An organized agenda and a leader to keep the meeting on track will lead to successful staff meetings.
A poor way to run your dental office is to hold infrequent staff meetings or have them only when there’s a problem. Staff meetings should be useful and routine, not organized for emergencies because you’re upset, there have been problems, or somebody made a mistake.
Do not call a meeting when one individual needs to be corrected, then talk about the person in the meeting as if it’s “everybody.” This does two things poorly—it chastises the person who hasn’t performed his or her job correctly in front of the whole group, and it tells the entire group you’re disgruntled, rather than the person you should talk to individually. This means the meeting is highly unproductive and appreciated by no one.
Meetings can also be inappropriately used as gripe sessions. Staff meetings not controlled properly by the dentist or office manager can turn into bad experiences for everyone. If your staff criticizes everything that’s wrong with the office without discussing effective ways to change, the meeting is a waste of everyone’s time.
Because they don’t know how to run an effective staff meeting, many offices don’t have staff meetings at all. But when they do have meetings, they’re simply administrative events where nobody gains anything.
Meetings should be valuable. Otherwise, people attend them only because they’re required to or they may lose their jobs. What type of environment is that, and what type of contributions would people make if this is how meetings were conducted in your office?
Conducting a successful meeting
Here’s how meetings should be conducted.
The first thing you should have is a logical plan and a very good idea of what you want to accomplish. This is the agenda. Meetings should be held at least once a month, but many offices hold them every two weeks, with most large offices holding them weekly.
Have a standard time when you meet, and make sure everyone knows about the meetings well in advance. The dentist and office manager should always attend unless their schedules do not permit. These meetings should be approximately one hour long and are a good way to keep employees updated about future plans, policy additions, or changes; to review production numbers; and to conduct group training as needed.
Staff meetings should not be gripe sessions. Staff members should never be reprimanded for communicating, but the spreading of gossip, rumors, or causing a disturbance in the work area should never be tolerated. Encourage staff to share their ideas for improving the quality or speed of your services. In addition, welcome suggestions to correct situations that may be hindering efficiency. Dentistry is a very positive science. That positive attitude needs to be mirrored in all staff actions, whether with patients or coworkers.
Meetings without agendas are usually unproductive. It doesn’t matter if the meeting takes place at a big corporation, a church, a social gathering, or anyplace else. Meetings need to cover specific points and then move on, otherwise they drag on and may involve things that aren’t valuable to the entire group. There’s no point in letting someone cover an issue that could be handled in a private meeting or in writing.
Providing a meaningful agenda
Efficient dental practices have general policy manuals that spell out the “rules of the game.” For example, if a staff member wants to take vacation, a good policy manual should explain the way to request vacation. If your practice does not have a manual or your staff has not read it, someone might complain at the staff meeting that they haven’t been able to find a good time to take vacation. The meeting is not the time or place for this discussion. The meeting is also not the time for someone to go on and on about inadequate equipment or supplies. In other words, staff meetings are not the place to discuss things that should be handled in writing or during one-on-one conversations and meetings.
In staff meetings, it’s important to cover the actual performance of the group. To use an analogy, halftime at a football game is a time when the spectators get refreshments and chat with friends. But that’s not what the team does. Halftime for the team means they gather with the coach and go over what plays are and are not working, how to improve their score, and other factors. They may discuss how many yards were gained by running and passing. This gives the coaches an idea as to whether or not they can win the game with their current plan.
Going over the key statistics of the practice should also be part of a staff meeting. Is the practice doing well, poorly, or average? No matter which one applies, you should have a plan, or at the very least instructions for your staff to continue doing what has been successful. Why would you stop doing something that patients liked, that improved performance and production? However, if something is working but you see room for improvement, then by all means do it! But remember, there’s a fine line between change and improvement.
Another point to discuss in staff meetings is that you and the staff are a team with a very valuable service that is needed and wanted by the community. Staff meetings are a good time to hone your team skills. As the leader, you should be involved in the meeting, and if needed, in the training. By training I mean actual role-playing and handling people better, and by doing this you’ll be building a better practice. When appropriate, record your role playing so it can be reviewed. It’s amazing to see yourself, and a lot of improvement can result from exuding more confidence when meeting patients.
You may notice that because the staff are not used to role playing, they don’t like it. But the truth is they’re not accustomed to training that’s tougher than sitting back and watching a DVD. This will be a brand-new way of training for them. Don’t confuse them not liking it with something they simply need to get used to. Once they institute the new ideas into the practice, you should find out what results they achieved.
Another part of a good staff meeting is sharing success stories. When patients tell employees that their visits to your office were special or they felt the service was great, those comments need to be shared with the group. Compliments are one of the highest forms of motivation for a group. The fact that you’re performing a good service and that your training is showing results as evidenced by patient responses is extremely important.
If you follow this agenda and diligently work at it, you’ll find that meetings will be productive and will actually increase efficiency and morale.
Sample staff meeting agenda
1. Call to order 2. Roll call 3. Minutes from last meeting. Someone needs to take the minutes at staff meetings so that they can be referred to later. 4. Open issues: New policy on vacation days (owner or OM). Discussion of whether or not to change labs (owner or employee who will lead discussion).
Review production numbers and goals for past week (owner or OM). Share staff/patient success stories (owner or OM).
New policy, project, or protocol: Internal marketing (owner or OM). Training: Staff training for the new-patient referral program (owner or OM).
Kevin Tighe is the CEO of Cambridge Dental Consultants, a full-service dental coaching and consulting compnay. Kevin got bitten hard by the business and marketing bug during long summer days working at his dad's Madison Avenue ad agency. After joining Cambridge doing seminars in the mid-1990s, Kevin went on to become Cambridge’s senior coach and consultant and eventually CEO.