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iStock_000028905080_Large_PPEffective delegating is essential in any practice but many dental managers have difficulties getting the best out of their team members. John Burfitt reports

There is a breed of practice managers who refuse to let go of everyday workplace tasks, claims business coach Louise Davis. They are determined to do everything on their own. “I call them ‘white knucklers’,” Davis says. “These people are clinging on for dear life to every workplace task, refusing to let the staff step up and take on those jobs.

“I often say to those managers, ‘Uncurl your fingers and let someone else do it’. There can be such fear for them around doing that.”

Learning to delegate is one of the most vital skills of any manager in a dental practice. Delegating the tasks that make the business function effectively is often used as a measure of the manager’s success in their own role.

However, many management consultants agree that it’s rarely staff members who are the main problem when it comes to delegating. It is managers who have little idea of how to do it, and too many suffer from a condition known as ‘I’ll-just-do-it-myself-itis’.

“If a dentist is chasing up bad debts or ordering the stationery supplies or cold calling for new bookings while the support staff are sitting around, then there is something wrong with that system,” says Pam McKean of Sydney’s AB Dental Employment Agency.

“Look at how much time you are wasting by not delegating and also what it is costing you. You will find all those jobs you don’t delegate and insist on doing yourself are costing you a whole lot of money.”

For some business owners, effective delegating is not something that comes naturally and learning this management skill was never one of the core subjects at university.

“Delegating is not something that always comes easy to dentists and many are often A-type personality people. They can be perceived to be a bit controlling,” says Adelaide dentist Dr Peter Alldritt of Rose Park Dental. “It is something you have to work at.

“However, one of our roles as an employer is to educate our staff and increase their competence levels. As an employer, you need to spend the time to train your team so they are able to do the tasks you set them. You can’t just expect them to do it to your level if they have not been trained to do so.”

The first factor that must come under scrutiny is the way the business functions and, most importantly, the division of tasks within the team.

“Delegating is the best time-management tool you can have in your practice but you need to start slowly and keep it small,” Pam McKean says.

“Start with one or two things, see how they are going, offer more direction and feedback, and once that is running smoothly, add to it. Don’t suddenly delegate half your job and wonder why that staff member is struggling.

“Just be sure the person to whom you are delegating knows what they need to do, and support them until they feel comfortable. Also, don’t micro-manage and watch over them all the time. Give them room to learn the job and take responsibility for it.”

Just how effective the manager is in their role as a trainer comes most into play during the delegation process. According to McKean, when it comes to setting a good example for the staff to follow, the impact of role-play techniques can never be underestimated.

“In a role-play situation, you can show the standard you want them to follow, and give them the opportunity to try it out,” she says.

“Encourage them when they do the job well, give good directions and later good feedback so their learning is consistent all the way through.”

It is a method Louise Davis also supports, explaining that good training while delegating is a three-step process.

“Explain it, show it, then let them have their own experience,” Davis says. “People will benefit from this exposure to confidently complete the delegated task. At that point, you can give feedback on what they did well and what they need to keep improving.”

Business mentor Rhondalynn Korolak, author of Financial Foreplay, says the manager’s skills as a coach and their level of patience while training are on the line when delegating to staff.

“It takes a lot of repetition for the brain to understand a process, and just because you know exactly what needs to be done, never assume your staff member can read your mind,” she says. “Showing someone once or twice is not enough, so be prepared for that.

“Formalise all the various processes. Use a folder or staff website that everyone can check as a reference point while in this learning stage. Be sure your staff members are supported as they are doing their best to put into practice a large number of new concepts.”

Feedback to staff members on what is working well and what still requires attention can be the most important part of the process. It is the manager’s chance to add more direction and the employees’ chance to hone in on the procedure.

“There has to be a review process in place for that final stage of delegating,” Dr Peter Alldritt points out. “You have to set parameters of what you want them to achieve and then agree on a time to review that—discuss where they are at and what more they need to do. At that point, you can let them fully take over those duties.”

Delegating the right tasks to the most appropriate staff member is an art and a science. The manager needs to keep a close eye on this at all times, rather than setting it once and forgetting.

“The biggest mistake I see is managers giving responsibility to people who simply do not have those skills or know how to even do that job,” Rhondalynn Korolak says. “If the task is critical to the business, the onus is on the manager to train them the right way and stay informed of what is going on.”

Choosing the right team then training their skills into the role is one of the biggest investments made in any company, says Korolak.

“Never rob your staff of the opportunity to learn new things and advance their career skills,” she says. “You need to give them the room to not only complete the task to your standards, but to eventually far exceed them with even greater standards of their own.”

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