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Strong human resources systems are crucial for dental practices that want to create a great culture and recruit and retain the best employees. By Cameron Cooper
For busy dentists trying to keep up with patient bookings, HR is often the last thing on their minds.That is a potentially costly error. Without a sound approach to human resources, your business faces the prospect of cultural problems, recruitment and retention pitfalls and even legal fallout. “We tend to see HR excluded from the strategy table,” says Jonathan Clark, a director at The Eighth Mile Consulting, whose mission is to improve the people, processes, products and profile of dental practices and other businesses. “But it should be on the table.”
Nina Mapson Bone, managing director of recruitment and professional development firm Beaumont People, adds that learning the basics of good HR could also give dental practices an edge at a time when The Great Resignation—the notion that many people will want to leave their jobs after COVID-19—is encouraging some employees to pursue more meaningful work.
“Some of the health practice areas such as dentistry make a difference to people’s health and improve their self-esteem by giving them a good smile,” she says. “So there’s an opportunity there for dentists to recruit on the back of that if they have a good culture and HR systems.”
Following are some of the key HR and hiring areas to address …
According to Clark, too many dentists roll out a generic job-description template when hiring rather than making it specific to the required skills. The result is that they often bring in staff who are not the right fit.
“They don’t take the time to articulate the problem they are trying to solve and break it down into actionable pathways that they can hire off.”
As practice owners seek to fill skill gaps in areas such as administration, accounting and business operations, they may end up simply hiring a practice manager who may or may not have those skills “and hoping they can do it all”.
Before any hiring process begins, he urges practice owners to determine their broader strategic goals, work out the key problems they need to solve, and then recruit and retain people who have the skills, experience and personality to contribute accordingly. “Then you can hire to solve a problem, rather than just saying, ‘We have a vacant position’.”
When worded properly, job descriptions help employees understand their role and responsibilities, while protecting employers legally. Mapson Bone agrees that many job descriptions are not refreshed and may be more reflective of the skills of the last person in the role, rather than what is required right now. Likewise, job ads are often poorly written and unappealing to the target audience.
Once you have outlined the type of employee you want to hire, how do you find them? It’s about asking the right questions during in-depth interviews that shed light on the background and personality of the candidate.
“If you don’t ask the right questions then you won’t get the right answers,” Clark says.
Again, he says it is important to identify the personnel problem the practice is trying to address and to then assess if the candidate has the skills, attitude and personality to contribute to the business. “Because there’s nothing worse than hiring someone on technical ability and bringing them into an organisation and then realising they’re not the right fit based on their personality and values. You’ve just wasted a lot of time.”
Which is why Clark suggests that senior members of staff should be involved in any interviews. “If the hiring manager doesn’t have skin in the game, the chances are they’ll make the wrong decision.”
Mapson Bone says it is essential that most questions are related to job competencies, and not personal questions that simply reveal whether someone is ‘likable’ or ‘engaging’.
“They’re not skills,” she says. “Remember, too, that everyone has unconscious biases and you can risk having the halo effect—that is, if you like someone you’ll only see the good in them and not notice the bad.”
Hiring, onboarding and inductions
Mapson Bone says in a profession that relies on technical skills and terminology, some dentists have a strong preference for hiring support staff who understand medical terms. In a tight job market, that may rule out smart, quality people who can be quickly brought up to speed. “Think about what skills and knowledge you can train,” she says. “Yes, it’s good to have certain credentials, but they may be good people with other important skills.”
Once you have identified the right candidate, make sure you get the job offer and salary right. If the candidate gets less than they had hoped, they may be open to a counter offer from another practice, or they might still take the job but be unhappy with their wage and become disgruntled.
Clark says smaller practices that cannot compete on price may be able to offer other incentives as part of their total employment value proposition—such as flexible work options, mentoring, or exposure to innovations around technology and the customer experience. “In a market like this you need to stay on top of the innovation side of the house and clearly communicate to the outside world that that’s what you’re doing. You may have the latest technology, you may have the best customer experience, but people need to know that.”
With inductions, Mapson Bone says the first 90 days are crucial for staff as they seek to form an attachment to their workplace. So greet them warmly on day one, check in with them after the first week and the first month, and continue such an approach for the first three months at least. “And give them constructive feedback along the way.”
The biggest problem with most job evaluations and performance reviews, according to Clark, is that they do not happen at all. “People don’t do them,” he says. Ideally practice owners would make a commitment to HR practices that include operational reviews that improve processes, or outsource the task to a firm that can do the job.
Mapson Bone says too many performance reviews become a box-ticking exercise, “which is as meaningless as not doing it at all”. Reviews should have a structure, involve genuine conversation and never reveal any negatives that come as a surprise to the employee. “The best reviews are when there are discussions about expectations and what is to be achieved in the next six months,” she says.
Clark’s final HR tip is to avoid the temptation to hire clones of yourself.
“A lot of practice owners and dentists hire with a bias to bring people on that are like themselves, whereas you need to be searching for those people who can cover your weaknesses.”