Just Rewards: Dental Team Management by Jay Geier

Just Rewards: Dental Team Management 

The truth about your team: They aren’t just in it for a paycheck

by Jay Geier

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make more money. For money to bring you real happiness, though, you have to do meaningful things with it. Today’s workforce feels strongly about that. Millennials in particular want to work for companies and organizations that have a purpose; they want their jobs and the work they perform to be meaningful and personally gratifying. In fact, a whopping 75% rate factors other than fair pay as what they want most.

In the book RESPECT: Delivering Results by Giving Employees What They Really Want, researcher and author Jack W. Wiley, PhD, revealed findings based on 30 years of research into what workers most want. His findings are as true today as they were when published in 2012. We know this to be true based on our own 25-plus years of experience and research with tens of thousands of practice team members. Of great significance is that our collective research shows that organizations that give their employees what they want outperform those that don’t.

What your team members want

According to Wiley, 90% of what employees say they want from their employers can be summed up in the 7-letter acronym RESPECT: Recognition, Exciting work, Security of employment, Pay, Education and career growth, Conditions at work, Trust. Most people are shocked that pay is most important to only 25% of employees. Recognition is most important to almost as many at 20%, and nearly one in 10 of your team members would say they value education and career growth above all else. You should consider these facts to be great news! Let’s explore the top three wants to understand why.


People have a right to expect fair pay for a decent day’s work. You can’t be a cheapskate and attract and keep the caliber of talent you need to deliver a great patient experience and grow your practice. But across-the-board raises above inflation that aren’t tied to business growth and job performance are unwarranted and a bad business decision. Instead, manage your biggest line item in ways that create wins that are good for the business and beneficial to your employees.

Your team members inherently want to perform well and contribute to the success of the practice. And even if pay isn’t their No. 1 want, everybody likes making more money. Give your people the opportunity to earn more by offering meaningful incentives based on the things they can control and that motivate them to partner with you in achieving your goals.

Great practices create a culture that continually connects pay with performance against goals. Incentives inspire people to go above and beyond everyday performance, which is why the sales profession has always been so heavily commission-based. That approach supercharges the business by continually moving performance goals up, which increases people’s pay through incentives and bonuses.

Stick with individual incentives, though, because teamwide programs don’t foster the results-based culture you want to create. They can cause hard feelings among team members, which just causes you more headaches in the long run. The occasional team “game,” such as a new-patient generation contest, can work well—see sample idea below—but don’t make team incentives an ongoing compensation plan.


Increase new patients
Current average number of patients per month: 50
New goal number: 60

Run a 1-month challenge: Pay everyone on the team $100 if they achieve the additional 10 new patients next month.

The incentive is aligned with the result; it immediately changes the focus of the team to new-patient generation. You’ll take in more than you give out, so it’s a win-win!

Of course, the structure of your incentives needs to be such that they pay for themselves: Overhead is covered, the practice makes some money, then they make their incentive. Simply put, an employee doesn’t make money unless you make money. Then, be happy about what you pay out! If you pay your incentives begrudgingly, you send the message that you don’t really want to pay your people more, no matter what they do for you. And if you don’t offer incentives at all, you send the message that their pay will be the same no matter how much they do or don’t do for you, which creates a culture in which doing only the minimum is acceptable.

If you’ve had bad experiences in the past or think incentives don’t work, you just didn’t structure or execute them properly. Or you have too many low performers who balk at having to prove their worth, expecting to get paid anyway. When the effort is put in to get them done right, an incentive-based culture brings out the best in people, and gives strong performers the opportunity to earn more than ever before—all while boosting your bottom line. This is something that we regularly work with our coaching-level clients to make sure is correct. When done correctly, it can turn one of your largest expenses into a huge growth driver for the practice.


Meaningful recognition goes way beyond a pat on the back. In fact, ineffective recognition can backfire—telling someone every day they’re doing a great job but paying them poorly makes for hollow praise and can make them feel taken advantage of. Create a culture of sincere appreciation and recognition by showing your people you truly value them as individuals and for the contributions they make every day. Let them know that you know how much better your life and your practice are because of them. Even small gestures have big impact when they are heartfelt.


  • Reward individual team members with incentive pay and bonuses as a tangible form of recognition for a job well done or goals achieved.
  • Replace noncontributing members as a form of recognition to the others. Demonstrate you recognize and appreciate the difference and know that bringing in better team members will strengthen the morale and performance of the collective team and enable them to maximize earning opportunities as a higher-performing team.
  • Host memorable appreciation parties and events.
  • Give cards and handwritten notes to say thank you, offer encouragement, and let them know you care about them and their lives.
  • Create external recognition opportunities by being involved in your community; give your business a purpose that your people want to get behind and become involved in.

Education and career growth

Employees who value education and career growth above all else are typically the cream of your crop—the ones with the innate drive to learn and grow. They want opportunities to develop beyond just current job skills; they want to improve themselves and their lot in life by building a career. By learning more, and with mentoring and coaching, they know they can contribute more, thus become more valued and more valuable and, yes, earn more. The question to you is, do they have those opportunities within your business, or do you regularly lose good people because they find it necessary to go elsewhere to get their needs met?

Most commonly referred to as “training and development,” let’s look at them separately, because they are actually different.

Training is used to make people more productive in their current job. They need a minimum skill set just to get the job done, but training expands on those skills and builds both individual and team capabilities so they can do the job most efficiently and to the best of their ability (and to the high standards you set). For example, your front desk team can do the job in an OK manner or they can deliver a “wow” experience from the moment the patient enters. Only by you investing in training can team members learn what “wow” looks and feels like, and gain the skills needed to deliver it.

Development is oriented to preparing individuals for their next job or set of responsibilities. In small businesses, promotions aren’t always possible, but even top performers will stay if you provide opportunities to learn and grow professionally and personally. Offer opportunities to take on greater responsibility or lead projects, for example, and reward your best people with off-site learning opportunities such as seminars and conferences. Through win-win incentives and bonuses, position them to earn more in return for the added value they’re bringing to the organization.

Through development, you fully leverage the talents of employees by pushing them to strive for their full potential, and you enable your superstars to shine. Leadership development in particular is a high-return investment because you equip others to oversee daily practice functions, freeing you up to focus on other business-building priorities.

Your team values training—so you should too!

Training and development is valued by team members. Some even want it more than a higher paycheck, recognizing it as a tangible form of compensation for working at a practice that’s committed to helping them build better careers and futures for themselves. The benefits to your business are well documented: performance, productivity, engagement, loyalty, retention and recruitment, to name a few. It awakens people’s potential in ways that positively affect your bottom line and the long-term growth of your practice.

By combining pay with training and development within a culture of pay-for-performance, recognition and appreciation, you convert your largest monthly expense into an investment in your largest asset with a guaranteed return. Training elevates the capabilities and the attitudes of your people so they can—and want to—perform at a higher level, be held accountable to meet objectives that increase their own earning potential, and partner with you to support growth and profitability goals.

In short, training and development is an investment that creates win-win-wins: for you and your business, for your employees, and for your patients, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of a high-performing team.

Author Bio
Author Jay Geier is an authority on growing independent practices to keep for a lifetime of revenue or sell for maximum value. He is the founder and CEO of Scheduling Institute, a firm that specializes in team training and doctor coaching to help people live up to their full potential and uncover the blind spots that are holding them back from that potential. For a limited time, SI is giving a free Blind Spot Analysis to Townies; for more information, visit schedulinginstitute.com/townie.
Townie® Poll
Are you happy with your practice management software?

Sally Gross, Member Services Specialist
Phone: +1-480-445-9710
Email: sally@farranmedia.com
©2024 Orthotown, a division of Farran Media • All Rights Reserved
9633 S. 48th Street Suite 200 • Phoenix, AZ 85044 • Phone:+1-480-598-0001 • Fax:+1-480-598-3450