Enrolling New

Team Members

Is your training program designed for SUCCESS?

by Cathy Jameson, PhD

“Finding good people in my area is almost impossible. There is so much competition here that we just don’t get good applicants any more. Then, when we do get someone who shows promise, they just don’t stay.”

We hear this comment from practices throughout the country. First of all, let me say that there is not a single city, state, or area of the country that is any different than any other. There is no area that is not in need of quality team members. Don’t think you have a problem unique to you alone. That’s simply not true. With low unemployment nationwide, increasing corporate benefits, and newly evolving areas of job type, dentistry is challenged to stay competitive for top employee candidates.

Certainly, stimulating an interest in your practice is step one. Candidates must be motivated to respond to your ad or to respond to “word of mouth” or any of the other ways in which you get the word out that a position is available. Then, your method of interviewing and hiring must not only comply with all human resources mandates, but also be exceptional so that even if a candidate is interviewing with several different offices, you want to be THE ONE they select. You see, it’s a two-way street. A candidate must sell you on the benefits of hiring them—and you must sell them on the benefits of your practice and the position you are offering.

Hiring quality team members is one of the most important and challenging aspects of your business. If you are trying to elevate your practice, you must start with a dynamic group of professionals. If you are replacing a team member, finding a person who will not only perform the responsibilities excellently, but who will also “fit in” with the other team members may be challenging. A team takes on its own personality, and adding a new person changes the dynamics of the group. This can be motivating but it can, also, be challenging.

Enrollment and Orientation—A “Moment Of Truth”

Once you invite a candidate to accept a position on your team, do yourself and the new employee a favor and do a terrific job of enrolling him/her into your practice. Most dentists, when asked, will admit that they do a poor job of training a new employee. (New employees will tell you the same thing!!) Devoting quality time and attention to this early phase of a person’s employment may make the difference in whether or not they stay with you, and it will certainly make a difference in whether or not they are productive, confident, and committed to the practice.

Dental professionals in all phases of the profession agree that the training of a new employee is important. However, there are numerous reasons given as to why this is not a carefully developed and administered part of the practice.

  1. “We don’t have time. We are short an employee (thus, the need to hire!!!), and so we just have to throw them into the fire and hope for the best.”
  2. “I hate to train. I just want them to figure things out by watching.”
  3. “I want someone who is sharp enough to think this through and see what needs to be done—and then just do it.”
  4. “I have to do the dentistry. I can’t afford to take time away from patients to train, and I certainly don’t want to come in on my day off!!”
  5. “I have so much to do anyway. Now, the doctor thinks I am supposed to train the new person. I can’t put one more thing on my plate.”
  6. “I am sick of this constant turnover. I am always the one who has to train. I don’t get anything else done because I’m always training a new person. If this doesn’t stop, I’m leaving.” And so on.

It will cost you a great deal more—in time, money, and stress—to have an open position in the practice or to have a constant turnover in staff than to invest quality time and attention to training your new team member effectively. You want a person to be successful in her new position; you want this new person to be productive as quickly as possible; you want this person to feel respected; you want this person to stay with you. Thus, great training is a must.

Make Training A Priority

Training must be an established ‘system’ within your practice. There are 3 essential steps of a great training system:

1. Define the job description or position responsibilities. Some doctors are leery of written job descriptions. Please rethink this, if you fit into that category. A written job description details the responsibilities of the position. These job descriptions become an essential part of your standard operating manual. Of course, these job descriptions are not static but are, rather, dynamic. They may change as the practice, the position, or the person changes. Be willing and ready to evaluate these descriptions from time to time (certainly when you are hiring) to make sure that they are still accurate.

The job description not only lists the responsibilities but also details how those responsibilities are to be administered. The better the detail, the more likely the success. If you don’t describe how you want a task to be administered, you are giving the new employee the liberty to administer the task however he/she may wish. System confusion and system deterioration may result. In addition, outline the expected end results you want and need for a person to accomplish in their duties or responsibilities. 1. What do they need to do. 2. How do they do it. 3. What are the expected end results. Use quantitative measures when and where possible.

Your practice is made up of a conglomerate of “systems”. Every one of them should be so carefully developed and documented that a new employee can almost step into the shoes of the previous employee and continue to administer the system excellently. The last thing in the world you want is for one person to be the only person in the practice to know how to do something. If this happens, and the person leaves (heaven forbid), you are, as they say, ‘up a creek without a paddle’. Don’t risk the health and well being of your practice in such a way. Make sure that each job has a written description of the requirements of the position and a description of how it is to be set up and administered.

2. Prioritize. Once you have made sure that the job description is clear and accurate, prioritize the responsibilities. Prioritize in two distinct ways:

(a) What are the major priorities of the position? What should to be done first, second, etc? What must be done even if nothing else gets done in a day? Establish a precedent for the day to day activities of the team member and of the position. Each person on the team must be sure that what they did accomplish by the end of each day was more important and productive than the things they did not get done.

(b) What needs to be taught first, second, etc? Spend a bit of time figuring this out. There are many responsibilities that are built one on top of another. (For example: a person will need to understand the strategies and protocols of your scheduling system before they will be able to tackle hygiene retention.) And so on.

3. Define who is going to provide the training for each aspect of the job description. Certainly, there are different people on the team who will be best suited to teach the new person a specific task. Once you have outlined and prioritized the job description, and you know how the training is going to progress, decide which person will provide training on each part of the job. As you are preparing to hire a new person, include the team in a discussion of not only the characteristics and skills desired for the new team member, but also in the review of the job descriptions and the development of the training protocol. Write out the entire training scenario. As you discuss each part of the training, discuss who would be the best and most appropriate trainer. Including the team members in this decision will help them “buy into” the participation much better than just telling them that have to do it.

Make sure that the person designated to train understands what to do, how to do it, and why each step of a procedure is important.

4. Establish time frames for each phase of the training. How soon do you want your new employee up and running independently? Once you know this, start working backwards. Determine the time frames for training will take place for each part of the job. Do your best to figure out how long it will take to do the full training so that the new person would be able to take over the task his/her self. In order to do this calculation, you will need to know a bit about adult learning and adult education.

Adult Learning/Adult Education: What Works Best?

Once you have established the 4-step plan as outlined above, become committed to being good teachers—all of you. Training a new team member is a classic example of adult education. You are educating your new team member about you, your practice systems, your level of patient care, etc. How well you treat this new member of your team (and every member of your team, for that matter) will be reflected in how well your team members will treat each other, the doctor, and your patients.

1. Define. What is to be done. How it is to be done. Why it is to be done.

Review the program that you have developed. Go over the schedule of training. Let the new person see the vision of where you are going. Let them know—right up front—that the training program is carefully laid out so that one thing will build on another. Help them to see that the goal of your training program is their success. It is so easy for a new person to become overwhelmed and confused. If this happens, you may lose someone before the training is completed. However, if a person can see the vision of the training program and can sense progress, they may be more likely to “stick it out”. Training is a tough time for everyone. Care must be given to the trainer and the trainee.

Begin the training by starting with project one. Explain the system in full. Then, go over what you will be working on at that moment. Don’t forget to explain why something is important—no matter how small the task. If a person understands why this aspect of the job is essential for successful administration, they will be more likely to do this with commitment every time.

2. Demonstrate. Show the new person how the task is to be administered. As you are demonstrating, be especially explanatory. Don’t worry that you may be telling them things they already know. That’s ok. You will be reinforcing their present knowledge. However, remember that no two dentists or dental practices are exactly alike. Therefore, even if someone has been in dentistry forever, they will need to learn the way you handle each situation and each system in your practice. People want to know how to do things correctly. People want to be successful. Don’t worry about over-teaching. That is rarely a problem. Under-teaching is a far more devastating problem.

Be sure to schedule some “non-patient” time for training. If you are to fully explain and demonstrate a task, you will need time, focused attention, and freedom to speak without embarrassing the trainee or the patient. Again, most practices are extremely unwilling to schedule non-patient time for training. I would encourage you to reconsider. I promise, this will be time and money well spent.

For example, if I am a clinical assistant, and I am dying to have some help, then I need to be willing to pitch in and do a great job of training. Otherwise, I run the risk of losing this new help, having her performance be less than acceptable, or doing things over because they weren’t done correctly in the first place. In essence, I hurt myself. However, a bit of scheduled, quality time invested in training will save time, effort, stress, money, and headache later on.

3. Shadow. Once you have demonstrated in non-patient time, then go to the chair and demonstrate with a patient. Prep the trainee before you perform a task, then debrief after the procedure has been completed. Questions asked as soon as the procedure is completed won’t be forgotten.

4. Observe. You have defined the task, demonstrated it, and “shadowed”. Now let the new person do whatever it is that you have been teaching. As they are performing the task, give careful and caring feedback. Acknowledge what they do well. Give positive reinforcement every time possible. Positive reinforcement solidifies the performance. And, identify places where things could go better. Be careful not to accept less than the best during your training. “Slacking” during the training phase may lead to even greater slacking later on. If your commitment is to excellence, demonstrate that.

Observe your new team member performing each task with and without patients. Continue your feedback. Make effort to keep lines of communication open so that questions can be asked without embarrassment. Good questions usually mean that the person is learning and learning well. (I never get anxious about too many questions, but I do get anxious when there aren’t enough questions.)

It is important that the person not feel intimidated during the training period. If they are intimidated, or if they are made to feel “stupid” asking questions, they won’t ask them. Herein lies great risk. They may be unsure about something, but act like they understand and can make big mistakes when “turned loose”. Or the trainee may give the ‘air’ of “Oh, I know how to do this!!!” to make themselves look good—in their own eyes and in your eyes. They are vulnerable at this point in their job. They may be afraid of looking stupid, or of getting released, or of not being respected by their new teammates.

Help your new colleague establish confidence in his/her performance and in his/her place on your team. Do this by establishing comfortable, open communication. Your words are critical. Be careful not to put the person on the spot by asking, “Do you understand?” This question is intimidating by itself. You will usually get a “Yes, I understand” for the reasons listed above. Rather, as you are giving and receiving feedback, ask the person to explain the task back to you—what they are to do, how they are to do it, and why it is essential. Ask what they felt good about during their performance of the task, and where they felt more training would be beneficial.

A confident person will usually ask questions to make sure that he/she is on the right wavelength. They will want to make sure that they are learning things fully and properly. A person who lacks confidence will artificially show competence to cover up his or her own insecurities.

5. Delegate. Once you have determined that a person has been well trained and that they have demonstrated proficiency in the task, turn it over. Delegation may be the single most difficult part of training. A person will never get faster, better, or more confident unless they are given a chance to perform any new task on a regular basis.

Once you have delegated, continue to evaluate their performance, but “let it go”. Turn it over. Step out of the way. Trust. Your regular performance reviews will help both you and your new team member by continuing their development and solidifying your trust.

Regular Performance Reviews

Don’t wait until your three-month “get acquainted” period is completed before you give a performance review. Give one each evening before you leave the office. Ask the new team member what successes he/she had today. Then ask what challenges were faced that day. Once those challenges are identified, ask how you can help make that area better. What additional instruction needs to be provided?

Be an active, interested part of her successful training program. This doesn’t mean that the doctor will do all the training. Remember: this process has been carefully laid out and delegated. But, the doctor or whoever supervises this new person should make sure that each day during this training phase ends with a brief performance review. Certainly, formal performance reviews will be a part of his/her life with you, as well.

In Summary

There is no question that getting and keeping good people is a challenge to all dental teams. Once you have hired a qualified person, develop and perform an effective training program that helps the new person (1) get fully invested in the practice, (2) get fully productive as quickly as possible, and (3) get interested in being successful right there in your practice. The time and effort put into a professional training program will come back to you multi-fold.


Cathy Jameson, PhD, is founder of Jameson Management, a team of management, marketing and clinical advisors improving the lives of dentists worldwide through consulting, products, events and more. As a speaker, she delivers entertaining and educational programs packed with decades of proven practice management systems. Cathy is a best-selling author, including her most recent title, Creating A Healthy Work Environment. For more information on Cathy’s books and Jameson’s coaching and marketing services, visit or call 877.369.5558.