Are you a control freak?

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are you a control freak?
Photo: rh2010 – 123RF

It can be tempting to poke your nose into everything when you run a small business. But taking a step back and empowering your team with more responsibility reaps rich rewards for everyone. By Angela Tufvesson

Do you delegate tasks but tend to hover in the background watching your staff work? Get swamped making sure nitty-gritty daily jobs are done properly? Feel like no-one can do things as well as you? These are telltale signs of micromanagement—a style of leadership that’s overly controlling of work and processes. 

Dentistry is an exacting profession, and it may seem as though a similar approach can be successfully applied to managing staff. The trouble is that micromanaging can erode trust and impact staff retention. An approach that empowers your team to work independently towards a shared vision is much more likely to achieve the high standards most dentists expect. 

Fear of letting go

Hovering is a classic micromanagement behaviour, explains Brett Churnin, general manager at Prime Practice, a dental practice management consultancy. “You might assign a job to someone but stand over them as they do it, instead of giving them the freedom to try to do the task themselves.”

There’s also a tendency to “become bogged down in the minutia, as opposed to stepping back and being able to see the big picture”, says business psychologist Eleni Dracakis. “Every task may need approval because the idea of giving team members that control is unthinkable, as you may believe you’re the only one capable of effective decision-making.”

For small business owners, she says, micromanagement can be driven by a fear of letting go and a belief that “if you’re not across every single detail, everything is going to fall apart”.

A conflict between effective leadership techniques and the qualities of a high-performing dentist can also contribute to micromanagement. “Most dentists are amazing artists on a minute scale, and when you’re doing dentistry there is little or no room to make mistakes clinically,” Churnin says. 

The problem is, that’s not what makes great managers or great leaders. As a great leader, you need to give your team the ability to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes.”

Lack of trust

Staying on top of what everyone is doing at every moment might seem like a smart way to keep a small team on track, but the message that most practice staff receive is quite the opposite, Dracakis explains. 

“You’ve employed them to do a job, but when you can’t let go and you engage in that micromanaging, it’s sadly sending a signal to your people that you don’t trust them to get the job done, and that they’re not capable of getting the job done,” she says. 

In the short-term, Dracakis says, micromanagement can hamper productivity if staff are required to constantly check in with the practice owner before continuing with tasks. And the longer the behaviours continue, the greater the impact on retention. 

Values build workplace culture, and when you’ve articulated your values, people will be able to honour your reputation and all the hard work that you’ve done and the years you’ve spent building up your clientele in the practice.

Eleni Dracakis, business psychologist 

“People will not stick around because they won’t feel like they’re valued or that they are contributing in their fullest form and commensurate with their capability,” Dracakis says. 

Churnin says micromanagement speaks to a broader issue of a problematic culture. “If you’re creating a culture where mistakes aren’t okay, where people don’t have an opportunity to grow and develop, where there’s a lack of trust, then it just comes down to money. They might as well go somewhere else that offers the same or more money,” he says.

“The alternative is working in a culture where people are given opportunities to grow and develop, and where the owner trusts them to take on tasks and lets them make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. This allows them to grow personally and professionally in the business.”

Building a positive culture

Ditching micromanagement in favour of a more impactful leadership approach that builds trust and a positive culture begins with a process that dentists generally excel at: getting the detail right, starting with goals and values for the practice. 

“How do you want patients to experience coming to your practice? How do you want your team to experience working in the business? And how do you want to experience it yourself, as an owner?” Churnin says.

Write down your vision for the practice: who you are and the difference you hope to make in your community. Detailing job descriptions that support this vision is a logical next step—and one that gives staff clear direction. 

“You need to create more than just a job. You want to create a culture where staff feel like they’ve got some purpose, and they’ve got opportunities for development and growth,” Churnin says.

Then come systems and protocols that outline how you want the tasks listed in the job descriptions to be done, he explains. “Answering the phones might sound easy, but it’s important to be clear how you want the phone answered and what questions to ask.”

A commitment to checking in with staff, rather than checking up on them, is key to successful implementation of this approach. “Checking in and seeing what’s worked and what hasn’t worked supports staff to be the best that they can be,” Churnin says. 

Now, you can truly let go and allow your staff and your practice to flourish. “Values build workplace culture, and when you’ve articulated your values, people will be able to honour your reputation and all the hard work that you’ve done and the years you’ve spent building up your clientele in the practice,” Dracakis says.   

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