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Win The Dental Hiring War: Build a Better Workplace Culture

Posted June 24, 2021

Tonya Lanthier, RDH

According to our latest dental industry poll, 49 percent of dental professionals plan to stay with their current dental practice, while 29 percent have changed employers, and another 22 percent say they plan to leave their current employer this year. The top reasons cited? Toxic or bad workplace culture, followed by a desire for better or more fair compensation. We will address the topic of compensation in our upcoming article series, “Is It Time For A Raise?”

If there was a trickle of cultural change before 2020, now the floodgates of global cultural change have been opened wide. From dentistry to tech, every industry has been affected by this great cultural shift. While companies struggle with remote employees and loss of culture, the dental industry has suffered a different kind of cultural fallout – one that has been building for years.  

Workplace Culture Starts at the Top

I witnessed a lot of drama in many years of clinical work among dental teams and in dental offices, including cattiness among team members, and even dentists who treat team members with disrespect. And while that kind of unprofessional behavior is disruptive and corrosive when it comes to production and office culture, there are actually many micro-aggressions that are just as bad as having a toxic employee.

The most critical errors happen when the practice is not running like a business, including not investing or reinvesting in the practice or the people who helped make the practice successful. Leaders who eat first and don’t care if their team members eat last even when there’s not much left do not inspire loyalty. Playing favorites is also in bad taste. Not really onboarding new team members and leaving them to go it alone also promotes failure and high turnover rates. You get the idea. At the end of the day, as leaders, we are responsible for the culture of our workplace. A good workplace starts with us. 

Determined to refresh and re-establish my own company’s culture at DentalPost after what felt like a very long socially-distanced, remote year, I picked up Michael Oakes’ book, Culture Renovation: 18 Leadership Actions To Build An Unshakable Company to see what it could offer. And while it isn’t dental specific, I want to share and apply his blueprint for culture building within the dental industry. 

Here are some takeaways that can help you with the process of  renovating your own dental office culture

1. It starts with you.

Recognize that as a leader the culture is a reflection of the choices you make and the example you model. 

2. Listen. Make time to ask and create a safe space for team members to respond honestly about your office culture.

Understand how your practice or office is perceived by those who are in it. Often how we think it is and the reality of it are two very different things. 

3. Know what to keep and what to do away with.

When you listen you will also get to hear what is valued, whether it’s traditions or operational aspects. Don’t scrap it all and start over, but instead, adapt based on what is working and what is not. 

4. The new culture should set the practice up to move forward and grow.

Make a written statement that reflects that forward motion and inspires your practice to grow toward a more promising future. 

5. Define the Desired Behaviors.

Vague platitudes and statements of purpose and mission don’t work if your team doesn’t understand what those values translate to in day-to-day activities and life. Be sure to discuss what exemplifying the culture and values looks like. 

6. Anticipate the pitfalls, including the team members who are resistant and will challenge the change.

Rather than admonishing them or assuming they won’t fall in line, get to the underlying issue causing their fears. Often these conversations lead to incredible breakthroughs in personal and professional growth. 

7. Set a benchmark for your practice’s success.

Culture change doesn’t happen overnight. Consistency and intention are what bring about real change. What is your metric for success? Are you attracting higher-quality candidates to your practice? Are your patients noticing? Is your turnover lower? These are all good indicators of a healthy culture. 

8. Collaborate with balance.

Getting buy-in from the team is hyper-critical. Your success rate will be highest when team members are personally inspired, invested, and believe the change will benefit them, their patients, or the world somehow. We are co-creators of culture, but we have to help our team members keep sight of the fact that it is not a collection of personal values, but corporate shared values that are facilitated and guided by the leader of the practice. 

9. Set your team up for success.

Provide them with the training they need to make it happen. Whether that’s professional training or personal training and development, providing it will get your practice to the long-term goal while also enhancing the life of your team member. Studies show that poor onboarding is a major reason employees fail to assimilate or perform at the level expected by leaders. Do you have an onboarding program? When was the last time you updated it? Learn more about successfully onboarding team members by downloading our FREE Ultimate Hiring Toolkit.

10. Reward team members who promote the new culture.

Give them acknowledgment, or even extra paid days off when you can. Throughout your daily communication or huddles, encourage team members to spotlight colleagues who demonstrate the shared values or reinforce the aspects of the desired culture.

11. Check back in and see if the changes still work and make sense.

What’s working, and what’s not? It’s important to make adjustments along the way. If any parts of the new culture feel inauthentic, then the whole cultural initiative can be jeopardized. 

As dental professionals who know a lot about mitigating decay and rot, it’s time we pay close attention to the decay that has been festering in our own workplaces for decades. We can do this. We must do this. 

From Covid and the hiring crisis, which has prompted a mass exodus of retiring clinicians, to higher patient demand and the next generation of dental professionals who are the future of our industry, we must take a long hard look in the mirror and be ruthless with ourselves about the kind of culture we have created in our workplace. 

If you haven’t taken the culture assessment, it’s a great place to start a conversation with your team and take  a step toward building a dental practice culture that you wake up pumped every morning to go to.


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