Have You Ever Been a Scapegoat?

Venting anger is never productive

As we come closer to closing the book on 2019, I would like to reflect on something I’ve recognized that seemed to be more prevalent this past year than ever before.  I understand clearly what the catalyst is in this case. I believe much of what I personally have been experiencing is based on the fact that the pool of qualified dental professionals appears to be growing smaller. I can’t explain it, nor can any of my peers. And although there are still some wonderful, talented and valued dental professionals out there it does take longer to locate and identify them. It’s not only more time-consuming for me, but some of my clients are clearly losing their patience, and in some cases their faith that a reasonable number of quality dental professionals still exist. I continue to assure them all that although it is clearly taking longer to attract and vet job candidates, they are still out there waiting for us to find them.

Over the past few weeks I have had two clients venting their frustrations to me. “Why can’t you find talented, reliable, qualified, loyal, professional, non-money-generated candidates?”  I had one actually send me a scathing text in full caps sharing that he has one person leaving for better pay, one leaving for better hours and one leaving to have a baby—and added “now what am I to do?”

While I understand and feel his pain, I’m having a difficult time understanding why ranting at me is going to change anything. He closed by saying, “I’ve been in practice for 35 years and have never had anything like this happen before!” I was hurt initially but took a deep breath and realized that I have just become someone’s scapegoat. Once I calmed down I proceeded to respond by reminding him that: first, it isn’t the end of the world and that unfortunately this is one of the challenges of running a business; and second, that sometimes everything appears to fall apart at once, but it certainly doesn’t mean it’s the end.

There are ways of buying ourselves time by recruiting some temporary help while we search for the best candidates to fill the positions. I reminded him that venting his frustration in this way will clearly send a poor message to his existing team members, as there is no defeat here, simply a business challenge that will be addressed properly and resolved.

Challenges come at all of us at one time or another. Heaven knows I’ve had my share, but to take frustration and anger and direct it at someone else not only doesn’t solve anything, it will only make the mountain harder to climb, as it will then limit the support and respect you will receive from others just when you probably need it most.

 

 

Very Early Telltale Signs

Taking note of some early indicators

I believe that there is a lot of valuable information we miss early on during the interview process. There are signs that are indicators regarding what I call “soft skills”, which are vital during the job candidate evaluation period.

I realize that I may recognize more than most, but perhaps this is due to the volume of job candidates I have interfaced with over the years. I admit that I might be a little more particular than most too, as I have learned through experience that small signs can amount to big problems later.

What ever happened to a friendly, warm voicemail message?

It is not uncommon to call the number provided by a job applicant and hear an automated message that is created by the cellular provider. Why not at least a “hello, this is Suzie, thanks for calling”?

What about calling the number provided only to learn that the mailbox is full and can no longer accept messages? How telling is this?

Granted, on occasion this happens to all of us but it can clearly be a sign of someone who does not pay attention. Taking into consideration that this is a job seeker who you would think is seriously interested in this position would be even more aware of the opportunities lost from an uncleared voice mailbox.

What about receiving a resume without an updated phone number or address? Before the “send” button is pushed, this is something that should be checked (and re-checked).

I’m referencing the obvious, the things that should be an automatic. Areas that a forward-thinking, responsible job candidate should always consider when applying for a job. Keep in mind that the observations I have referenced are things that occur even before contact is made. Before a response to the job seeker is sent and before any interaction at all takes place.

Just think of what you have gleaned before you even step through the interview process. How valuable is this information when it comes to eliminating those job candidates that may not be worth your effort. Early discovery should not be overlooked and although it might pay to continue to move things forward, these small signs should not necessarily be discounted.

Conversations Go Both Ways

Speaking “to” each other, not “at” each other

As long as I can remember, the picture I see during the interview process has been “Job candidate sitting in a chair across from the interviewer waiting to be grilled”.

While gathering information about a prospective hire is important, why is it that we view this as a time for the employer to ask assertive questions and evaluating the employee based on receiving the answers they are hoping to hear?

It is equally valuable to the job seeker to have the opportunity to ask questions too, and yet it is so rarely done. Actually, some of the best interviews are a balance of questions and answers and questions and answers.  It’s more important to be “interested” than simply “interesting” for both the interviewer and the interviewee.

A recent post that I read in a facebook group I participate in brought this subject back to light for me. With this, I felt I would go into more detail as to why this rapport is so important to a well-structured interview format.

First, it is always important that the job seekers come to this meeting prepared regarding the practice dynamics, whatever history and background can be located via internet searches, etc.  I realize that many job seekers do this. But just gathering this information for their own benefit is one thing, as they should let the doctor/interviewer know that not only did they take the time to do the research, but are as inquisitive about him/her and their backgrounds, goals and interests as the interviewer is of the interviewee.

It is human nature to focus on ourselves.  We love when people refer to us by name. We light up when they ask questions, show their interest in us, and we really do appreciate those that seem to legitimately care about us and our well-being.  Some of us require more of this attention than others, but we would all agree that it’s important to all of us to varying degrees.

Additionally, it is important to consider what the questions are that are posed to the doctor/interviewer. There are some questions that are out of line and should never be asked, while utilizing information you glean via your internet searches are fair game.

“Doctor, I see you graduated from NYU Dental School.”  “Did you like the program?”

“I notice that you offer treatment for Sleep Apnea.” “I am so interested in learning more about that.” “Do you find that your CT Scanner has helped you to identify issues that you might have otherwise missed?” “What were they?”

My clients are always impressed when they interview job candidates that appear to be very interested in their practice culture as it reveals some excellent qualities in the person they are sitting across from.

Keep in mind that as job seekers, you will not have a way to anticipate the questions you will be asked, yet you can still prepare from your end with sensible, inquisitive questions that are bound to get you noticed.

Do You Leave Candidates Hanging?

Consider the Golden Rule

Those of you that follow my blog and other social media posts that I generate know that I am consistently reminding all employers to prepare well for the interview process. Have all your ducks in a row, including documents such as comprehensive job descriptions (in writing) along with any other materials that you might be able to supply the job seeker with to help them better understand what the position entails, the practice philosophy, etc.

 

But what if after thorough due diligence, vetting the candidate and evaluating their skill sets and their “soft” skills, you come to realize they are not going to be the best fit for your practice?  Do you get in touch with them or do you wait for them to call the office inquiring about status?

 

And what about the job seekers that appear to have promise–the ones that could be ideal candidates for your practice and the position you are looking to fill? Do you find yourself drifting off, losing contact with those that could be valuable assets to your practice or do you maintain an ongoing dialog with them?

 

It’s quite common for me to give my clients light nudges to remind them that “candidates you have interest in are not going to hang around long.” Or, ” Did you communicate with the clinical assistant that didn’t make the cut?” It’s not fair to her if you feel you want to curtail the forward motion and the hiring process with her.
I get it! This is one of the “yucky” things the practice leader, owner, dentist has to deal with.  This is why I’ll often hear, “Deb, can you call Suzie and let her know we’re still looking, or we are changing the job description, or our employee decided she is staying with us, so we stopped the process”. While I know this is a difficult task for many, the best thing to do is firstly, don’t leave these people hanging.  Be as honest as possible without hurting feelings.  Some are holding out for you and will stop seeking other opportunities as a result.

 

Heck, I know of a couple of instances where the job seeker was so certain the job was theirs that they excitedly give notice to their present employer. But what bothers me most is when nothing at all is said.  Rather than have to deliver this tough message, the job candidate is conveniently forgotten. Sure, it’s a tough conversation to have, but the least you can do is send a thoughtful, short email thanking them for their time and wishing them the best of luck.  No stories. No excuses. Simply. “We don’t believe we are the best fit for each other.”

 

While I don’t have a problem delivering the message (although I don’t find it particularly enjoyable) I have been the messenger for many of my clients for fear that these candidates would be patiently waiting for some news.  I’m troubled if I feel as though they are living on false hope or perhaps missing out on opportunities that could be more suitable for them. This is but another challenge of being a business owner and while I’m at it, please don’t have someone other than the person who will be generating the paycheck (the boss) finalize this relationship.

 

Don’t burn bridges, no matter where we reside, be it small towns, suburbia or major cities, dentistry is a close-knit community.   Good reputations travel fast, but bad ones travel faster.

The Cell Phone “Connection”

Ah, the cell phone!

How did we ever manage without it?

Well, we did for hundreds of years and many lived to talk about it.

One of the many frustrations that I hear from clients is the “relationship” their team members have to their phones. My clients share: “They need them by their side all day long” or “The employees with children are always insisting that it is imperative for them to have access to their phones in the event of an emergency” or “I only use my phone during breaks and during lunch” is the promise of many.

But how many team members are truly disciplined enough to restrict their phone usage when there are no firm cell usage practice rules?

How did we ever exist without cell phones back in the 60’s or 70’s? How did we care for our families, check in with our spouses, learn that our mother needed an emergency appendectomy?

They called the office and asked to be connected to you either immediately or if it wasn’t necessarily a critical situation, then as soon as you, the employee, had an opportunity to call them back. This is how it was accomplished during the pre-cell phone era.

While some employers have successfully managed to develop these office protocols, there are still many that have lost control and subsequently the ability to restrict cell phone usage. The Morning Huddle Phone Protocol is one that I endorse and is observed in many practices. This requires relinquishing all cell phones into one common location, away from the business of the day including all patient interaction. And would you believe that the teams that follow these

guidelines manage very well. No children are neglected, no parents or husbands stress due to not being able to get a message to you at work, and yet no emergency calls go unanswered.

This is managed very simply. All it takes is a phone call to the office with the caller either leaving a detailed message for the recipient of the call, or perhaps the timing is such that the person who is meant to receive the call happens to answer it as it comes in. Nonetheless, this is a much more efficient way to manage calls as well as assuring that many more messages get to the right person immediately. After all it’s highly unlikely that one can carry a phone around in their pocket and continue to be an effective employee.

Let’s face it, even on vibrate the timing to take the call must be perfect. It’s difficult to answer a cell phone during a procedure, while checking out patients, answering the business line or simply when trying to stay on schedule.

I know we have all been on fast-track since technology has played a big role in our lives, but I do believe that there are some situations where we need to allow technology to take a back seat and instill old values and go back to simpler times.

Transparency

A business practice that seems to be disappearing

“Transparency” is a word we are hearing more and more today, whether it be related to politics, everyday life or in business. Along with transparency, I like to include good old-fashioned healthy communication and valuable exchange of ideas. Technology has enabled us to communicate in several additional formats that were not available to us as recently as 20 years ago. Emails and texts are a lot more convenient and quicker than face-to-face communication and even voice-to-voice interaction is becoming an archaic form of interaction. I feel this has added an additional layer of stress to the current climate of dental team development/maintenance.

From my vantage point I have observed a considerable amount of non-transparency and in some cases, avoidance of sharing and addressing issues that were once approached via reasonable and considerate personal interaction. There appears to be some avoidance of sharing information to eliminate any form of possible confrontation. Texting a message from an employee to an employer that they will not be in today. Really? Or even worse, texting a message to an employer that they will not be back to work–ever! The convenience of non-confrontational interaction appears to be more and more widespread and this includes employers as well. Although I have never been comfortable supporting the dismissal of an employee in a very clandestine manner, I used to feel that in many cases there were no choices but to handle things on the QT. I’ll be totally transparent to admit that in the past I felt that in some instances there were not many options to manage the replacement of an employee unless it was handled secretly. Today I have come to realize that this difficult business decision can be approached differently.

There is nothing more stressful to an employee to learn that their employer is secretly looking to replace them. The release of this information can show up in numerous ways as many of us have been on either side of the process.

Quite frankly, over the years I’ve had a change of heart and no longer support nor understand why it must be done in this fashion. Before the proverbial rug is pulled out from under someone, initially I have always encouraged the need to share the performance concerns with the employee, along with giving them the tools and the opportunity to correct their shortcomings. If the necessity for dismissal stems from disciplinary reasons that although once addressed are not resolved, then this would be due cause to sever the business relationship as well. Nonetheless, secretive measures are almost never the way to go and I now feel strongly that there are better ways to address this.

My proposal is to apply some transparency, open healthy communication, and an approach of “honesty first” prior to cautiously getting the word out that you are seeking a replacement for a current employee. If the attempts of cross-correction doesn’t appear to resolve the issue at hand, then a one-on-one conversation regarding the need for both parties to move on in a healthy, respectful manner might be in order.

I will often hear a client voicing their concerns about sabotaging the practice, abusing other team members, or just downright leaving the practice. Truthfully, I have found that transparency and honesty does make a tremendous difference. There is suddenly a level of respect that flows from the employee in question, an appreciation for the openness and the fact that they were shown respect for an uncomfortable situation.

That’s not to say that they still might leave based on being disappointed or hurt, but the employer can’t ever feel as though they didn’t try their best to make a difficult situation as comfortable as possible. As

for the existing employees, it sends a message of “our employer tried his/her best and handled things as fairly as possible”.

We tend to forget the effect that this all has on the valuable employees that are excellent performers but that could possibly fear for their jobs.

Don’t Say No to Excellence

Passing on the right employee for the wrong reasons

So here is the scenario:

I get a call from a dentist requesting my guidance and the conversation goes something like this:

“Deb, I interviewed an amazing clinical assistant whose talent and attitude just knocked my socks off, yet I just can’t bring myself to hire her.”

“What is the reason?” I ask.

“Well, she shared with me that she plans on applying to dental school within the next 3 years and I can’t justify hiring someone (though so well qualified) if I have to say goodbye to them in a couple of years.”

“Let me understand. So you were both aligned with the salary offering, hours, days of the week, job description, etc., and you are passing on offering the position since she can only give you 3 years?”

“That about sums it up”, said my client.

Here was my response:

First off, she was forthright enough to share this information with you as many would not. This speaks highly of her character.

The fact that she could only assure you of 3 years of employment (even if it were less) is not a viable reason to not consider her for hire, and these are a few reasons why.

* The response I make quite often is, “I’d rather my clients have 3 years with a valuable, talented and reliable employee than 13 years with a less than adequate one”.

* Training a well-rounded employee, one that is passionate and enthusiastic, is usually a smooth and easy process.

* Having someone like this on your team will help to maintain a strong practice and team, along with serving as an excellent example for the group.

* Infusing your team with this level of employee can enhance the value of your practice and the care your patients receive, as well as potentially garnering positive internet reviews from your current patients.

* Because you both have been open and honest with each other, sharing transparencies and open communication will mean that when the time comes for her to move on, you will find no one will be more helpful or knowledgeable when it comes to filling their position than this employee.

* Their position within your practice will set standards and protocols that can then be replicated, transferred and passed on to her successor. Chances are she will help in locating and evaluating her replacement–I see this all the time.

* Her contributions and demeanor will very possibly add to the positive work environment for the rest of your team.

* Employees that are interested in “bettering” themselves should be supported and commended and quite frankly, celebrated!

In times like this, when there are not enough employees to go around, please don’t miss out on what could be the best hiring decision you’ve ever made!