Why keep a bad apple in the barrel?

badapple ripples

The “Ripple” Effect Resulting From Retaining ONE Inappropriate Employee

The one most prevalent theme that I’ve experienced during my tenure as an HR Dental Counselor and Dental Team Management Coach has been the negative effects of maintaining the wrong team member within the group.

I truly believe that this is the one major factor that contributes to the majority of stress, lack of poor customer service, efficiency, and in some cases business failures due to not taking proper and sometimes immediate action by the employer.

With this said, I felt it was time to address this problem head on, to be direct and supply my blog readers with a list of “indicators” that, when recognized and attended to, can avoid the fall-out that might result when an aggressive approach is taken.

First I’d like to review my observations as to why this phenomenon occurs as often as it does, and why in spite of all the major signs and problems it produces, business owners (in this case dentists) are reluctant to manage this area properly even though in their heart of hearts they know the numerous challenges that can result from delaying the inevitable.

“So why does this happen, Deb”? This is a question I’m asked frequently, mostly from team members.

Here is my assessment as to why the squeaky wheel, bad apple, or inadequate team member tends to get ignored and some of the questions dentists ask themselves to defend their decision to hold off and, in other cases, do nothing and hope that the employee simply resigns .

  • Dentists have a fear of confrontation (particularly if the reason the employee is not appropriate for the practice is due to an assertive personality).
  • “What will the patients think”?
  • “What will the other team members think”?
  • “What about the position it puts the dismissed team member and their family in? “How will they manage without this job and minus a pay check?”
  • “Who knows if I will ever find someone better”?
  • “Maybe she is the best there is for my practice.”
  • “Who has the time to go through the hiring routine again”?
  • “The team will be impacted by the inconvenience of the interview process and then there is the training”.
  • “Every new employee needs some training. No one on the team will have the patience for the new hire to get up to speed.”

And now the fall-out, and what results from maintaining this inappropriate employee:

  • They will cause unrest among the other team members, some of which you (the employer) may not even be aware of.
  • They make the workload tougher for the remaining valuable, hard-working employees.
  • Often the good employees lose patience with the unhealthy situation and they feel there is no alternative but to leave the practice.
  • Patients often don’t care to make waves, but there will be many that slowly drift off based on possible negative interaction they have experienced with the employee in question.
  • The team productivity is reduced greatly.
  • The team morale drops rapidly and it shows to those that enter the practice, i.e.; patients, peers and vendors.
  • You, the dentist, knows there is a black cloud hovering over your practice. You feel it, you know it, but attempt to ignore it and when the day is done the pressure hits you like a ton of bricks.
  • Often the negative energy that is experienced by those that enter your office can spread outwardly to the community you serve.

So in essence, we are sacrificing quite a bit just to maintain one ineffective team member. The impact is great, and involves many, as this non-valuable employee continues to maintain a position within your practice. Their presence infiltrates numerous areas and if not caught and attended to quickly, the damage can be great.

Why is it that this single person who is clearly disrupting the positive forward motion of a practice gets a “free pass”, while all the good, valuable team members are forced to work even harder adjusting to this “obstacle”. Not only is the environment disrupted, but they are now required to not only manage their responsibilities, but they are chugging even harder to pick up the slack so as to cover the areas that have been ignored by the inadequate employee.

Ultimately what has happened is that the employer is sacrificing the effectiveness of all the good, dedicated employees (not to mention the overall health of the practice) for the sake of this one underperformer.

I hope this insight might provide some food for thought to address this pervasive and devastating “epidemic”.

As the Handpiece Turns – True-Life Experiences of Team Development Issues

handpiece sandtime

The incredible ‘vanishing’ team member

A large private practice in the Midwest was in a position to hire a number of new employees. On occasion a wrong hire passes through the system, but if there appear to be numerous inappropriate team members on board, then it might be worthwhile to review the hiring protocols that are in place and what might contribute to the ongoing poor choices.

Having to replace a number of employees is not only a very significant financial setback for the business, but it is most definitely an uncomfortable spot to be in as well, as many will attest to. Granted, there are bound to be employee changes and adjustments, but on a grand scale it needs some close attention. The key “players”, doctors, and a lead team member in this case were frantically placing ads and moving perspective team members in and out of the practice for days checking resumes and attempting to conduct cursory interviews.

A couple of the job candidates had Skill Assessments, although there was no structure to their visits and their time in the office was basically a waste. There was no guidance for the job seeker and little or no information shared about the position at the interview, or even as late as the first day they reported for their Skill Assessment or “trial” day. For the sake of anonymity we will call the job candidate in this case history “Barbara”.

Barbara’s initial meeting seemed to go well, at least from the perspective of the employer and key team member that conducted the interview. So at the end of this one hour information exchange, the doctor extended his hand and said “You have the job, Barbara. Please report to work on Monday. Congratulations.”

Now at this point, Barbara was slightly perplexed. What does her job description entail? What are their expectations for her? Who does she answer to, if anyone? What about compensation? There were many unanswered questions that really would have been helpful for her to know going forward, but neither the doctor nor present team member shared any pertinent information with Barbara. And she foolishly neglected to address the issue and get clarification regarding her questions and concerns. She left confused, and she really wasn’t clear about anything but was happy to be hired.

The morning of Barbara’s first day came. The team gathered in the break room to begin their morning huddle. She stood there feeling awkward and uncomfortable. No one introduced her and oddly enough, other than a couple of nods from the team, no one said much. Now she was really starting to worry. Although she was hired as a clinical dental assistant and she certainly knew her stuff, she had no idea as to where things were, who she was to assist, how the doctors set up their trays, etc. She was feeling the beads of sweat forming on her forehead and found her stomach churning. It was as though she was a fish out of water. All her skills and abilities and the various tasks she handled without even thinking, were wiped from her memory and she froze.


Not being formally introduced to anyone, she approached one of the clinical team members who appeared to be extremely warm and friendly to the patients. Barbara figured she would be someone that might guide her. As she began to approach the employee she heard one of the doctors call her name. He was in the treatment room prepping a crown and was clearly in need of help. She went running in to assist him as he said “Quickly, find me a new container of Blue Mousse, please.” This is when true panic set in. She frantically began to look for someone to direct her. Where are the supplies kept? Heck, where is the lab? I have no idea, this office is huge and I never even got a tour!

Before she knew it, after moving around in the dark all morning, it was 1:00 and time for the lunch break. She cleaned up after herself and did the best she could to put things where she “thought” they might go, grabbed her purse to leave for lunch, and realized that she was the last one out of the office.

At a little after 2:00 the entire team was ready to start the afternoon, but no Barbara. Someone asked if they knew where she was when the administrator said, “let’s give her another minute or two”. By 2:20 it was clear that she was really late to return so the Administrative Assistant dialed her cell phone only to hear it go to voice mail. At 2:30 a text came in that read “sorry, I won’t be returning to the office today or actually any day. Yours is not the practice for me.”

Now, let me make this perfectly clear that I am in NO way endorsing the behavior of the new hire and would never support this approach. But what I will say is that much of this scenario could have been saved had the right steps occurred on the front end. My guess is that if proper measures were taken, the interview team would have been able to recognize some of the warning signs and realized she probably wasn’t the right person for the job. And had the proper preparation been made for her integration into the practice it might also have gone differently. The process was doomed to fail for both of these reasons.

The take-aways:

  • Be totally prepared to interview with structure and gather as much information as possible to make a well educated hiring decision
  • Once hired, prepare thoroughly for the first day the new employee has with the team and patients
  • Conduct proper, legally sanctioned due diligence on the new hire prior to making the hiring offer.