The Truth About Staff Training
Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA
Dental teams often work on tight schedules in a busy work environment. At times, simply staying on schedule while providing quality care to patients is a challenge. In most instances, new team members are filling an existing void in the dental team. This requires them to go to work immediately, regardless of their skill set or knowledge level. In lieu of staff training programs, practices hire the best staff members they can find and hope they can learn fast. This fast-paced, “hire-and-learn” style of employing new team members is becoming more common because many dental practices do not have the proper systems in place to effectively train new staff members.
The national average cost in lost production due to turnover of a dental assistant is $27,000, and replacement of an experienced front desk coordinator generally results in a $35,000 loss. This type of loss in production is incurred each time the practice loses a team member. Considering the fact that the average national staff turnover in dentistry is 3.5 years, one can begin to understand the devastating impact on practice profitability.
The negative impact of staff turnover is not limited to practice profitability. Every time a team member leaves, the practice loses a significant knowledge base. This affects both practice efficiencies and patient care. The team loses significant knowledge and expertise, causing the practice to spend valuable time and effort “reinventing the wheel”. Creating comprehensive step-by-step business systems will minimize the negative impact of staff turnover.
Why Create Systems?
In America, jobs and skill sets are changing so fast that new job training is required every three years. Simply look at the explosion of products, technologies, and materials in dentistry. Manufacturers are providing dentists with outstanding advances, but successfully implementing these into the practice requires a well-trained, up-to-date team.
While there certainly are well-trained staff members in practices, it is becoming more difficult to hire experienced individuals. Creating detailed training systems can alleviate this problem; however, the reality is that most dental practices do not have these systems in place. The on-the-job training that team members receive is not preparing them to effectively incorporate dental advancements into the practice.
The right systems will quickly help individuals understand the responsibilities and accountabilities of their jobs. As one dentist noted, “I didn’t know what good team members were.” This particular dentist was settling for a team that was merely coming to work every day and doing what they could rather than a team that possessed the proper knowledge and skills to help the practice grow.
Once that same team was familiarized with step-by-step systems that included scripts for key tasks performed by the group, the practice grew by more than 31% in less than 12 months. More importantly, the clinician felt a tremendous decrease in his day-to-day stress, and the staff appreciated the empowerment and reported high job satisfaction. The new systems allowed the staff to literally take over the practice with full accountability, and the practitioner was able to install a “checks and balances” system to monitor quality, performance, and operations.
Developing and Implementing the Right Systems
In most cases, when anything goes wrong in a practice, dentists tend to blame their staff. They often think, “If only they would do their jobs, I wouldn’t have these problems.” What dentists do not realize is that most of their team members do not know what their jobs are. In fact, most offices do not have written job descriptions. The author suggests the following steps to build an outstanding team.
Clinicians who believe that they do not have time to create systems are fooling themselves. In reality, these clinicians are paying the price for not having effective systems in higher overhead, more stress, staff turnover, and lower profit margins. However, if the time is taken to create systems, these practitioners can empower their teams to operate the practices effectively and achieve both production and profit goals.
Believe it or not, there are dentists who go to work every day, see patients, go home, and worry about nothing except spending time with their families. It can be both fun and profitable to practice dentistry by enjoying every day in the office. Establishing step-by-step guidelines for every operation in the practice is the first place to start when creating systems. From scheduling to tray setup, it is important for your staff to know exactly what to do. It is also essential that your practice provide scripting to train your team on verbal skills to carry out the systems properly.
Once the systems are in place, the next step is training. If the systems have been written out in a step-by-step manner with accompanying scripts, then team members will be able to follow these systems on their own. This is greatly beneficial to new team members and team members without an extensive dental background. It also establishes a level of responsibility and accountability when combined with job descriptions for each team position.
The need for training never ends. If staff turnover occurs, practice systems make it less costly and easier to train new individuals without losing all of your accumulated knowledge. Likewise, systems and staff training allow the practice to successfully incorporate new technologies and procedures into the systems.
Finding the Right People
People are essential to the success of your practice. Dentists come to believe that if they create nice relationships with their team the staff will “get it”. Yet, they will not get it until the proper systems have been developed and training implemented.
Systems must first be developed and incorporated, and the staff must then be trained. Then, the team members should be assessed to determine how they are progressing in their jobs. Please not that it is unfair to assess team members’ performances without any systems or training in place because the proper tools have not been provided to allow these staff members to reach their potentials.
In most cases, dental team members are more than capable of doing their jobs well once they have been introduced to systems and trained in those systems. On the other hand, extensive staff turnover has also occurred when dentists believe that their team members were not capable of doing a good job. The practitioner simply did not realize that the team members were simply untrained.
The cost of staff turnover is substantial. While dentists may or may not be able to minimize turnover, they can decrease the cost of lost production. The only way to do this is by putting systems in place to properly train new team members. The stress and strain of practicing every day with a dental team that is not highly trained and reaching their potential fall on the dentist. This frustration can fade by creating a practice that allows the team to run the day-to-day operations and permits the doctor to simply practice dentistry.
*Founder and CEO, Levin Group, Baltimore, Maryland.