So you are a great dentist and you think you have pretty good staff. That’s great! Are all of your staff performing well? Are all staff adding value to your practice? Do you sometimes wish your staff were a little more motivated? It’s a pretty safe assumption that motivated staff will provide better patient care and will add more value to your practice. But here’s the question… how do you really motivate people? This article will simplify motivation for you, help you better understand what drives people and performance, and will give you some great tips on how to best approach the seemingly tricky task of motivating your staff.
Clearing Up Common Myths About Employee Motivation
The topic of motivating employees is extremely important to managers in any industry. For dentists, the topic has hardly been addressed. Despite the importance of the topic, several myths persist. Before looking at what dentists and office managers can do to support the motivation of employees, it’s important first to clear up some of the more common myths.
Myth #1 –“I can motivate people”
Not really — they have to motivate themselves. You can’t motivate people anymore than you can empower them. Employees have to motivate and empower themselves. However, you can set up an environment where they best motivate and empower themselves. The key is knowing how to set up this type of work environment for each of your employees and establish an effective management system in your practice that is both empowering and motivating.
Myth #2 — “Money is a the best motivator”
Not really. Certain things like money, a nice workspace and job security can help people from becoming less motivated, but they usually don’t help people to become more motivated. A key goal is to understand the motivations of each of your employees. We know money is not the best motivator as we look at studies related to staff retention, which show consistently that great staff don’t leave companies, they leave their boss. When staff doesn’t connect with their supervisor, they leave. This is much more common than leaving to make more money.
Myth #3 — “Fear is a darn good motivator”
Fear is a great motivator — for a VERY short time. That’s why a lot of yelling from the boss won’t seem to “light a spark under employees” for a very long time. Furthermore, yelling and insulting employees is simply no longer tolerated in the workplace. When people fear you, they don’t respect you, and therefore, they will not follow you or genuinely support you. Assuming you are wanting to motivate staff toward top performance, fear is definitely not a good option.
Myth #4 — “I know what motivates me, so I know what motivates my employees”
Not really. Different people are motivated by different things – “different strokes for different folks.” There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of people. If you have more than one child, you can certainly relate. What works for one child doesn’t always work for another. The same is true of employees in your practice. I may be greatly motivated by earning more free time away from my job to spend more time my family. You might be motivated much more by recognition of a job well done. Again, a key goal is to understand what motivates each of your employees.
Myth #5 — “Increased job satisfaction means increased job performance”
Research shows this isn’t necessarily true at all. Increased job satisfaction does not necessarily mean increased job performance. If the goals of the practice are not aligned with the goals of employees, then employees aren’t effectively working toward the mission of the practice. You need to get full “buy-in” from staff on all of your practice goals in order for their performance to increase. Some staff may be satisfied with their job because not much is required of them.
Myth #6 — “I can’t understand employee motivation — it’s a science”
Well, this may be partially true, but in reality it is a myth. There are really some very basic steps you can take that will go a long way toward supporting your employees to be motivated toward increased performance in their jobs and increased production and patient satisfaction in your practice. I will lay out a few of the more important concepts to consider.
Basic Motivation Principles to Remember
Motivating employees starts with motivating yourself
It’s amazing how, if you have a bad attitude and resent coming into the office, it seems like everyone else does too. If you are very stressed out, it seems like everyone else is too. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you’re enthusiastic about your job, it’s much easier for others to be too. Also, if you’re doing a good job of taking care of yourself and your own job, you’ll have much clearer perspective on how others are doing in theirs. It all starts with you, the dentist. Don’t expect others to be motivated if you aren’t yourself.
A great place to start learning about motivation is to start understanding your own motivations. The key to helping to motivate your employees is to understand what motivates them. So what motivates you? Consider, for example, time with family, reputation, a job well done on a complicated case, service, learning advanced skills, etc. How is your job configured to support your own motivations?
Always work to align goals of the practice with goals of employees
As mentioned above, employees can be all fired up about their work and be working very hard. However, if the results of their work don’t contribute to the goals of the practice, then the practice is not any better off than if the employees were sitting on their hands — maybe worse off! Therefore, it’s critical that dentists know precisely what they want from their employees. These preferences should be worded in terms of goals for the practice. Identifying the goals for the practice is usually done during formal or informal strategic planning. Whatever steps you take to support the motivation of your employees (various steps are suggested below), ensure that employees have strong input to identifying their goals and that these goals are aligned with goals of the practice. (Goals should be worded to be “SMARTER”. More about this later on below.)
Key to supporting the motivation of your employees is understanding what motivates each of them
Each person is motivated by different things. Whatever steps you take to support the motivation of your employees, they should first include finding out what it is that really motivates each of your employees. You can find this out by asking them, listening to them and observing them.
Recognize that supporting employee motivation is a process, not a task
Practices change all the time, as do people. Indeed, it is an ongoing process to sustain an environment where each employee can strongly motivate themselves. If you look at sustaining employee motivation as an ongoing process, then you’ll be much more fulfilled and motivated yourself.
Support employee motivation by using organizational systems (i.e. policies and procedures) — don’t just count on good intentions
Don’t just count on cultivating strong interpersonal relationships with employees to help motivate them. The nature of these relationships can change greatly, for example, during times of stress. Instead, use reliable and comprehensive systems in the workplace to help motivate employees. For example, establish compensation systems, employee performance systems, practice policies and procedures, etc., to support employee motivation. Also, establishing various systems and structures helps ensure clear understanding and equitable treatment of employees.
Specific Steps You Can Take
The following specific steps can help you go a long way toward supporting your employees to motivate themselves in your practice. It is up to you to give these a try!
- Do more than read this article — apply what you’re reading here. This maxim is true when reading any publication. But it goes to show that the greatest gap in life is the gap between knowing and doing.
- Briefly write down the motivational factors that sustain you and what you can do to sustain them. This little bit of “motivation planning” can give you strong perspective on how to think about supporting the motivations of your employees. Use it as somewhat of a “gameplan.”
- Make of list of three to five things that motivate each of your employees. Fill out the list yourself for each of your employees and then have each of your employees fill out the list for themselves. Compare your answers to theirs. Recognize the differences between your impression of what you think is important to them and what they think is important to them. Then meet with each of your employees to discuss what they think are the most important motivational factors to them. Lastly, take some time alone to write down how you will modify your approaches with each employee to ensure their motivational factors are being met.
- Work with each employee to ensure their motivational factors are taken into consideration in your reward systems. For example, their jobs might be redesigned to be more fulfilling. You might find more means to provide recognition, if that is important to them. You might develop a personnel policy that rewards employees with more family time, etc.
- Have one-on-one meetings with each employee. Employees are motivated more by your care and concern for them than by your attention to them. Get to know your employees, their families, their favorite foods, names of their children, etc. This can sound manipulative — and it will be if not done sincerely. However, even if you sincerely want to get to know each of your employees, it may not happen unless you intentionally set aside time to be with each of them. You will be amazed at the look on your employee’s face when you remember their child’s birthday or ask about their child’s ball game. Your employees need to know that you care about them as a person, not just as an employee.
- Cultivate strong skills in delegation. Delegation includes conveying responsibility and authority to your employees so they can carry out certain tasks. However, you leave it up to your employees to decide how they will carry out the tasks. Skills in delegation can free up a great deal of time for managers and supervisors. It also allows employees to take a stronger role in their jobs, which usually means more fulfillment and motivation in their jobs, as well. Define “the what,” but let them “define the how.”
- Reward what you want to see more of. A critical lesson for new dentists in managing their staff is to learn to focus on employee behaviors, not on employee personalities. Performance in the workplace should be based on behaviors toward goals, not on popularity of employees. You can get in a great deal of trouble (legally, morally and interpersonally) for focusing only on how you feel about your employees rather than on what you’re seeing with your eyeballs. Very smart dentists begin with the end in mind and set up clear policies and procedures for employees so that performance expectations are clear from the get go.
- Reward it soon after you see it. This helps to reinforce the notion that you highly prefer the behaviors that you’re currently seeing from your employees. Often, the shorter the time between an employee’s action and your reward for the action, the clearer it is to the employee that you highly prefer that action. Catch em’ doing something great!
- Implement at least the basic principles of performance management. Good performance management includes identifying goals, measures to indicate if the goals are being met or not, ongoing attention and feedback about measures toward the goals, and corrective actions to redirect activities back toward achieving the goals when necessary. Performance management can focus on the practice as a whole (production, collections, case acceptance), groups (hygiene department, front desk staff, your assistants), processes in the practice (your systems), and certainly with your employees individually.
- Establish goals that are SMARTER: specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic, timely, extending of capabilities, and rewarding to those involved.
- Clearly convey how employee results contribute to practice results. Employees often feel strong fulfillment from realizing that they’re actually making a difference in the practice. This realization often requires clear communication about practice goals, employee progress toward those goals and celebration when the goals are met. Don’t be afraid to share with staff what your production goals are, set targets, and reach goals together.
- Celebrate achievements. This critical step is often forgotten. New dentists are often focused on getting “a lot done”. This usually means identifying and solving problems. Experienced dentists come to understand that acknowledging and celebrating a solution to a problem can be every bit as important as the solution itself. Without ongoing acknowledgement of success, employees become frustrated, skeptical and even cynical about efforts in the practice.
- Get employees involved in the patient feedback process. Let employees know when a patient proclaims the benefits of their treatment. When you have before/after pictures of awesome cases, put them up in the practice. Make your staff feel a part of the success. This success could be the biggest motivator for your staff. Most people that work in dentistry love to see results. Help your staff know that they are working for an expert that values patient care and creates extraordinary smiles!
- Admit to yourself if you don’t mesh with an employee. Here’s the cold hard truth – it’s not unusual to just not like someone who works for you. Sometimes your style just doesn’t mesh well with particular staff. Be careful with this dynamic. You want to make sure that YOU are not the problem. At the same time, try your best to hire staff that have character qualities that you do mesh well with. Get references. Ask references about the individual’s work style. So if you do have an employee that you don’t seem to be compatible with, explore what it is that you don’t like about the employee and if you can accomplish a positive working relationship with the employee. It often helps a great deal just to talk out loud about how you feel and get someone else’s opinion about the situation (with your office manager or spouse). As noted above, if you continue to focus on what you see about employee performance, you’ll go a long way toward ensuring that your treatment of employees remains fair and equitable and adds value to your practice.
You need to think, act, and be motivated yourself if you want to be effective at motivating others. By using these insights and tips, you will be on the right track to getting your staff more and more motivated.
Passionate about success, growth, and living a life of fulfillment!
Dr. Kimball is an expert author, international speaker and coach, and trusted advisor. He founded Fundamental Growth in 2006, and oversees all programs, models, and curriculum as well as oversight of all corporate operations. He holds a Ph.D. with an emphasis in Organization Development from Loma Linda University. He has more than 15 years of experience as a dental practice coach and management consultant; having built success for practices across the globe. His work has been delivered in North America, Europe, Africa, and across India.