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Recently a friend from my Entrepreneurs Organization network shared the story of the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras. After hearing it, it made me think about the dental industry and how our industry that once felt so bulletproof was somewhat blindsided by the pandemic. 

The Choluteca Bridge is a suspension bridge located in Choluteca, Honduras that was built in 1930 and then rebuilt in 1996 with some of the best bridge architects in the world at the helm. They made it to withstand even the strongest hurricanes.

So in 1998, when category five Hurricane Mitch made landfall, it was put to the test. Not only did it stand its ground, but it came out practically unscathed, while everything else was wiped out. But there was one problem––the storm erosion completely changed the path of the river and it no longer flowed under the bridge. It had moved, making a mockery of the bridge.  

Everything changed on a dime, just like it did in the early months of 2020 when dental offices came to a screeching halt.

Choluteca Bridge

Even the most brilliant designers who anticipated the worst hurricane were shortsighted in being prepared for the conditions under which their bridge would have to exist once it survived.

Much like the bridge, no matter how brilliant, profitable, or advanced your practice was before the pandemic, no one anticipated that even the best practices with strong financial positions would find themselves so disrupted in their care of patients.

When it comes to your people, don’t be caught off guard.

If a strong dental practice is a bridge, then the river, in this case, is its people––especially our teams and those in our employment. Who knew that in spite of having all the best equipment, all the right plans and systems in place, including adequate PPE, that we would find ourselves without the staff to properly serve our clients? A bridge without water serves no purpose. Dental care providers without caregivers suffer similarly.

There is a big shift in the dental labor market now. Scarcity and uncertainty have already left their mark. If we took our team members for granted before, may we never again. For they are the lifeblood of dental practices and a critical connection to patients. But rather than lament what we can’t control, we should look to what we can and use this moment to improve our teams and how we manage them so that we keep the good people we do still have. 

So, what can we do today to retain our teams? 

Here are 5 team retention strategies to consider. 

1. Get to know them better. 

When we know better, we can do better. If you’ve struggled with some of your team members or their choices during the pandemic, it could be because you really didn’t know them well enough before or didn’t understand what they need to feel valued or secure in their work. Get to know them better using our free assessments on Values, Culture, DISC, and Emotional Intelligence tests.

2. Incentivize them.

Make sure your team knows their numbers. Set goals together and track how everyone is doing. The more open you are, the more buy-in everyone has, because they start to understand the business. If your team understands that when you are successful, they will be successful too, you will begin to see productivity increase and turnover decrease. 

3. Be fair.

Make sure everyone is getting paid for the work they do. Some offices attempt to save money by not allowing a clinical team member to clock-in until the first patient arrives, not paying for their set up time or they dock the clinician if a patient on their schedule is a no-show. Their time is valuable and there is an opportunity cost in working with someone who does not pay them for their actual hours worked. They will eventually find an office that will pay them for that time. 

4. Invest in them and they will invest in your practice.

Pay for CEs. It benefits more than just the clinician. Your patients, your team and your practice are better for it. Bonus: you can write it off as a business expense. 

5. Listen to them.

Ask your team members what their dream dental technology is or what their preferred procedures look like and set a goal to try to incorporate that into the practice where it makes sense. You may not be able to incorporate many of them right away or even agree with all of them, but asking is worthwhile. If you are able to implement something from it, it will set the tone that their contribution is valued. Hear people and encourage those who seek to do better work and improve efficiency in providing care. These people are your leaders and the ones who will help you grow. 

You have access to what you need to keep and attract the best dental professionals. 

Between the hard recruitment costs (job ads, lost production revenue), and the soft costs like the time required to search, review, interview and onboard new team members, it can cost a practice upwards of 60% of a team member’s annual salary to replace them when they leave. That’s not even counting the toll it takes on the rest of the team, reducing production and morale. And your patients? Turnover affects them, too.

By setting a tangible goal to take actions that will keep your team happy and productive, you will keep yourself happier and your practice more productive. There has never been a better time to take advantage of the assessment tools DentalPost provides for dental teams. Applying what you learn from them will increase your team retention and make your practice the kind of office where people not only want to stay a long time, but one that will attract more of the best dental professionals in the future. 


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