Are You Doing Enough to Motivate Your Team?

Paul Etchison, DDS


How do you feel when you spend a day with your team? Are you all energized and motivated? Do you have a good time and enjoy helping patients together? Do you all start the day on a high note and end it feeling happy and satisfied? Or do you have days where it feels like everyone is dragging, your team only cares about their paychecks, and doing dental work together is like pulling teeth? 

If you don’t feel like your practice is a great place to work, it’s time to sit down with the person who sets the tone and makes everyone feel appreciated. So, get out that mirror. Because the hard truth is that as the dentist, you are responsible for making the team feel challenged, appreciated, and energized. You can’t outsource leadership, and a key part of leadership is learning how to motivate your staff by “filling buckets.” 

Most People Are Bucket-heads

When my daughter was younger, she was given a book called How Full Is Your Bucket (For Kids) by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer. It explains that everyone has an invisible bucket on their head. Good things fill the bucket with water. Bad things cause water to slosh out. Most people get their buckets filled by compliments, satisfaction from meeting challenges, and little gifts and thoughtful actions. Buckets get emptied by bad luck, harsh words, and the feeling that you don’t matter.

In the practice, you are the main bucket-filler, and often the main bucket-spiller as well. Compliment people when they’ve done a great job, and they glow. Snap at people, even when you’re not angry at them, and watch their bucket empty. When your team’s buckets are overflowing, they fill the buckets of the patients, too. You get the reputation as a fun, people-focused practice. A team with empty buckets passes those bad feelings on, and you’ll get a bad reputation. If you want your practice to thrive, you have got to fill those buckets. But how? 

Filling Buckets: Make a List to Ensure Daily Encouragement

The most effective way to fill your team’s buckets is to catch people doing something good and praise them for it.

“Theresa, I really appreciate how you set that nervous patient at ease.”

“Rita, your op is always so clean! I can tell you care about the health of our patients.”

“Mary, you’re doing a great job using those scheduling techniques from the last staff training. I’m going to send people to you if they need help!”

The problem comes when you’re recognizing your stars (you know who they are) but not the employees who need a little more encouragement to grow and increase their skills. If you find yourself overlooking some of your team members, make a list. Commit to complimenting every person on your team at least once a week, and keep track. If you need to, plan compliments ahead of time so that you’re not at a loss for words. The more you practice praising and encouraging your team, the more natural you’ll get. Cultivate a little cheerleader in the back of your head, and urge your team on to victory! 

Don’t Underestimate the Power of the Occasional Reward

Have you ever noticed that some places don’t pay their employees much, but everyone seems happy and their teams are really loyal? A lot of the time, these small, service oriented businesses keep great staff at low pay by making them feel like family. I’m not suggesting that you pay below market rates, but you can still learn from the used bookstores and clothing boutiques of the world. Being interested in your team’s lives helps fill those buckets.

So, for instance, bring breakfast occasionally. Coffee and bagels will go a long way toward making your team feel loved and appreciated. Give gifts, and make them things they need. I once overheard one of my team members complaining about a broken vacuum one time, so I bought her a new one. She was happy—even happier than she would have been with a random bonus, because my action showed that I cared about her and what she had to say. I was listening. She matters. That filled her bucket.

Remember, your team is essential to your practice. Patients bond with them. They’re the first smiles your patients see when they get to the office, and they do the work that makes it possible for you to do your job. The time, effort, and money you spend to make them feel appreciated is never wasted. Fill those buckets, and you’ll create the sort of practice that is energy giving instead of energy draining.

Dr. Etchison is a practicing dentist in New Lenox, IL. He is also the founder of the Dental Practice Heroes Podcast, author of Dental Practice Hero, and a national speaker. He holds as DDS and a BS in dentistry from the University of Illinois College of Dentistry. In 2013, he was awarded Fellowship into the International Congress of Oral Implantologists. In 2015, he was awarded Fellowship into the Academy of General Dentistry. He is an active board member of the Chicago Chapter of the AGD as well.

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