Better leverage your team to free up your time
Can you believe 2019 is almost over? For me, it feels like this year just began. How do you think you’re going to end this year? Will it be your best year ever? Your worst year? Was it a plateau year?
Are there things you wanted to accomplish this year that you just haven’t done? Of course—we all have those things. Don’t beat yourself up about not getting them done; instead, reflect on why you didn’t get them done and figure out the lesson you need to carry into 2020 so things go differently for you.
I’ve worked with tens of thousands of doctors and team members over the past 25 years and the No. 1 thing I hear is the reason people don’t get what they wanted done is … time. A lot of people blame a lack of time for their lack of progress. I’ve always thought that’s a terrible excuse. Everyone has the same amount of time. No one has any more or less. It’s about how you manage your time and where you spend it.
Thomas Edison was quoted as saying, “Time is really the only capital that any human being has, and the only thing he can’t afford to lose.” So where are you spending your time? Do you treat it as your most valuable asset? I find that a lot of dentists mismanage their time and it’s costing them more than just money; it’s also hurting relationships and robbing them of peace of mind.
In almost every situation like this, the doctor is not leveraging the full capabilities of his or her team members. So I’m going to share with you a few specific things you can begin doing to create more independent team members and gain back some margin of time for yourself.
Commit to developing a more independent team
If you feel like you’re being interrupted too frequently by your employees or get frustrated by their lack of self-management, it’s because you’ve trained them (mostly unknowingly) to do so. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of feeling like because they need you, it’s a meaningful use of time. But in reality, their dependence on you is why you’re losing so much productivity during the day. It comes from a lack of processes, setting parameters and taking the time to assign responsibilities and ownership that would allow them to more consistently operate on their own.
To fix this situation, you need to commit to retraining yourself and your team on a new way of interacting with each other. The goal is to establish a clear understanding of which types of events or issues warrant your attention, and which your team should be handling without you. To get them in this habit, you need to invest the time and energy to train and empower them.
Like any new process you try to implement, this takes time and patience, and it’s best to start off simple to gain traction. Start by identifying those urgent yet menial tasks that you know are not worth your time. Then choose a team member that you can transfer the responsibilities to. And this doesn’t mean you’re quitting or that the job just disappears—no, you’re investing in someone else who can do it better and cheaper than you. My personal rule is that I delegate any task that’s a $10–$20/hour job to someone I can pay hourly, because I know my time is worth much more than that.
Developing and investing in an independent team doesn’t just free up your time and multiply your efforts; it also creates growth opportunities for your business and personal life. Your ultimate goal should be to establish such a level of trust and responsibility with them that your office can produce at a high level even when you’re not there. Here are three strategies that will help you get started.
1. Rethink how you communicate
Anytime you’re trying to get a message across to someone, there’s a right way and a wrong way to communicate it. Make it an undistracted, face-to-face conversation that is then supported by and followed up with a written communication. I know it can be tempting to just send an email—or, even worse, a text—but there’s no way that will have the impact you need to get real results.
Prepare and make sure you have your message down before the conversation. If you try to simply “wing it” and not put much upfront effort in, it will come across as such and will be a wasted opportunity to deliver your message. Always avoid a “drive-by” delegation, in which you pull a team member aside while they’re already busy or rattle off something while you pass them in the hallway.
To ensure your message is fully understood and that you’re on the same page, ask the team member to repeat it back. Listen closely to what they say to make sure it matches what you intended. If not, spend time clarifying. And to increase the level of accountability, set a deadline and be clear how you want them to communicate back to you when something is finished.
If this differs from your typical interaction with your team members, I understand it may seem a little foreign or awkward. However, the clarity of this type of communicating goes a long way to building trust and understanding and will only benefit everyone in the long run.
2. Focus on giving ownership versus delegating
This is about the difference between simply assigning tasks versus transferring ownership. Do you believe you do a good job of giving ownership to your team members? Or is it more just having them coordinate activities or do a job?
For example, your front desk team might currently just be “handling” new patient calls with very little understanding of how critical new patients are to the growth and success of your business. This creates a situation where there’s no accountability over outcomes and results, which leads to excuse-making and underutilized capabilities.
They need to care about it as much as you do, so think about it as transferring true ownership, rather than simply delegating tasks. This helps the team understand the “why” of what they are doing and allows them to develop into their full capabilities for themselves and for you. They become involved in forming the future vision of the successful outcome and makes them feel like a results creator, rather than a doer of a job. A foundational part of the Scheduling Institute’s New Patient Phone Training is about transferring ownership of increasing new patients to the team. We train them how to own it and control the numbers. The same applies to our clinical hygiene trainings and increasing hygiene numbers.
3. Frequency matters
Lack of frequency is the first place where accountability is misapplied because it leads to unreasonable expectations, which leads to frustration.
Frequency is the key to having the job done the way you want on a consistent basis because it establishes habitual behavior. So, when you delegate and transfer ownership, set not just a deadline but also check-in milestones along the way. This doesn’t mean giving one small task at a time, so they have to keep coming back to you to receive the next task; give the entire project at once and use the milestones along the way to simply touch base. This allows you to make sure the person is on track and they get a chance to ask clarifying questions.
Ownership of an outcome is something that needs to be continually defined, taught and encouraged. It can’t be accomplished in a single conversation or training, and progress needs to be acknowledged. Otherwise, investment in the outcome lessens and accountability wanes. Most people are better at avoiding responsibility and taking ownership than you will be at giving it. Define specific results as well as the eventual reward if the results are achieved. Scoring on the subject or area they own will help create immediate and extreme accountability.
Chances are, at least one of these strategies got you thinking about how you can start leveraging more of your team’s capabilities to free up your time. If you want to work on how you communicate, focus on having more face-to-face conversations with a message that is crafted with care so it’s fully understood. Or, if you feel like you need to rethink how you delegate, work on transferring true ownership by giving more accountability over results and outcomes. No matter what you choose, make sure you hold yourself accountable to follow through by frequently tracking progress, encouraging improvements and addressing missteps.
Above all else, take the opportunity to use these final months of the year to start taking back your time. There’s no reason to wait until the new year! By the time January hits, you’ll already have the wheels in motion for positive changes and will be well on your way to making 2020 a breakthrough year.