HIRING the Right People

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For practices that want to hire great employees, Dr. Rick Steedle suggests why you may not have been successful in the past and offers sound advice on how to hire better staff in the future

Ultimately, the success of your practice is not limited by the economy, competition, or any other external factor. It thrives (or simply just survives) on your ability to hire, train, and retain an excellent staff. With an exceptional staff, you are able to consistently deliver outstanding service, which gives your practice a powerful competitive advantage.
But, how do we find good people? What’s the best way to select the right person? And, how do we decide if we should keep a new employee?
This article will take a detailed look at the hiring process, reviewing the key steps, suggesting ways to improve and, thereby, increasing your chances of choosing the right person.

The Three Essential Hiring Skills

All of us have experience hiring staff, and no one can presume to know the unique situation or specific challenges you might face in finding good employees. Nonetheless, under all circumstances, hiring the right person for your practice comes down to three basic skills:

  • First you must find the right person
  • Then you must choose the right person
  • And finally, you must employ and retain only those who are right for your practice

So, what are the best strategies to add someone who will become an asset to your practice?
Finding the right person
Actually, we don’t really “find” the right person; instead, the best practices attract the right person. Good employees will not even consider your office unless it’s a great place to work. So, the best way to find the right person is to make your practice highly attractive to the kind of employee you want. You must get your house in order first if you expect the best applicants to apply.
So, even before you’re actively hiring someone, the best way to attract the right person is to make your practice the “employer of choice” for potential staff in your community. The best people will not even consider your practice unless your present staff raves about your office and encourages others to apply.
Finding Strategy #1: Become the “employer of choice”
To attract great employees, focus on making your practice the “employer of choice” in four key areas:

  • Competitive compensation — A good salary and benefits package is merely the “price of admission” to be considered by the best person. Since the best people in other offices are usually being paid well already, it will take more than a good financial package to attract them to your practice.
  • A dynamic practice with purpose and direction1 — Is your practice staying current and constantly adapting to new technologies and ways of serving your patients? Is your leadership inspiring and your purpose clear? The best people don’t want to remain stagnant; they want opportunities to learn and grow. At the end of the day, they want job satisfaction and the feeling that they have made a meaningful contribution.
  • An optimum working environment — What are the key frustrations that staff feel when working in any dental practice? Have you solved these problems in your office? The best employees are looking for a great working environment that includes a manageable work schedule, a compassionate, yet fair, leave policy, great office systems, sufficient training, and the necessary support to do their jobs well.
  • Excellent working relationships – How are the interpersonal relationships in your office? Do all staff members work as one team, or do they often annoy each other with petty squabbles? The best people want co-workers who care for each other, a doctor who appreciates them, and a voice in improving the operations of the practice.

When you do begin to look for a new employee, how then do you find and attract the best person? Where are the best potential applicants working now, and what type of advertisement would attract them?
Finding Strategy #2: Write an appealing ad
A standard ad will not get the attention of the best people. Invest your time and money in an ad that appeals to an excellent applicant by wording it to attract the type of person you want. Be sure to include which personal traits are desirable, what makes your practice unique, and how they may have opportunities to grow. It may take a little more time and possibly cost a little more money, but what is the value of finding a great employee?
Finding Strategy #3: Conduct a wide-ranging search
Cast a wide net in the hope of finding the best person. For business staff, design a classified ad to attract applicants outside the dental profession. Applicants with the right attitude and outlook are often employed in other customer service jobs. Although Craigslist is a popular and inexpensive way to advertise for a position, consider that the best applicants may be more inclined to read the classifieds in the local paper and scan online services like Monster.com or CareerBuilder.com when choosing new employment.
Ask your staff to refer others like themselves. If you’ve made your office the “employer of choice,” they will not hesitate to encourage other great potential employees to join your team.
Finally, constantly be on the lookout for great employees even when you’re not hiring. This way you can create a pool of potential applicants for when you need it. When you encounter people who give you great service, hand them a business card, and ask them to call if they are considering a job change. “We’re always looking for excellent people like you.” They’ll be flattered by the compliment, and you may have found an excellent future employee.
Choosing the right person
The best way to choose the right person is to have a highly selective hiring process that involves the entire team. In order to choose the best employees, first you need to be clear on what type of individuals are best suited to work in your practice and, second, have an effective way to identify them.
Choosing Strategy #1: Select the right type of person
It’s natural to think that you need applicants with experience who can step right in and won’t need much training. However, practices that over-value and hire only the skilled employee may discover that these are the same people who later create interpersonal problems with the staff and patients. We can usually train someone to perform the skills needed to do well, but we can’t train people to have strong interpersonal skills.
A better way is to choose self-motivated people who share your core values, can learn their jobs quickly, and who, by their very nature, are caring and compassionate. Therefore, hire and retain “good heads” and “good hearts,” not necessarily just “good hands.” When hiring, it’s great if you can get all three, but it’s essential that you get the first two.2
Choosing Strategy #2: Include your staff when hiring
If you are the only one who interviews applicants and independently makes the hiring decision, you have created an environment in which your present staff is not fully invested in helping the new employee succeed. In the best practices, the staff is deeply involved in the interview process, and guides the final decision about who to bring on the team.
Once applicants have met with your approval, let the final selection be made by a consensus of your staff. If everyone has a voice, then everyone can commit to welcoming the new employee and training him/her to be a productive member of your team.
Choosing Strategy #3: Have a thorough hiring process
To be highly selective, you need a systematic approach for choosing the best applicant rather than counting on just a favorable impression from an application and interview. This should include:

  • An extensive search process — prepare an attractive advertisement, and conduct a wide-ranging search.
  • An effective screening process — identify applicants whose resumes display the qualities desired, and have a trained staff member prescreen them on the phone, inviting for an office visit only those applicants whose telephone interview meets your standards.
  • A thorough interview process — have the applicant meet with the staff who will work closely with the new employee and schedule a short interview with you to get a preliminary impression. If the initial impression is favorable, invite the applicant for a one-half to full day in the practice to better assess the fit. Even though first impressions are important, several hours with the applicant is a better way to gauge his/her true nature.
  • A rigorous decision process — hire someone only when there is consensus among the staff that this is a person who is self-motivated, shares your core values, and has a good head and heart. If there are reservations among the staff, don’t hire, keep looking. Taking some additional time to find the right person is preferable to endlessly spending time managing the wrong person.

Retaining the right person
The best way to employ the right person is to have a highly discriminating probationary period, so that an applicant is retained only when you are 100% certain that he/she is right for your practice.
Even if you attract and select the right person, you still must be absolutely certain that this new employee can become a productive and harmonious member of your team. Both the team and the new hire need a probationary period of at least 90 days to evaluate the fit. During this time, the new employee is considered a temporary hire, and either party can walk away without giving advance notice.
Retaining Strategy #1: Provide adequate training
Even the best new employees need a thorough training program. The program should include several key elements. It should:

  • Be conducted not by your most skilled person, but by your best trainer (someone who can give clear guidance and emotional support to the new employee).
  • Systematically progress from simple tasks to the more complex.
  • Be guided by a training manual, which consists of written protocols documenting your processes and procedures.
  • Progressively move the trainee from dependence to independence (using direct observation of the trainer, followed by the trainee performing the task with the trainer observing, progressing to executing the position with a ready backup, and finally leading to independent performance).

Retaining Strategy #2: Give frequent feedback
During the probationary period, frequent and specific feedback from the trainer is essential. Is the new person learning quickly, displaying professional behavior, demonstrating a caring and compassionate attitude, and taking the initiative to become a team member?
At least monthly, the trainer should take some time with the new employee to honestly assess progress and offer suggestions for improvement. Any reservations about the new hire should be communicated immediately to the doctor and team. Everyone should be given a fair chance, but the best future employees will clearly demonstrate their value as high performers and excellent teammates in the first 3 months.
Retaining Strategy #3: Be 100% certain
If you have done your job well in the selection phase, the probationary period usually goes well. In some cases, however, the new employee may learn that the position is not what he/she expected. In other cases, you may discover that he/she is not all that you thought. If you or your team has any doubts, it’s best that you dismiss the new person during the probationary period.
As difficult as this might be, you should retain a new hire only when everyone is 100% certain that the employee is right for your team. It’s not a question of whether everyone likes the new person. Usually everyone will. The decision is based purely on the “fit” for your office. Not being decisive at this point only sets the stage for problems later on.

The Key Hiring Principles

Developing an outstanding staff starts with hiring good people and then forming them into an All-star Team. Unfortunately, as Jim Collins points out in his classic book, Good to Great, “If you have the wrong people on the bus, it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won’t have a great company,”3 or a great practice.
For practices that want to get the best employees “on the bus,” the “key hiring principles” then are:

  • Attract the right person

By becoming the “employer of choice” for the best people and conducting a wide-ranging search to locate them.

  • Select the right person

Through a rigorous selection process in which team members participate in the decision to choose the right type of person, not just the one with the right skills.

  • Retain the right person

By using a well-designed training program with frequent feedback and retaining the new employee only when you and your staff are 100% certain that he/she is right for the team.

Dr-J-Richard-Steedle-5X7J. Richard (Rick) Steedle, DMD, MSEd, MS, received his dental degree with honors from the University of Pennsylvania, concurrently completing a Masters Degree in Education. He received his Masters Degree in Orthodontics at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was awarded the Morehead Fellowship in Post Graduate Dentistry and a NIH research training fellowship. After orthodontic residency, he served on the faculty of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine for 4 years before entering private practice. During the next 20 years, he and Dr. Bruce McLain built a three-office orthodontic practice with a staff of more than 25 employees in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In 2005, Dr. Steedle joined the part-time faculty at the Department of Orthodontics in Chapel Hill. Since then, he has developed a 3-year curriculum in Practice Management for the residents, complementing the work of Dr. Robert Scholz there. UNC now has one of the most comprehensive Practice Management residency courses in the country. Contact Dr. Steedle at DrSteedle@gmail.com.

  1. Steedle JR (2011) Becoming the successful, not stressful practice: Part 1 – Choosing the right direction. Orthodontic Practice US 2 (2): 45-47.
  2. Steedle JR (2010) Leading an all-star staff, J Clin Orthod, 44(8): 487-494.
  3. Collins, J (2001) Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. HarperCollins Publishers, New York.

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