Do you envy those practices that seem to have a dynamic dental team that actually enjoys spending time with each other? Do you feel like you struggle to find, recruit, and keep team members? 

This is something that as dentists, we can struggle a lot with. In dental school, we studied our butts off learning some of the most intensive and technical subjects out there. But one thing we weren’t exposed to as much is hiring, training, and leading a team.

It’s a real shame because this is something we spend a good portion of our time and mental energy on. Instead of treating patients (and making more money) we have to do all of the behind the scenes work of finding the right team member. There are no headhunters. Then there’s the non-stop work of training and coaching them for the first 90 days. Only at this point do we know whether they are the right fit.

Wouldn’t it be great if they started teaching leadership courses in school? I think so. For now, though, it’s on us to figure all of this out and develop the necessary leadership skills on our own. 

In this blog post, I’m going to share my top five secrets for building a dream dental team. These are the things that work for me and I am hoping these secrets will save you some major headaches and regrets!

Secret #1 – The Hiring Process: Knowing What to Look For

Of course, building your dream dental team starts with the hiring process. Trust me, this isn’t for the faint of heart. Whether you live in a big city or a small town, you’re going to have your own unique set of challenges to contend with and unfortunately, it’s not the most fun thing in the world. 

My practice is based out of Chicago, which means I have a large pool of potential candidates to choose from, but there’s also a ton of competition and there’s an expectation of a competitive salary right out of the gate. If you live in a small town, it might be really hard to find someone you mesh with and who has the skills to do the job well. 

Surprisingly, I have had a lot of luck with two very different platforms: Craigslist and Honeybook. Craigslist, as you know, is great for finding a used bicycle but if you’re lucky, it can also be a great place to find your next team member. Honeybook is a tool for creative entrepreneurs to network and post opportunities. I have found some of my more right-brained team members on this platform and it has worked out phenomenally! I have also found and trained a long term team member using Care.com. LinkedIn and Dental Post are to others I have used. And a recent hack? I hopped on Sitter City as there are a lot of child care providers babysitting while searching for their next big life move in a career. They don’t know what that is so let us help them. 

I have a copywriter who I hire to write my job ads, and I’ve included some of the templates that we use so you can tweak them and use them for your own practice!

Here are some of the things I look for when I start to receive responses from the job ads I post:

First and foremost a cover letter with the resume! This speaks volumes to me about the candidate. If they can’t take the extra step to create a polished introduction, are they really going to be a good fit for your brand?

Second, spelling! I can not believe how many responses I get that look like this, “ Hey, i am so happy u are hiring”. UGH. I immediately toss these in the “trash” because there’s no point in pursuing a candidate who can’t be bothered to use professional language.

Thirdly, experience. It doesn’t have to be a one for one but I need to see that there’s potential there. I am willing to train the right person! I always always always stalk them on social media. Even though you may not want to do this you just have to these days. It is SO telling! Go down the rabbit hole! It will be worth it!

We have actually started doing ZOOM interviews first. You can tell a lot about the candidate here and determine if you want to take the time to meet them in person. Our time is valuable.  After meeting them in person for an interview, I invite them in for a working interview. Then, I like to wait a few days to really mull over the decision. Someone might click really well with me but that doesn’t always mean they’re the best person for the job.

I want to make sure I don’t make a decision based on personal affinity for the applicant. I want to take a few days to really reflect on whether they’d be a good fit for the brand and whether I think they have the skills (or the potential) to perform the necessary tasks.

It’s important to remember that not everyone is going to come in knowing everything you need them to know. They might not know about all of your technology, services, or unique approaches to dentistry, but if they show signs of being easily trainable and savvy, I think it’s totally fine to hire them anyway! I have done that several times, and it’s been just fine! To me, it’s more about how quick of a learner they seem to be, what experience they do have (even if it’s not a one for one) and more than anything, their personality, passion and drive!

We all have crazy stories here. I really could write a book on them! My best advice is even though I am a “follow your gut” kinda girl, DO NOT do this here. TAKE YOUR TIME.

Secret #2 – My Five Day Onboarding Process

Now that you have a new team member hired, it’s time to onboard them. Hopefully you have a process in place to do this, but if you don’t or you’re just starting your practice, here’s a great timeline to follow:

Day 1

Give them a tour and introduce them to the team. Give them your playbook (more on that later) and give them 45-60 minutes to review it and come up with any questions. Take them out for a one-on-one lunch and answer any questions they might have. This also starts the culture off strong providing an opportunity to get to know them better! Lay out early expectations for them for the week so they know what to expect and what’s expected of them. This is huge! Spend the rest of the day training or letting them shadow someone who is performing the same tasks they’ll perform. 

At the end of the day, I like to ask new team members to take a moment to reflect! I ask them to come up with one “A-HA” moment, and I ask them to share the most exciting part of their day! Then we talk about goals. 

Days 2, 3, and 4

Meet with them in the morning and ask them how their first day went. Make sure you answer any questions, and then give them a short task list for the day. Try to balance their day with tangible things to do and job shadowing or training time. 

Day 5

Have a little morning celebration with the whole crew! Bring in some doughnuts and coffee and celebrate your new team member’s first official week on the team. After the meeting, sit down with them for 15-20 minutes and go through any questions they have about the playbook, expectations, or processes. Check in to see which tasks they feel comfortable handling on their own next week and which tasks they’d like more help on. Make them feel safe and heard during this time. The rest of the day can be spent on training and other tasks. 

Trust me, this extra one on one time each day (even if it’s just 15 minutes) is going to be huge when it comes to making sure your new hire feels at home. You don’t want to just throw them into the middle of a busy workday with all new co-workers and no safety net. Make sure they know you’re there for them, and encourage them to try things, even if they fail the first few times. It’s how you learn!

Secret #3 – Dynamic Dental Team Meetings

You should be having regular meetings with your entire team on a routine basis. Keeping your team engaged at all times is key to reducing turnover and delivering an amazing patient experience.

Did you know that companies with engaged team members see 233% greater loyalty with their customers (or patients) and a 26% greater annual increase in revenue? It’s definitely in your best interest to find out how your team feels most connected and inspired by you.

Personally, I have short meetings with my team every single morning that my practice is open. We usually start by sharing a motivational quote (I also share the quotes on office Insta stories!) and then we’ll go over what’s on the schedule for the day and review routing slips for each person.

If there’s anything we need to talk about as a team (for example, if something didn’t go quite right or we received a really great positive review from a patient) we’ll do it then. This allows us to deal with any issues and move on quickly. These meetings only take about 15 minutes tops (I have a small team), but they’re so effective when it comes to keeping everyone on task and abreast of what’s happening. 

We use Dental Intelligence software for metrics and they have a Morning Minute video which is super positive and a great addition to your morning huddle. This is also an amazing time to take a BTS photo for your social platforms! Caption the photo with something like “starting our day off together” or “getting geared up for a fantastic day of pampering our patients!” You can check out the Sugar Fix Dental Loft instagram page to see the kinds of photos and captions we like to share from our morning meetings!

You may find that weekly meetings work better for your team and schedule. That’s great; I think you need to do what works best for your practice.

I just recommend that you don’t wait much longer than a week to have a quick meeting with your team. It’s always better to have a meeting that’s super short than wait a month until you have more to discuss. If you wait too long to address issues in the office, they could either fester and become worse, or you might lose the opportunity to hop on a timely teachable moment with your team.

#4 – An Evaluation System That WORKS

One of the more common questions I get from other dentists about managing a team has to do with evaluations. How often do you do them, what do they look like, and how in the heck do you effectively deal with a performance or behavior issue with a team member?

Ugh I know, these things are NOT fun to deal with but you have to. These kinds of things can really take on a life of their own and spread throughout the team. I’ve seen it happen and it’s not pretty. A great team can go downhill fast if there’s a toxic personality in the office.

Having regular evaluations with your team not only gives you a chance to address things quickly, it also helps you create an open relationship with each member of your team. It gives you a chance to evaluate them on their skills and their contribution to your practice and its culture, and the value-add level they’re at (which you should have outlined during the recruitment and onboarding process).

Aside from these tangible objectives, I believe regular evaluations also make it easier for team members to bring issues to you and it also makes it easier for you to address those sometimes not-so-fun things with them in a way that they’ll be receptive to.

Employee evaluations usually take place on an annual basis after a 30/60/90. It’s also the same time you would generally award any promotions and/or raises. You should NOT try to reflect on their entire year the night before the evaluation. Develop a system that works for you to take notes throughout the year so you can make very specific points during the evaluation and have an evaluation form that is clear and easy to go through with your team members. 

No matter how difficult, you absolutely need to be honest and direct during the evaluation. Tell them what you think they’re doing well and tell them what you’d like to see them improve on, and make sure they know the exact time frame you expect to see improvement. 

If they ask you for something you can’t deliver, be honest. Don’t make false promises. This is the fastest way to create a toxic work environment because you better believe they’re going to start talking about it to other team members. If you don’t know something, tell them you don’t know and give them a time frame of when you’re going to follow up with the answer. Then stick to it. Make sure your team members can ALWAYS trust you to keep your word!

Secret #5 – Celebrate Both Successes AND Failures

Celebrating success is another way of saying “thank you for your hard work” and that is SO important to your team members. A recent survey showed that 70% of team members think motivation and morale would improve massively if their bosses just said “thank you” more often. It’s a pretty easy thing to do, but it does take a little bit of intentional action.

I like to think that I am the queen of celebrations. I always have a fridge full of champagne so I can celebrate anything at any time. Heck, sometimes the fact that we made it through a tough week is a good enough reason to have a team toast on a Friday afternoon. 

However, it’s equally important to celebrate failures. Of course, I’m not popping champagne when someone makes a mistake. So what do I mean by that? I just mean that it’s important to reframe mistakes when they happen, in your own head and out loud with the team member.

First, take a moment to reflect on how this happened. Was there a training gap, a miscommunication, or was the team member simply not focused enough? Now flip this and look for the opportunity. Additional training means a more autonomous team member. Closing a communication gap that exists means a chance to build a stronger team. Working on increasing focus means a second chance to get things right. 

Then, sit down with the team member and have an open discussion about the issue. Share with them how you think you can move forward together to correct the issue and give them some very defined expectations. Keep it positive, but let them know you’re hoping to use this opportunity to grow stronger. 

When you deal with failures in a constructive way, it shows your team that you’re human. It makes them feel comfortable bringing mistakes to your attention so they can own them and move on. You never want to create an environment where someone is afraid of what you’re going to do or say. Just like any relationship, they want to feel safe around you and they want the environment to be predictable! 

So, while you’re not throwing a party every time someone makes a mistake, you’re still celebrating it as an opportunity to reset expectations and work through it together. Your team will be more eager to improve than afraid of making mistakes. This is HUGE. Oh, and don’t forget to have fun on holidays and birthdays, too!

Final Thoughts…

The number one tool I use and that I see successful dentists using to manage and inspire their team is the Team Playbook. If you don’t have one, you have to get one. This is a branded book that you give to all new hires. It outlines everything that will happen in the first 30/60/90 days of their employment. 

The playbook also lists out all of the items they’re going to be trained on throughout that time period, so they know what to expect and what’s expected of them. It lists out all of the equipment that they need to learn how to use, all of the tasks in their job description, and which categories will appear on their annual evaluation. 

The “Setting the Office Up For Success” section contains checklists of items that need to be done routinely both in the morning and in the evening. They can check off which items got done on which day so you can make sure everything is taken care of to your standards.

The Playbook also has sections for you to outline your expectations for phone call etiquette, in-person patient experience, the check in and check out process, end of day reports, dental tray set-ups for all of your most common procedures, common dental codes, and other important tasks they’ll be performing on a regular basis. 

Finally, there’s a questionnaire for them to fill out so you can see what they hope to bring to your team, what their goals are, and why they chose to work for you and your brand. 

If I didn’t have this playbook, I know the process would be scatterbrained and things would definitely fall through the cracks. It has been a lifesaver and I think every practice should have their own version of it to give to every new hire.

Shameless plug, but this playbook is one of the bonus items that you’ll get when you join my Dental Branding Bootcamp. You’ll get access to an editable file that you can quickly customize so that it’s on brand for your practice, then you can print it out and put it in a binder whenever you hire someone new!

The Dental Branding Bootcamp is full of amazing resources like this, so if you haven’t joined us yet, I highly recommend doing so. You’ll get so many shortcuts, and as a dentist, you know how valuable your time is. Well, that’s about it. If you have any questions for me about how I hire, onboard, train, and inspire my own team, feel free to connect with me! Instagram is my favorite place to hang out, so shoot me a DM over there @drjessicaemery! I hope this blog post has given you a lot to think about and that you’ll consider joining the Bootcamp!

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