Last updated on June 20th, 2023 at 11:44 am
As a dental practice owner, being able to delegate well is vitally important. You can’t be productive or achieve much growth if you’re micromanaging everything while also practicing chairside.
So, delegation is a nice idea: “I can focus on treating patients while my office manager and team take care of everything else!”
Sounds great, right?
Unfortunately, it often plays out differently in real life.
Instead, while you’ve had your head down treating patients, the schedule has developed holes, appointments are in the wrong time slots, there aren’t enough new patients, overdue bills are stacking up, and collections are down again…
Since you weren’t involved in these administrative activities in the first place—and possibly don’t even know what the staff are doing or how they should be doing it—you won’t know how to fix it, either.
Your only option now is to yell at the office manager and then hope they figure it out…or suddenly butt in at the front office (where you don’t have much familiarity or experience) and start giving orders like a bull in a china shop.
Not a very good management style…
So, in this article, we have two rules to help you delegate successfully:
1. Understand it before you delegate it
This may seem counter-intuitive, but the only way you can stop doing something is by being able to do it well yourself.
If you don’t know how to do something effectively, then you’re probably going to be stuck doing it forever no matter how many times you try to pawn it off on someone else.
And related to this idea, our COO, Jeff Blumberg, has a great saying that I love. It goes, “I never ask anybody to do something I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.”
If you are asking your employees to do things that you don’t know how to do and wouldn’t be willing to do yourself, then you’re asking for trouble.
Here is an example:
You don’t have any clear policy or systems for scheduling patients, but you assign the job of managing the schedule to an employee and expect them to figure it out. What happens? Your schedule is a mess because they put patients too close together, didn’t understand why two certain procedures can’t be placed back-to-back, and a patient arrived for their crown seat before the lab was ready. Now you’re up at the front handling the schedule yourself again.
You’re not comfortable discussing fees or making financial arrangements with patients, so you hire a treatment coordinator to do it for you. Now you have two possibilities: a) You get lucky by hiring a fantastic salesperson and this makes you super-productive. Great! But then what happens if they go out on maternity leave or need to move out of state? You can’t do the job as well as they did and find an equivalent replacement, so your production falls off a cliff. Or b) you hire someone but can’t train them to do it well (because you yourself can’t do it well), and then either have poor case acceptance or wind up needing to do it yourself anyway.
In either example, if you had taken full responsibility for those duties and became good at them yourself, then it’s no problem if you lose an employee. You can cover for a little while with negligible drop-off in production and confidently train a replacement.
So, in order to delegate something, there are four steps:
- Understand how to do it well yourself.
- Create policy on how it should be done.
- Provide adequate training for the person you hire to do it.
- Maintain oversight and give correction if anything goes wrong.
2. You can’t delegate the job of being a business owner
There are certain core responsibilities you have as a business owner that can never be turned over to someone else.
These responsibilities include things like financial oversight, providing direction and purpose, planning, creating or approving new office policy, overseeing certain HR matters, and reviewing key statistics (see this blog post for which statistics you should be tracking).
These duties don’t need to be time-consuming, but they do need to be done. (See the blog post: Making Time for the “Business Side” of Dentistry on how to do this efficiently.)
Here’s an example of “over-delegating”:
Last week I spoke with a dentist that had downloaded our Insurance Plan Analyzer tool to evaluate his PPO plan participation and help determine whether he should drop his lower-paying plans. When I asked him what he’d found with the analyzer tool, he said, “Oh, I gave that to my office manager. It’s more her job.”
This answer just did not compute for me. As the owner, it’s his signature on the dotted line of these insurance plans. He’s the one discounting his services and writing off 30%+. If I was in his shoes, then sure, I’d like my OM’s feedback, but if we can’t make a profit, the OM still gets paid. If we go bankrupt, the OM can just get another job. It’s my practice, so a decision like that would absolutely be my job.
That’s one example of “over-delegating.” I’ve also seen dentists give up financial oversight to the point where they don’t realize they’ve been being embezzled from for years.
And more than anything else, I’ve seen countless offices where the staff lack leadership, direction, and training, and then the doctor continually complains that his staff need to “take more responsibility and accountability.” The staff aren’t the problem! The doctor never gave them the foundation they needed in order to be more accountable and responsible.
All in all, delegation is a great thing. Your staff handle the functions of the practice while you get to do what you love—dentistry.
But it only works if you also know how to conduct the main functions of your practice. As the owner, you’re ultimately the one who is responsible for your practice.
At MGE, we make it easier for you to learn the skills you need and implement effective systems so you can start delegating duties to make your job less stressful. Request a free consultation here to find out how we can help you.