Creating a positive work environment pays big time, ensuring it’s where your staff—and your patients—want to be. By Louise Baxter
“You’re only as good a leader as your team says you are,” says Anita Roubicek, director and co-CEO of dental practice management company Prime Practice. “A positive workplace always starts with leadership. That relationship affects everything. Be honest about your strengths and areas you’d like to work on.”
Start with a clear idea of the kind of practice environment you want to create for your staff and patients. Do you want a bright and bubbly atmosphere? A more streamlined or formal approach? Once you know your vision, you can find the best people to align with that—or, if you’re already established, communicate your goals with your current team and work together to make it happen.
“If you have a proper vision for the practice, you’re going to be looking for people and opportunities to live and breathe that,” Roubicek says. “If you see someone be really friendly or caring to a patient, and that aligns with your vision, it’s important to acknowledge that.”
Dr Helen Voronina, principal dentist at Dr Helen’s Dental & Implant Studio in Prahran, Melbourne, says gathering the right team is an integral part of the process. Once again, this stems from having a solid vision for your business.
“Co-workers who have a similar outlook and priorities, which are in line with the philosophy of the practice, tend to gel together better,” Dr Voronina says. “If your practice values a high standard of customer service and quality of care, then enthusiastic, driven individuals who take pride in their work are more likely to be best suited.”
When you have the right team, it’s essential to value and keep them. Consider these seven factors for a happy, productive practice.
1. Expression of appreciation
Amy Turner, general manager of Smile Solutions in Melbourne—which has more than 80 clinicians and a patient base of more than 90,000—says it’s essential to remember that your team is made up of individuals, no matter how big you become.
“Appreciation is crucial,” she says. “However, the message can be easily lost in its expression and delivery. Every team member is a unique individual and therefore yearns differently for appreciation.
“[Our management team] shows gratitude via what is essentially a simple thank you—this can take the form of a spontaneous spoken recognition day-to-day on the job; public recognition among peers in team meetings; recognition in regular performance review discussions or myriad perks.”
2. Inclusion and communication
Involving your staff in discussions, goal-setting and the decision-making process allows them to feel like part of the team, rather than simply following orders. Although leadership reserves the right to have the final say, the opportunity for communication and contribution is valuable to morale.
“A daily huddle in the morning sets up the day for success,” Anita Roubicek says. “Your meeting should start with what worked yesterday and what can be done differently today. It starts the day with growth and opportunity, positive feedback and whole team input. This is all about having a framework to know they actually can communicate and shows how to communicate effectively. It’s not a gripe session but a forum to share openly.”
“Seeing the fruits of their labour, feeling valued for their contribution and being a part of a harmonious environment are the three most significant factors I’ve found to be pivotal in a productive dental practice.”—Dr Helen Voronina, principal dentist, Dr Helen’s Dental & Implant Studio
3. Trust and loyalty
Team members want to be trusted and work in a practice based on integrity, ethics and fairness. Micro-management and suspicion will only alienate your team and potentially sever any feelings of allegiance to the practice.
“Loyalty, honesty and trust form the cornerstone of our team member bond,” Amy Turner says. “As one example, our practitioners are afforded complete autonomy in their delivery of clinical care, with no financial KPIs. This is fundamental to ideal patient care.”
Dr Helen Voronina says allowing your staff the freedom to work and thrive is one of the best ways to generate positivity.
“Having a sense of ownership, independence and playing an integral role in the overall project gives people a sense of achievement and satisfaction,” she says. “Seeing the fruits of their labour, feeling valued for their contribution and being a part of a harmonious environment are the three most significant factors I’ve found to be pivotal in a productive dental practice.”
4. Purpose and growth opportunities
Whether it’s providing education sessions or discussing development plans with your staff, being clear about opportunities to advance their careers will keep the team focused and productive.
“The foundation of our business culture is a combination of collaboration and effective delegation,” Turner says. “Smile Solutions has taken a multidisciplinary approach to practice management—meaning that management, registered specialists, dentists, hygienists, and senior reception and nursing staff are all part of our leadership group. This has allowed us to offer staff varied career opportunities and growth within the practice itself.”
Roubicek says working with your team on an individual level—knowing their skill gaps and helping to fill them—will make a big difference.
“People need to understand where they fit in in a practice and have a feeling of purpose, of contributing and making a difference. You can offer training and development, based on where they want to grow, and help give them the skills where they are.”
The modern workplace places value on work-life balance, which means being receptive to adapting hours, job share roles and other approaches that work within your business model. The key is to at least discuss the options and be open-minded to new methods and structures.
6. Incentives and rewards
This could be as simple as buying a coffee machine for the kitchen, organising a quarterly sundowner or treating your team to a morning tea. In the grand scheme, incentives and rewards are minimal investment for maximum gain in morale.
7. Have fun
A positive environment flows from the top down. It’s possible to be professional and create a lighthearted workplace that people enjoy being in.
“The observation most often made by our patients is how happy and energetic our staff are,” Turner says. “That’s simply because, from our managing director right through the organisation, we give priority to happiness and work-life balance. Our team members enjoy and value their time at work, and this comes from having fun.”