Okay….Now What?

December 22, 2020

The bad news is that our industry has been and will be fundamentally and permanently changed because of the pandemic. A lot of the changes affecting processes, procedures and protocols (especially as they relate to PPE’s) will probably remain. One guarantee therefore, is that things will not be going back to “the way they were”.

The good news for everyone is that a vaccine is being rolled out.

The good news for employers is that the FFCRA has expired (as of 12/31/2020), which means one less thing to have to administer and manage.

The good news for most practices is that they have successfully navigated the COVID crisis and survived!

What’s that all mean? It means we are getting closer to some sense of new normalcy and with the crisis abating, now is the time to proactively change hats from crisis management (back) to leadership.

Nowhere is leadership more important than with employees. Business success is almost always related to people success—your “Human Resource”. You can’t do it alone (as much as you might wish you could some days!). The foundation for people success is leadership.

To build long-term organizational success, leaders must spend more time focusing on people and outcomes, not just surviving or results.

One starting place is to take a serious look at these questions:

  • What kind of employer are you?
  • What Is your reputation as an employer/boss/leader?
  • Is your practice/business one where people want to come to work?
  • Would you work for you?

A lot of marketing time, attention and money is spent on getting positive Google and/or Facebook reviews. But what would your Google or Facebook reviews be of you as an employer? Positive? Negative? Mediocre? Cheap? Supportive? Caring?

The difficulties you may have finding, hiring or retaining employees are indicators of your reputation as an employer/boss/leader. Many practices and businesses don’t or haven’t had problems in the recruiting, hiring and re-employment process.

Why? Because those practices and businesses have reputations as good places to work. This is a result of leadership that truly embraces the “human” in human resources. For these practices and businesses, employees are not an expense; employees are rather a resource to be truly valued and supported.

Today, many practices are asking: “where have all the good employees gone?”

Our economy goes through cycles where there are lots of quality employees available and times where there are not. We are clearly now in a time where there are not, and the reasons are many. Due to the pandemic, many former dental employees have changed careers, others have retired or decided to permanently stay home for childcare or schooling reasons.

Whenever there is a tight labor market, employers look for some type of “magic bullet” for finding and hiring employees (the proverbial needle in the haystack). Sorry to inform you, but there is no magic bullet for that.

There is a magic bullet though that can make a difference and help. That magic bullet is focusing on principles that lead to long term retention of your existing employees.

Long term retention of quality employees is the holy grail of leadership. Leaders understand that turnover is a killer.

Turnover impacts time, revenue, overhead, profits, performance, consistency and quality of service. The costs of turnover are insidious.

There is an emotional toll, as well as a financial toll. The stress and impact on morale is a significant emotional toll. Financially, the costs of recruiting, the time reading resumes, screening applicants, interviewing, plus the costs for reference checking, skills assessments and background checking all add up. And then there is the financial impact of how long it takes for the new person to be fully up-to-speed. Ouch!

Leadership’s goal is modeling and leading in ways that engages, appreciates, recognizes and supports employees, that results in performance and long-term retention, i.e., little to no turnover.

Notice how you solve the problem, by eliminating the problem.

Creating and fostering a safe and trusting work environment is another hallmark of people leadership. Trust is the life blood of any relationship and is a pre-condition for all teams. This is created by respectful and trustworthy behavior, which reduces mistrust, fear and insecurity. It is impossible for even the best of employees to thrive when the work environment is one of mistrust, fear and insecurity.

This also requires communication because in the absence of communication:

  • People will assume the negative; you don’t like them or didn’t like what they did
  • Will be less likely to seek out assignments or tasks or offer ideas in the future
  • If asked or assigned in the future, the effort won’t be 100% -- why bother?
  • Confidence and engagement will go down

Everyone “says” they’d like their turnover to be lower. But ironically most don’t invest time and energy in efforts that can directly lower turnover, i.e., people leadership principles. Turnover is otherwise accepted as a given.

What do employees want? In answer to that question, many employers say: “money, all employees care about is money!”

Yet study after study shows that that is not the case. Things like:

  • Ethically sound business principles and quality healthcare.
  • A consistent and fair management style.
  • Policies that are friendly, frank, fair and firm.
  • A pleasant and harmonious work environment-minimal stress.
  • Adequate facility, instruments, tools, equipment and supplies.
  • A competent and compatible staff/team.
  • Assistance in learning: communication, decisions and initiative.
  • Clearly defined job responsibilities.
  • Recognition: acknowledgement contribution and appreciation.

All rank higher than money in most surveys in the dental industry. Note how not only don’t these cost you money, they truly represent the embodiment of good people leadership.

As we begin moving beyond the COVID pandemic, the level of success you experience will hinge in large part on your leadership. Leadership that is people and employee centric, i.e., “people leadership”. Where there is a strong commitment to create a safe and trusting work environment, built on communication and truly putting the “human” in human resources.

Want to reduce your turnover through retention of your quality employees? Let me leave you with this “to-do” list to get the ball rolling:

  1. Become a better leader
  2. Give people the benefit of the doubt
  3. Approach employee absences (particularly due to childcare or school closures) with a positive problem-solving attitude
  4. Show appreciation
  5. Provide recognition
  6. Thank your team every day for being there
  7. Communicate, communicate, communicate
  8. Train, support, train, support
  9. Create a safer and more trusting work environment
  10. Seriously, become a better leader; most of the time your employees are not the problem, it is your leadership, don't take it out on them

The end result will be less stress, less turnover, longer term retention of quality employees, a happier work environment, and greater financial rewards for everyone—now that’s a winning combination.

-Tim Twigg

Tim Twigg is the President and co-owner of Bent Ericksen & Associates. Bent Ericksen & Associates is the leading authority in human resources and personnel management in the healthcare industry, helping dentists successfully deal with the ever-changing and complex labor laws.

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