There’s an art to dealing out delegation
by Dana Salisbury
Once upon a time in Anywhere, USA, a practicing orthodontist of six years, Dr. Parker, arrives at her practice at 6:30 a.m. on a dreary Monday morning. She is alone; after all, the practice doesn’t see patients until 8:30 a.m. She arrives to look at the schedule for the day and the week. To her dismay, she sees what she perceives as packed afternoons after school, with too many open units of time every morning and an extreme lack of new patients and case starts scheduled. She can’t help but think of her student and professional loans and what will happen if she continues to have weeks like this in her orthodontic practice.
As she’s walking around the office to turn on the lights and equipment, she notices a sticky note on a workstation computer: “Call ABC Bowling for reservation.” Curious and annoyed, she makes a note to find out what the call could be concerning, because she thought that the upcoming patient appreciation bowling event was all finalized and invites had been emailed.
She notices the trash was not emptied the night before and dirty instruments are lying around the sterilization area. The inventory clipboard of things to order is full of sticky notes and looks like total chaos. Impressions poured last Thursday are sitting still attached to trays.
And now the phones are ringing, patients are starting to arrive and the team is running late.
Change the narrative
What’s happening here? Spoiler alert: This is lack of training and planning. Dr. Parker is involved in the minutiae of the day and, frankly, she’s exhausting herself and her team. She hasn’t extended trust to her team, because she hasn’t developed the protocols that need to happen in the first place. Foundational planning never occurred. Everyone is working hard but not smart, and they’re exhausted.
The repercussions: Patients in the office see and feel this conflict, the patient on the phone is experiencing a lackluster performance by the team and Dr.?Parker’s employer brand is reducing by the minute.
Micromanagers have a tough time retaining team members, and we can see why in this example. Employees want to feel safe and trusted, and they want predictability in their day. Predictability can’t happen without job descriptions and training, because that’s the foundation of mutual trust in a business setting.
I’ll give you another visual: What would it look like if you micromanaged while you were fishing? Essentially, you’d put the worm on the hook, then jump into the water with it—you’d scare all of the fish away and, if you’re in the swamps of south Louisiana, you could expect to meet an alligator or two. There are dangers in these waters and, for Pete’s sake, let the fishing rod do its job!
Manage your management style
In my experience, offices with high team attrition rates are more likely to have a micromanager as a boss and are less likely to achieve their daily goals. My guess is that management wasn’t in your scope when you applied to dental school—and that’s totally OK! You don’t have to be everything to everyone. Step aside and allow the team you’ve built to do their job. Get them the resources and training they need to bring you to the next level and reduce your stress. Realizing that is your first step to becoming a recovering micromanager.
If micromanagement were a math problem, it would be:
Disorganization – Communication – Change – Initiation +
Staff Turnover + High Patient Attrition = Micromanagement
The cure for micromanagement: What processes can a dentist or office manager implement to be an effective leader? The process includes clear job descriptions and daily task checklists, as well as a list of extra duties when time permits. An effective leader also needs to know how to follow through to check that “stuff is getting done.”
Ah, the balance of management. But is management by micromanaging leadership at all?
It’s not. Leadership has nothing to do with articulating every employee’s move like a puppet show. It’s exhausting not only for the practice leader, but it’s equally as exhausting to the team on the receiving end of the dictation.
Micromanagement is the worst kind of management, and certainly not in the realm of effective leadership.
If you delegate without general data regarding a task or process, and you never follow up, your team will lose respect for you. You simply don’t know what it takes to get the job done. On the flip side, if you come on too strong, you run the risk of disempowering your team and deflating all ambition. It’s impossible to retain top talent if you don’t allow for engagement, trust and sufficient follow-up.
If only your intentions and efforts directly equated to impact! But they don’t: Your employees can’t read your mind to understand your intentions. Your patients aren’t getting the ideal experience from your brand without the team being individualized thinkers. Individualized thinkers don’t want to be puppets; I know from experience that micromanagers have trouble retaining team members, and they statistically lower new patient numbers.
Your team may see your intentions as wasting time, or unnecessary work, while you know what needs to be done to make the practice a success.
But are you executing properly to ensure the success of the practice? Probably not.
Analyze how you administrate
In orthodontics, we fail our new employees by sidestepping the training process, and then we question why they’re not performing to maximum capacity. As a result, we withhold duty assignments and projects because we believe the team member can’t effectively tackle the task. It becomes a vicious cycle.
You’re trying to do the right thing to lead your practice to success, and you’re trying to control all outcomes, but all you’re doing is burning yourself out and taking your team down with you. When you’re micromanaging, you are crippling your team and creating nonthinkers, only guaranteeing that the cycle repeats.
It’s challenging to admit that you are a micromanager, because you can’t see past your good intentions. However, I assure you that your team feels a measurable amount of dread when they’re pulled into your office for another impromptu meeting, as you delegate a new task that you’ll end up handling regardless.
Micromanaging is exhausting and it’s a quick way to attain burnout for you and your team. No one—not even you—is having fun being stuck in this mode. So today, let’s take the first step in changing your mindset.
Are you a micromanager?
Check all that apply (and be honest)
• I correct other people’s work.
• I have a fear of failure.
• I want details of my team’s interactions with patients.
• I have trouble prioritizing.
• I believe that I’m the only one who can do certain tasks.
• I have doubts about my team’s abilities.
• I want to be notified of small details.
• I have multiple micromeetings with my team throughout the day.
Team effects of micromanagement:
• High employee attrition rates—over 15%.
• Lack of new ideas initiated by the team.
• Decreased productivity (reflected in KPIs) within the practice or a position.
Negative effects of micromanagement:
• Team members who are disempowered to work toward improving the practice.
• Apathetic employee behavior.
With the control you execute in micromanaging, you throw off any potential for alignment within your practice. If you’re in disagreement with your team on anything you’re trying to do, then it will simply never get done—or, worse, bits and pieces will get done and the initiative will fall apart.
Relinquishing control of tidbits of tasks and data requires strong administrative protocols, but most of all it requires communication and trust. It requires you to understand the broader picture—the hope for a better life for you and your team. Chances are you’d rather be doing dentistry anyway. When micromanagement goes up, trust goes down.
Average training in any given business is 1% of work time, which equates to 30 minutes per week. In a dental office, I’d deduce that the statistic is much lower.
Let’s start from the source: Most micromanagers typically don’t have defined duties within their dental practices. They have nonexistent or incomplete job descriptions, and inconsistencies in checklist thoroughness or existence. To build your dream team, realize next-level patient care or even consistently pay your bills, you must name what you expect from your team.
Start a list of stressors
If you hope to bring yourself to higher levels within the practice, communicate your intentions to your team. Hold a meeting without interruption to openly and submissively express to your team that you are worn down and you know they are hoping for more autonomy within their role. Express your intention to move forward with more predictability.
Ask your team what stresses them out.
This should be Point No. 1, but you weren’t ready to hear it. Without a team to hold you up, you will have an insurmountable pile of stress. I assure you that if you can extend more acts of trust and team empowerment, then you’ll feel more relief than you ever imagined.
Your team’s stress comes from the lack of forecasting and planning. Your team should be actively using their daily checklists. You create the buy-in by pushing your team’s ability to solve problems.
When your team approaches you with a problem, it’s a mirror of truth from the gods of management. Your team wants you to empower them with the trust to handle the problem on their own. Removing the burden from you will make you a better leader.
Play to the practice’s mission
The main reason you may feel like you’re not a strong leader is centered on your inexperience with communication. Leadership and communication are one and the same, and they’re built with practice, trial and error.
If you feel uneasy communicating to your team that you’re wanting to change the methods in which you lead, it’s a sign that you need help leading them. Run to your insecurities here. This is how you initiate the change that will alleviate your stress.
Here’s a tip: Start with a stay interview, a one-on-one meeting with members of your team to discuss their perception of your practice, your employer brand, and your performance as a manager. This is your intervention, and this alone will boost your effectiveness as a manager.
Let me add that there can be no team retaliation as a result of your findings: Your only job here is to ask, to listen, and to take to heart your employees’ viewpoints and perceptions.
Let your team know that you’re looking for their honest perceptions and observations. Communicate your purpose of intending to grow personally and change the direction of your management style. The “80:20 rule” for listening and speaking applies here: You will listen 80% of the time, encouraging them to provide honest responses by saying, “I would really appreciate your honest feedback.”
Ask questions like:
• “What would you like to learn here?”
• “What do you look forward to on your drive to work?”
• “What would you like to see from me as a manager/practice owner?”
• “When was the last time you thought about departing the practice for a role elsewhere?”
• “What are three ways I can be a better manager for you?”
• “Do I say and do things that assist you with doing your job better?”
• “What can I do to make this job better for you?”
Dig deeper if you encounter quiet employees, because they may need additional time to reveal their opinions to you. Remember, you are imperfect, and this is a journey of growth. Transformational change begins with communication and humility. This is Culture Change 101, and it is a beautiful process if done correctly.
Hold a meeting with your team to discuss the changes that you want to make within yourself.
Address the collective results of the stay interviews and how you’re going to bring your practice forward in a visionary way. Get input from your team about the work they do and what needs to be done to resolve their frustrations by improving processes.
Discovering how your team perceives you will be the first step to understanding where you are on the scale of overbearing management. As a leader, the easiest and most challenging effort to aim for is to listen. Listening is the only way to become an effective manager. Through the process of stay interviews, listening to all of the difficult sentiments of your team, you’re forced to reflect.
Conquer future uncertainty
Steve Jobs once said, “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never could.”
If we are micromanaging, we are not inspiring. Relinquish your control, and trust in the team you’ve built. Leadership is a business lifestyle, not a position.
When all else fails …
When you feel yourself losing control and wanting to take over, imagine your success in leading your team and preparing your team for success. Abandoning your micromanaging principles is the best thing you can do for your team when trying to keep yourself in check to ease conflict within the practice. When all else fails, surround yourself with better managers—whether it be outsourced or a hired and true office manager. Stepping out of the way may be ideal if you are unable.
Your job is to create and uphold the initiatives of the organization and to create meaningful work. Everyone else’s job is to execute the plan. You will have to learn to extend trust, and follow up this trust by upholding the initiatives and empowering your team to deliver the results to you, with clear boundaries.
And, remember, all sports greats must practice what they do. You’ll have to exercise relinquishing power to the team you’ve built. You’ll evolve in this process, but you’ll need to model the way for yourself. You’ll be surprised at what happens when you put the right people in roles where they are allowed to thrive.