Over the last few years, I’ve had many conversations with dentists who complain that they can’t find well-trained team members for their practice. They believe that hiring skilled dental staff members is harder than ever before. While I agree with this assessment, I wonder if this is a new phenomenon—or if we’ve simply never gotten it right.
Dentistry Is a Complex Business
Our field has become dramatically more complex over the last 20 years. In order to work with the many new technologies, a dental assistant today has to have much more knowledge than in the past. The same is true for administrative staff. They deal with numerous insurance companies that all have different rules, regulations and policies… with a range of payment options, including patient financing… and with ever-changing software and communication systems.
Unfortunately, I’ve observed significant issues with training for both leaders and teams during the last 10 years, due mainly to the fact that it hasn’t kept pace with the increased complexity of dental offices. Many practice owners have no choice but to hire untrained team members, yet they have no proper training program in place. The new hires get little more than on-the-job training. Doctors and their teams do the best they can, but it’s not good enough.
Training the Dental Team
An untrained or poorly trained team member can’t get as much done quickly and correctly, which creates a higher level of stress in the office. Having to cope with this stress and to sometimes take on extra work personally, doctors and other staff members experience a breakdown in team dynamics. In the past, this wouldn’t have occurred simply because it was easier for dental practices to succeed. There was less pressure to perform efficiently.
Today, staff members aren’t receiving adequate training for several reasons:
- Dentists don’t make good trainers. You can’t train team members effectively if you haven’t mastered training techniques, don’t have the necessary training materials, and can’t put in the time needed for mentoring, coaching, and following up with team members who are attempting to learn a job.
- Many dental office managers lack training experience, too. These key staff members are similarly unprepared to serve as a trainer in most cases. They are often dedicated team members who have displayed competence and loyalty and eventually are moved into the office manager position. Lacking prior management experience, they’re not trained in areas such as educating staff, setting targets, designing management systems, reinforcing proper behavior by team members, or resolving conflicts.
- Many doctors seem to think that repeating directions over and over amounts to training. Unfortunately, initial training for new team members is often little more than catching people when they do something wrong and correcting them. Frustrating for both doctors and team members, this rarely results in effective training or an understanding of the job.
- Practices take a haphazard approach to staff education. Seminars, workshops, and other educational offerings from dental organizations may be excellent for doctors but not of much value for staff. Each team member needs a training program that addresses specific responsibilities that lead to improved performance.
- Dentists aren’t trained in the appropriate leadership skills. As team leaders, practice owners must learn how to inspire and guide their teams toward success. For example, many dentists have performance reviews with team members, but they don’t include a discussion of short-range and long-range training plans to provide the skills and knowledge staff members need.
Systems Make the Difference
The solution to this training dilemma begins with implementing efficient, well-designed management systems. This is done by every successful retail chain on the planet. It’s the only way they can reproduce excellence in franchise after franchise. The systems themselves determine the results. Simply require that team members follow the systems, and train them in how to do it, and achieve the desired end results.
While some management literature urges businesses to encourage employees to think outside the box, that only works if they’ve already been trained in the basics. By definition, systems cover those basics, step by step. Training on the systems, including scripts to guide all interactions with patients, can turn virtually any novice into an outstanding performer for the practice.
We’ve seen this systems-based approach work quite well in all types of practices. The levels of stress and frustration for our clients fall dramatically. Team members become empowered as their performance steadily improves. And, of course, the practices thrive, with growing production, profitability and income.
Roger P. Levin, DDS, is a third-generation general dentist and the founder and CEO of Levin Group, Inc., the premier dental management and marketing consulting firm in North America. As a leading authority on dental practice management and marketing, Dr. Levin has developed the scientific systems-based consulting method that increases practice production and profitability, while lowering stress. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.