Over the past 35 of my business life, I’ve seen many different approaches to team-building. In our own business we refined the process to a very simple philosophy, which I call the Three R’s, which are Retrain, Repurpose or Replace.
We have over 250 team members at 1-800-DENTIST, and many different skill sets and levels of income, but this approach works throughout the company. I’ll explain them each in detail.
The first step for us when hiring someone is to make sure that they are a cultural fit for the company. Once we determine that, and believe that they can do the job, then they are hired. We then monitor them throughout their career, coaching them, evaluating them and giving them feedback. Sometimes you get an employee that is a terrific cultural fit, but they are missing some key skills, or they have let some bad habits slip into their workday. That’s where retraining comes in.
A typical example would be an operator in the call center, who is a great employee, liked by everyone, and has been doing a great job for years. And then suddenly his productivity falls off. Since we record all their calls, we can listen to see where that team member might have drifted from his training. This is when you put them through retraining, refreshing their skills and reminding them of the fundamentals of their job. And usually within a week that team member is right back to her old level of productivity.
The same thing can happen with a salesperson, or a customer service team member. Over time it’s easy to drift from the essential behaviors, skills and verbiage that work best, and eventually it shows up in productivity. The manager’s responsibility is to observe this and put the person through retraining as quickly as possible.
Also, to really grow employees, you and the individual team members need to be willing to look at their gaps in skills, and offer them the opportunity to close those gaps with education. Retraining then means “more training,” to broaden their skill set and make it possible for them to keep up with the changes in the marketplace as well as develop the skills to advance.
In a dental practice, this could mean regular seminars to maintain peak team performance, reminding your team members of the importance of fundamental skills and introducing them to new ones. Or it could mean that the practice has added CEREC, and the assistant needs to learn how to do as much as possible with the new technology, and how to talk about it to the patients.
Sometimes you find a team member that is an excellent cultural fit for the business, and is a diligent worker with a positive attitude, but they are just not thriving in the position they were hired for. No matter how much retraining or coaching you do, they remain a “B” player, so to speak. What we do then is try to determine if they would fit better somewhere else in the organization.
Why do we do this? Because great people are hard to find. And experience has taught us that most people want to do a great job, but are just better at some activities than others. We have repurposed employees hundreds of times over 30 years. Let’s say someone on the sales team really believes in the product, but just can’t seem to consistently sell month after month. We’ll might then try them out in the customer service department, and suddenly they excel at their new job.
We’ve also graduated many people to higher positions. This is another part of repurposing. Some team members may be slipping into lower performance because the job is not challenging enough, and they are not working to their full potential. At that point, their manager could realize their capabilities, and promote them, or another manager could “steal” an employee for her department, when he believes the person is a great fit and would excel in the new role.
Now you may be saying, “Fred, this doesn’t work in a dental practice. You can’t repurpose a hygienist for example.” Really? Maybe she would be a much better treatment coordinator. Or maybe she’s just bored, and if you assigned her the social media responsibility as part of her job she would get jazzed about coming to work every day, and take on an important role. You can even repurpose the dentist. Maybe he or she is not great at case presentation, and is never going to be, despite retraining. Time for that treatment coordinator role again. Do you start to see the possibilities?
It’s expensive to find new employees, and it’s expensive to train those employees until they get up to speed in their position. But sometimes that person has got to go. Short of some sort of misconduct, this is our last resort. But we’re not afraid to pull the trigger. If they can’t be retrained and there isn’t a better position in the company for them, or they’ve not succeeded after being repurposed, it’s time for them to work someplace else.
As a side note, the hardest team member to let go is a B player who, no matter how you try, is not getting better and will never become an A player. Letting go of C players (and F players!) is easy by comparison. But if you want everyone functioning at an A level, you have to be strong enough to eventually face the fact that this person is never going to give you all that you need. And also–and this is critical to understand–it is not fair to all the other A players to keep that person around.
And of course, an invincible team is all A players.
For more thoughts on why it’s important to be comfortable letting an employee go, check out my previous blog, “Why Firing Someone is an Act of Kindness.”
I know that employee management is even more challenging in a dental practice, where there is a fairly small number of team members. This is why I recommend two key resources: Dental Post.net and HRforHealth.
HRforHealth is a program that, at its most basic level, does all the things that keep you fully compliant with regard to employee laws in your state. But beyond that, it systematizes the review process for your employees, so that if you need to retrain or repurpose them, you’ve already made it clear what your expectations are of them in the position and the practice. And if you do need to terminate someone you can do it without being at risk of litigation, because you’ve laid the legal foundation properly. With HRforHealth, you can easily take advantage of all the human resources tools that large business use, at a very low cost.
DentalPost.net is a job search site specifically for the dental industry. It doesn’t cost anything for a potential employee to list him or herself there, and for a reasonable fee the dentist or office manager can search for the best fit for the practice. I recommend it because practices can be very clear about the type of practice they operate, from culture to philosophy to clinical approach, and this makes for a much better hire. The site also does personality testing, so that you can see what type of individual you’re bringing into your team mix, and where they are most likely to thrive and contribute to your invincible team.
I hope you find the Three R strategy useful as a guiding principle in building your stellar team. We’ve found one of the biggest benefits is it makes your business a great place to work, which means it is a whole lot easier to attract the best people. That’s a big bonus!
[Full disclosure: I’m on the advisory board of both these companies, which I only do when I believe a company is exceptional and I can contribute to their serving the industry better.]
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