Ten Tips for Improving Your Leadership and Reducing Employee Turnover

Mike DeVries


On paper, the dental office can appear simple and straightforward. But when employees are added and a team is formed, the day-to-day working environment can get complicated—at times, very complicated.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins says a great vision without great people is irrelevant. You might have the perfect blueprint for your office with the right business goals and benchmarks, but if the right people aren’t on your team, your vision will not become a reality. You will never attain your goals. You might have an average practice, but not the practice of your dreams.

So, what should you do if the front door of your office has become a turnstile? Or your staff problems are causing you daily stress? What steps are needed to turn around and get the right people on your team? You should consider several tactics, and they all start with an investment in you. 

Leadership: Study It and Consume It

As the leader of your office, your employees will look to you for direction. Businessman Harold S. Geneen once said that leadership can’t really be taught,; it can only be learned. 

Managing a team isn’t about telling your employees what to do or how they should act. They will look to you to set the example. Over the past 30 years working with dental practices, whenever I found a team that wasn’t working well together or where turnover was excessive, I typically found a doctor who was lacking leadership skills.

Do you provide a safe environment for your employees to ask questions? Express ideas? Talk openly about their concerns? If you aren’t sure, ask or survey your employees. Teams that are under great leadership are willing to share and do what is best for the business rather than being worried about what the doctor will think of them for sharing the truth.

Leadership is about vision, for sure. But a leader also needs to create an atmosphere of trust where truth is heard and positive change is set into motion. It’s the difference between teams who merely work together and those who provide the secret sauce of patient satisfaction. If your ultimate focus is on what is best for the patient, you will be doing what is best for your business. 

Top 10 Tips 

Employees who leave their employer within their first 90 days often go because they simply give up on the doctor. Turnover of staff is not only stressful, it’s expensive. Keeping your employees working as a team and cultivating loyalty is crucial to maintaining a smooth-running office. You can improve the culture of your team and practice great leadership with these 10 suggestions: 

1. Recognition: Tell your employees that you appreciate them. Address them by name and thank them.

2. Equip your team: Provide the tools and equipment they need to do their jobs with excellence. Let employees know you desire success for them in their careers. Ask them what they could use to do their jobs better and make your office a great place to work. For example, provide loupes for your hygienist.

3. Praise: Acknowledge employees’ achievements in front of their peers. In the past, I have provided awards and dinners for special achievements. The tax code allows employers to provide non-taxable award programs that you can implement in your office. Or, a simple word of praise can go a long way. 

4. Purpose: Communicate your vision for your practice. Let your employees know your “why,” the original reason that you went into business. With an understanding of this purpose, the members of your team will be more motivated in their individual tasks.

5. Meaningful work: Eliminate “busy work” and maximize your employees’ effectiveness. This may call for looking beyond the way things have always been done and implementing change.

6. Decision autonomy: Teach customer service and give authority to your employees. Allow your team the opportunity to resolve office problems independently, but also request that they keep you informed of their decisions. This will provide you with the opportunity to provide additional training, if necessary 

7. Participation: Encourage your team to express their opinions during staff meetings. You might be surprised by the creativity and resourcefulness of your employees when you ask them for ways in which you could improve your business. Keep in mind, though, that there is a difference between “having your say” and having the opportunity to be heard. Great leaders provide the latter.

8. Flexibility: Give consideration to creative scheduling and job sharing. For example, have a staff member come in at noon and stay later into the evening so that another member might be able to leave the office on time.

9. Diverse expertise: Through effective training and detailed job descriptions, your team members should know what is expected of them in their positions. Go an extra step and let your team members know their professional growth is important to you. Request that they share their knowledge across positions so all of your team members can learn skills beyond their assigned job.

10. Measure progress: Establish team goals or benchmarks that can be measured each month, quarter, or annually that support the alignment of expected behavior. For example, track the number of specific procedures completed that supports your standard of care. But, don’t get too caught up in the numbers. Work at coaching your team for the purpose of mobilizing the entire organization toward excellence. 

Most dental office employees want to feel like they are a part of something worthwhile. You have the ability to foster a collaborative culture in your practice and create great working relationships. Caring enough to make a difference in your leadership is a key component for managing people, reducing job-related stress, increasing employee loyalty, and reducing turnover.

In the event that an employee is still not a fit for your practice, it can cause discomfort for everyone involved. Support your team by addressing the situation in a straightforward and timely fashion. Learning how to take appropriate action in terminating employees or supporting their decision to quit is in the best interest of your business and theirs. 

In my next article, I will address best practices for terminating employees to avoid a possible wrongful discharge issue. Stay tuned for its release next month.

Mr. DeVries is a Certified Financial Planner, an enrolled agent, and a Certified Healthcare Business Consultant focusing on helping healthcare professionals mind their own businesses. He is a partner in the CPA firm of VanderLugt, Mulder, DeVries, and Elders and a member of the National Society of Certified Business Consultants (NSCHBC). For more information or resources, visit mikeldevries.com. He can be reached at mike@vmde.com.

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