Engaging wires, engaging employees: how employee engagement in the orthodontic office is tied to productivity and profit — part 2

Editor’s intro: Manon D. Newell, JD, shows how employee involvement transforms the work environment and allows workers to be their best at work every day — this is great news for the productivity of any practice!

Manon D. Newell, JD, explores ways to implement employee engagement in the orthodontic environment

In part 1 of this article, we explored the importance of employee engagement in the orthodontic practice and its relationship to productivity and profit. We learned what employee engagement looks like, why it’s important, the key performance indicators that it drives, and how to utilize the Gallup Q12® in order to measure engagement over time. But just knowing that employee engagement is key to positive business outcomes isn’t enough. If employee engagement is the first step in the orthodontist’s journey toward excellent business practices, how is it achieved? How do we develop employees who are doing more than simply showing up? At first glance, engagement might seem like an abstract concept. However, research shows us some concrete steps that we can take to create and nurture employee engagement in our practices. To start, three key areas of focus that every orthodontist needs to pay attention to are employee strengths, communication, and clear expectations and goal setting.

In our approach to working with clients, we always start with strengths! This is the first step toward helping employees along the road to engagement. Gallup researchers have studied employee strengths for decades. This research shows unequivocally that when we focus on employees’ strengths, rather than their weaknesses, we produce more competent, happier, and more engaged employees.1 Strength-based work cultures produce employees who reach competency quicker, have higher productivity and better work product, are less likely to leave, and increase your bottom line.1 In Gallup’s most current study on engagement, employees who strongly agreed that their managers focus on their strengths and positive attributes rather than their weaknesses were more than two times as engaged as their counterparts.2 Likewise, the study found that employees who used their strengths every day at work are six times more likely to be engaged.2 Strengths and employee engagement go hand-in-hand. In order to increase engagement, there must be a simultaneous focus on both strengths and engagement. Simply put, when managers focus on the strengths of their employees, engagement increases!

In working with orthodontic practices across the country, we begin by having both doctors and staff members take Gallup’s StrengthsFinder® Assessment. By learning the top five strengths of the individuals that make up the teams we work with, we are able to evaluate the makeup of the team, assess positions within the team, and understand how the team operates as a whole and individually. We work individually with doctors and their staff to help them discover their innate talents and learn to use them most productively. We implement leadership teams in every practice that then become accountable for helping to develop strengths-based and engagement-based cultures. Ongoing strengths coaching and leadership development are imperative to successful development of engagement in the orthodontic practice. Our clients who are the most dedicated to developing and nurturing a strengths-based culture are typically the most productive practices and report the highest levels of workplace satisfaction among both doctors and staff. At the same time, these clients see improvements in key business outcomes such as increased case starts, profitability, and work-life balance, as well as a reduction in overhead, staff turnover, and workplace conflict.

It is often said that good communication is the first step to a good relationship. Good communication is also one of the first steps to achieving employee engagement. Gallup research has shown that consistent communication is directly correlated to increased engagement.3 In fact, employees who report daily communication with their managers have the highest rates of engagement.3 Communication between employees and their managers fosters better relationships and helps keep everyone on the same page. Research shows that employees are further engaged when they feel that their managers are invested in them as people, both in terms of their performance in the workplace as well as their lives outside of work. The very best leaders and managers make an effort to really get to know their employees and create a safe environment for collaboration and communication. When employees feel valued and understood, they are more motivated and productive. They are less likely to be the employee who is merely showing up to get a paycheck. When employees feel invested in emotionally, they are much more likely to be personally invested in the work that they do. Great leaders care about the success of their teams. They understand the individual strengths of the people on their team and provide opportunities for their strengths to be used at work every day. An excellent leader will empower employees, provide recognition, and encourage them to contribute their ideas and opinions. Because the role of manager or leader is crucial to developing employee engagement, orthodontists should treat leadership positions as unique, with distinct functional demands that require a specific talent set.4

When we work with orthodontists, we encourage them to focus on the daily transactions that they currently have with their staff. From morning huddle to chairside collaboration to staff meetings — these touchpoints should become a focus for developing the type of communication that fuels engagement. Doctors and leadership teams must strive to focus on quality and positive communication. The goal is to realize that each employee is unique, to approach them as such, and to manage toward the highest performance possible. An integral part of this type of communication is identifying the strengths of the employee. All doctors and members of practice leadership should be familiar with the strengths of each person on their team. Strengths identification offers a jumping off point to a more personal and highly effective form of management. Orthodontists know that they can’t apply the same treatment plan to all patients and expect excellent results. Likewise, they must understand that all people cannot be managed the same. Development of a leadership team is a key part of implementing an engagement strategy. Because Gallup’s research has found that managers are primarily responsible for their employees’ engagement levels, we conduct in-depth training and coaching with leadership teams and hold them accountable for their team’s engagement. We want doctors and leadership teams to take an active role in building engagement plans with their team, create accountability, track their progress, and ensure that the culture of engagement is ingrained in their strategic planning. Gallup’s Q12® Assessment is not only a measurement tool, it provides a framework for building engagement, and we encourage doctors and leadership teams to see the questions as elements for successful managing.

Building on the concept of excellent communication with employees is the development of clear expectations, goals, and consistent opportunities for review. When employees aren’t sure what is expected of them at work, they feel disconnected and frustrated. Annual reviews and written job descriptions are not enough. Gallup’s Q12 research shows that clarity of expectations is one of the most basic employee needs and is vital to performance.4 Helping employees understand their responsibilities is critical to employees’ developing a full understanding of their role. Great leaders engage in frequent conversations about responsibilities, goals, and progress with their employees. Similarly, leaders must communicate the goals of engagement in ways that their team understands. Engagement goals should be discussed frequently and woven into daily transactions with a team; it must become part of the workplace DNA. Leaders in the best companies strategically align their employee engagement efforts, meaning they find ways to communicate engagement’s effect throughout the year. They use every opportunity, touchpoint, and communication channel to reinforce and recognize the organization’s commitment to employee engagement.

In the name of setting clear expectations and goals, we encourage our clients to develop written job descriptions in collaboration with their team. These job descriptions take into consideration the strengths of the employee filling the role as well as the strengths of the rest of the team. Collaboration in this process tends to breed accountability. Orthodontic practices should develop meaningful and clear mission statements and core values. When employees are emotionally connected to a company culture, they are automatically more engaged. Leaders should be able to clearly describe what success looks like in their practice. They should utilize clear descriptions and emotive language to give meaning to the goals that they set and foster a sense of commitment with their team. Finally, employee review should happen more than once per year. The process of review should also be a collaborative effort which spurs meaningful conversation around the themes of strengths development, improved engagement, and employee contribution. Review should be developmental and aspirational in nature rather than punitive. Leaders must work with employees to identify barriers to engagement and opportunities for positive change.

The research is clear that engagement is a crisis globally and that it has serious impacts on multiple key business outcomes. We can extrapolate from Gallup’s data that fully two-thirds of any orthodontic team are disengaged employees. But the engaged employee doesn’t have to be an elusive concept. The research shows us concrete ways to improve engagement. Employees are truly every orthodontic practice’s best asset. Thus, doctors and leaders should make caring for them a priority. Recognizing the engagement crisis provides a valuable opportunity to transform the work environment and allow workers to bring their best to work every day! Real change happens when leaders set the tone from the top. Our clients who realize the most benefit from engagement initiatives are those who weave strengths and employee engagement into performance expectations and enable their team to execute on those expectations. We don’t have to guess if this approach is successful. We implement the Q12® Assessment at the beginning of our work with a client and periodically thereafter. The clients who embrace the work most fully and integrate it into the culture of their practice, see drastic improvement in Q12® results over time. The one thing that our most successful clients have in common is that they start with strengths!

Employee involvement is a vital part of keeping team members happy. Check out this article by Catherine Cheshire that discusses the importance of keeping employees informed here.

Manon D. Newell, JD, has a unique background that weaves together experience in law, business, and orthodontics. After focusing in appellate and employment law, Manon transitioned into a business role in Medical Orthodontic Devices. In 2016, Manon became a partner and COO at Systemized Orthodontics Consulting Group and married her passion for orthodontics and business. At Systemized, she manages the day-to-day business of the company. She works closely with clients on their financial benchmarking and goal setting. Manon also coaches clients and especially enjoys working with practice administrators to develop their strengths. She most enjoys seeing the progress that practices make in the time that she partners with them.

  1. Kappel, Mike. How to Establish a Culture of Employee Engagement. https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikekappel/ 2018/01/04/how-to-establish-a-culture-of-employee-engagement/#88883c98dc47. Published January 4, 2018. Accessed November 28, 2018.
  2. Sorenson, Susan. How Employees’ Strengths Make Your Company Stronger. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/231605/employees-strengths-company-stronger.aspx. Accessed November 28, 2018.
  3. Harter, James and Atkins, Amy. What Great Managers do to Engage Employees. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2015/04/what-great-managers-do-to-engage-employees. Published April 2, 2015. Accessed November 28, 2018.
  4. Reilly, Robyn. Five Ways to Improve Engagement Now. Gallup Inc. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/231581/five-ways-improve-employee-engagement.aspx. Accessed November 28, 2018.

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