Practical HR Best Practices for your Practice

I have been working recently alongside our Human Resources Consultant, updating our Associate Handbook to accommodate the seemingly ever-changing provincial employment standards. It has really reinforced for me the importance of having well defined, current policies in place.

The exercise also got me wondering: How many of our dental practice management software users have a handbook for their employees? Regardless of size, every company can benefit from adopting this best practice.

A handbook serves a multitude of purposes, it:

  • Documents your well-thought-out policies that should then be applied to all team members equally.
  • Helps onboard new employees.
  • Serves as a guideline when behaviours need to be addressed and adjusted.
  • Provides a foundation for end-of-employment decisions.
  • Can help demonstrate your commitment to compliance and consistency to government auditors, lawyers, or Human Rights Tribunals.

In the busy day-to-day of a dental practice, HR matters can easily get pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Well-meaning intentions get brushed aside… right up until a significant event brings your policies – or lack thereof – into the spotlight. It’s then that you might regret not having taken action sooner. Here are a few things you can think about now that might spare you the regret. And the grief. And the legal fees. And the fines…

  • The final straw syndrome
    It happens all too frequently. A Manager makes the decision that she can no longer tolerate poor job performance or undesirable behaviour and terminates her employee. After the fact, she learns about the risk of wrongful dismissal.

Precaution: establish and follow a progressive discipline process. Make the employee aware of specific issues and give the employee an opportunity to improve. Follow one verbal notice with at least two written notices.

  • I’ll get to it later…
    It is never easy to have to correct behaviour with reprimands and criticism. What is easier is procrastinating and hoping the situation will improve itself. Chances are good that it will not. After two or three instances, the dates, times and specifics become blurred.

Precaution: Develop an empathetic, professional approach to delivering constructive criticism, and teach it to all supervisory staff. Identify and communicate issues early. People are usually receptive to feedback when it is delivered earnestly and fairly, when it focuses on behaviours rather than attitudes, and when there is benefit to self-improvement. Document your conversations to keep track of details.

  • When NOT to be constructive
    Sometimes, it can be easier for a Manager to avoid confrontation with an underperforming employee by reassigning them to a junior role, significantly changing their role or work conditions, or simply making their life difficult in the hopes that they will resign. In employment law, this is constructive dismissal.

Precaution: Don’t do that.

  • Job creep
    This is a common phenomenon in dental practices: You hire an excellent Office Manager who becomes your go-to person worth their weight in gold. Over time, this person takes on more and more responsibility and an ever-increasing variety of functions, and manages to do it all in a 40-hour workweek. When this employee resigns, the practice cannot expect to fill all the ‘hats’ with one hire.

Precaution: Create clear Job Descriptions for every role in your practice. Do not allow any one person to become indispensable; develop succession plans through effective work distribution and cross training. A smart system of checks and balances also helps mitigate fraudulent activity. This is one objective of a built-on software feature like ABELDent’s Authorization Manager.

  • When is an employee not an employee?
    Engaging Consultants to bring complementary skills, knowledge and talent into your practice is a great way to grow your business. Companies need to be aware, however, of the criteria that differentiate an employee from a contractor. Significant fines apply to an employer – yes, the onus is on the employer – when a misclassification occurs.

Precaution: Consult Canada Revenue Agency for clear definitions. 

  • Too little, too late
    How many employers have regretfully accepted the resignation of a star employee who did not realize how much they were valued, or was unaware that a correction or a promotion was “in the works“?

Precaution: Maintain a connection with each team member. Start today. Whether through annual performance appraisals or informal quarterly chats, enable healthy two-way dialogue.

I apply the advice of our staff HR Consultant in my day-to-day operations and truly champion the foundational philosophies: Hire the right people, focus on the fit. Train and retrain, clearly defining purpose, expectations and performance measurements.

Never underestimate the value of communication in running a business: Praise when earned, thanks when deserved, feedback when warranted. Ask your team for input and ideas, and listen to their perspectives.

If your practice could benefit from more pragmatic advice like this, customized HR solutions and proactive support, give me a call. I know someone who can help!

People management may seem intuitive, but don’t most things with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight?

Bad Press? You’re a Doctor… Spin It!

We often hear that there is no such thing as “bad” press. The fact that someone is talking about you at all is considered a good thing, right? It can place you in the spotlight for a fleeting moment and give you the opportunity to right a wrong. Misfortune may befall, and mistakes will be made. The fallout is usually brief; it’s how you deal with it can help you win friends and influence others.

There have always been forums for patients to voice complaints and, of course, regulatory bodies for serious claims. But in today’s culture of sharing the most mundane of activities and trivial opinions on social media, the exposure is magnified. People are increasingly post-happy, looking to provoke controversy in search of their 15 minutes of fame.

Within this climate, it is only prudent to develop a plan for damage control. Like back-up and recovery of your data in the event of cybercrime or catastrophe, reputation management requires an ounce of prevention.

Essentially, it’s the patient experience itself that becomes your best risk mitigator. One of the wisest things you and your team can do is ask for patient feedback after each appointment. Did we meet your expectations? Is there anything we could improve to make you more satisfied? Especially if your team has tracked the patient’s appointment in your practice management software and has used the information in real time to smooth out any glitches, feedback is valuable.

Post-appointment surveys can be even more effective; they open lines of communication and keep you top-of-mind. They provide an equal opportunity for positive feedback which can be used (with permission) as a testimonial. A survey also opens the door to ask for referrals. The important thing is to ask for feedback and make it easy for your patients to give it.

In the case of a clinical error or unfortunate outcome, you would likely be immediately aware of the situation and able to work with your patient towards resolution. In the case of dissatisfaction with service or other issues, however, you may never have the opportunity for direct communication. And either case could go viral before you even break for lunch.

For a business, receiving a complaint – or worse, reading about one directed at your practice – can be shocking. The natural first reaction is emotional: we get angry, insulted, defensive. Some respond by immediately firing back an angry tweet.

Don’t do that. Instead:

  1. Give it time. In 24 hours, emotions will fade, and you can focus on facts. Make sure that your staff is aware of this advice.
  2. Assemble your facts. If warranted, involve relevant staff. Use your practice management software history for details. Make the exercise about fact-finding, not blame-seeking.
  3. Respond to your challenger using the same channel. Thank the patient for taking the time to communicate. “Your feedback helps us understand and address how patients perceive our service.”
  4. There is usually no need to apologize. “We are sorry you feel that way.” is a good way to validate feelings without accepting fault.
  5. Depending on the patient and the complaint, you might consider inviting the person to contact you directly to offer their perspective for improvement.
  6. Again, depending on the patient and the complaint, a personal phone call might be warranted, instead of or in addition to the above.
  7. Finally, there are situations where you are best advised to simply defer to your lawyer.

It seems unjust that one negative incident can outweigh the scores of positive interactions and examples of exceptional service you provide on a daily basis. Alas, the rule of asymmetrical rewards can apply in dentistry as much as in any customer-facing company.

Here is some food for thought to address the imbalance:

  • It is healthy to acknowledge your feelings. Criticism stings. Any Psychologist – and any mother – will assure you that “Nobody’s perfect” and “You can’t please everybody all of the time”. In fact, the principle of the pratfall effect validates the idea that infallibility is endearing. Flaws can make an individual more likable and less intimidating.
  • You – and your practice – have supporters. In the event of bad press, you may discover loyal patients inspired to voluntarily rally to your defence. I described in a recent post some of the steps you can take to improve your Facebook and social media presence… asking for testimonials is one of them. Let the occasional negative item get lost in a sea of praise. And the more digital presence you create, the more search engine prominence gets placed on space you control.
  • Remember the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy, also known as the Pygmalion effect. It’s helpful to keep this principle in mind so that you – and your staff – do not allow a minor complaint to build out of proportion.
  • Finally, count on the spotlight effect. Although an overblown bad review about a trivial matter can still seem earth shattering, the fact is that in most cases, an isolated bit of bad press is not noticed as much as we think.

I am not a Psychologist, but I am a mother, and I learned from the best. I also found inspiration and data for this post in an article by Rebekah Bernard in Medical Economics, and another by Kevan Lee, Director of Marketing at Buffer. When it comes to the power of positive thinking, I’ll take the half-full glass every time. Cheers!

Are you in the Market for a Dental Practice Business Partner?

I was intrigued by an article I read recently in The Canadian Press about the challenges a small business can face when taking on a business partner. Reading it reminded me that for many of our clients – entrepreneurial dental practice owners – moving from a sole proprietorship to a partnership represents a natural approach to growth.

Small-to-medium business owners can get so caught up in the prospect of infusing their business with investment money, help and expertise that they overlook the due diligence they would normally extend to other types of decisions. They would rarely hire an employee without a formal interview, confirmation of experience and credentials, reference checks, and a fit check… why should a potential partner undergo anything less?

A partner is a much more significant commitment. When a partnership fails, it can be emotionally and financially devastating. It disrupts your business, your staff, your patients, and could harm your reputation. Financial wrangling can lead to complete fallout and business closure. It can deliver some very hard lessons and a blow to entrepreneurial spirit. In short, it’s wise to consult with an experienced dental practice broker who knows about the issues specific to dentistry that a general business partnership advisor may not be cognizant of.

Joyce M. Rosenberg, Business Writer for the Associated Press, in her article on this topic, stresses the importance of professional financial advice and legal counsel in drawing up a partnership agreement.

Along with explicit financial and legal understanding, it is important to examine:

  • Goals and vision for the business. Are you in agreement about short- and long-term goals?
  • Roles and responsibilities. How will work be divided and shared? Are your clinical interests complementary, or is there potential for conflict?
  • Fit. Do you complement each other in your working style? Will there be a good fit with existing staff? Do you share values and purpose?
  • Work ethic. What expectations exist regarding hours of work, amount of work, pace of work, quality of work?
  • Service philosophy. Do you share patient treatment and service standards?
  • Growth plans. Are you in agreement regarding reinvestment versus payout?
  • Conflict. Can you establish today how eventual conflict will be handled and resolved? Can you agree to recognize and confront the signs that the partnership may no longer be working?

Partners do not need to be clones of each other; different perspectives and constructive challenge are healthy in every business. But they do need to be able to communicate. They need to understand what their strengths, weakness and differences are in order to plan effectively and work through obstacles as they arise. They need to trust each other.

I often hear the comment that we spend more time with a business partner than with a life partner. Shouldn’t we exert the same degree of effort in choosing one?