos Aires or Tel Aviv or Cairo—but here in America what’s wrong is customer service. Every place I go I’m shocked by how inattentive workers are to customers, and yes, it’s easy to call the workers lazy, unfocused, or even worse (in my day we really knew how to work!), but the real fault lies at the top. It has to start with the lack of training, because despite fancy-sounding Mission and Vision Statements and Strategic Plans, there’s a real disconnect between the written word and what actually happens, between the high-sounding words and the behavior of the bosses. Are folks told not to chew gum or not to take personal calls? Are they taught the proper language and tone to use or how to be polite and how to dress? Skin and sexy are in fashion these days, but are they appropriate for business? Hardly. And what is more important, do the workers know why these behaviors convey the right or wrong message to customers? I’d bet they’re not trained. I wish the bosses knew, really knew, how all of these little things say, “We care” or “We are indifferent” ... “Customer service is what we live for” or “Customer service is just not our thing.” Imagine how much good will, how much business and market share, and how much money is lost by inattentiveness!
THE ELEVEN ESSENTIALS OF EFFECTIVE STAFF MEETINGS
(2) No Interruptions
(3) No Titles, No Privileges
(4)No Hanging Back,
(5) Written Agenda
(6) Issues and Good Stuff
(7) No Defensiveness Permit-ted
(8) Support the Facilitator
(9) Leadership Training: An Ongoing Task
(10)Teach Communication Skills
(11) Encourage Humor
Essential 1: Punctuality
We place this Essential first because without it we simply cannot achieve the primary goal of providing oral healthcare that respects both our patients and ourselves. It is also placed first because while this seems the easiest Essential to master, so many doctors and staff just don’t seem to get it. This continues to surprise me. We all know how devalued and disrespected we feel when we’re kept waiting at the post office or the bank, yet we have a hard time really appreciating how our patients feel when we disrespect them the same way. In our Staff Meetings we practice collective punctuality. As Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” I would add the words on time to that statement and up the percentage to ninety.
Essential 2: No Interruptions
Common sense, right? It would seem so, but so often interruptions are tolerated, focus is lost, and people wonder why Staff Meetings aren’t productive. During our Staff Meet-ings, we activate our answering service and instruct it to say, “Dr. Goldstein and staff are in a Staff Meeting and will return all calls at 3 PM.” A message like this lets your staff know you are serious about the meetings and will not permit interruptions. (And by the way, we do not eat or drink at these meetings. After all, eating and drinking are a form of interruption, and as harsh as this may sound, it reinforces the notion that the Staff Meet-ing is a work hour.) Second, the message conveys our organizational seriousness to our patients. “Wow,” they might think, “that’s an interesting activity for a dental office. Only the best organizations have regular Staff Meetings, and it’s pretty impressive that my dental office does, too.” (Please notice I am using the pronoun my, for it is exactly that sense of ownership and belonging we seek to promote.)
Essential 3: No Titles, No Privileges
This Essential, perhaps more than any of the others, says that the office leader is prepared to give up the command-and-control leadership model and become a coach, a nurturer, and a far more sensitive and powerful leader than is possible when barking orders is the only modality of communication. That is the challenge of this Essential—and it is indeed a major challenge, particularly for the doctor.
Essential 4: No Hanging Back, No Monopolizing
This feature of the staff meeting is directly related to the skill of the facilitator. (At the early stages of this process, this will likely be the doctor, but as soon as possible the role needs to be shared among all of the staff.) The facilitator has the authority to insist that participation is mandatory, that everyone needs to work as hard during the meeting as they do during the rest of the day (different work, to be sure, but work nevertheless). The central concept is a staff fully and equally engaged in the work of the office. (By the way, it is important to go back to Essential 3 to realize the importance of an egalitarian structure. When rank and privilege exist during the meeting, the ability of the staff to be open and honest is severely restricted.)
Essential 5: Written Agenda
Someone other than the facilitator should be designated to keep a written agenda and take occasional notes. These notes and agendas provide the history of the process and can be referred to as needed. (They can also serve as the written history of the practice, for those of you who have memoir writing in mind.) Recently, we have also found it helpful for the facilitator to summarize the work done and the decisions made during the meeting. This process of summarizing is not an easy skill to learn, but over time it will support focused listening and improve effective follow-through.
So there you have them: our first 5 Essentials: (1) Punctuality; (2) No Interruptions; (3) No Titles, No Privileges; (4) No Hanging Back, No Monopolizing; and (5) A Written Agenda. Meetings, even the best intentioned of them, need structure, and we are confident that if you adopt these rules, or some reasonable facsimile, you will see great improvement in both staff and patient relationships. In my next article, the remaining 6 Essentials will be discussed, including how we put the Essentials to effective use.
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