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Performance Review Best Practices for Dentistry

The importance of annual performance reviews cannot be overstated. This process offers your employees a chance to see where they shine, along with many opportunities for sharpening their skills. 

As a manager in the dental industry, you gain valuable insight into where your team’s strengths lie, as well as areas in which you could be more effective in providing coaching, training, and support. Of course, performance reviews are more likely to deliver benefits if you have a thoughtful, consistent process in place. Begin with these evidence-based best practices for evaluating employees, writing the reviews, and holding the performance conversations. 

Prepare for Performance Discussions

From their first day of work, each of the employees in your practice should have a list of specific, measurable, time-bound goals to achieve within the performance year. Often, such goals include building competencies specific to your practice, such as mastery of a particular dental software platform for your hygienist. However, there may be general skills on the list as well. Examples include data analysis for your bookkeeper, work-related certifications for your hygienist, and similar. 

Your team members will feel empowered by the goals, as they will know exactly what is expected of them. In addition, setting these goals simplifies the performance review process for you, because you will begin your evaluation by measuring goal achievement. 

With that said, if you didn’t develop goals with your team before the current performance period, don’t worry. You can still create an impactful performance evaluation. Start with these three steps when preparing for performance discussions: 

Step One: Encourage Self-Reflection

Two to three weeks before you plan to write performance evaluations, ask each dental employee to consider their own progress since their last performance review. If you collaborated on goals during the last performance cycle, they may wish to describe their work towards achieving those objectives. If not, request feedback on specific areas of performance that are high-priority for your practice. Examples include patient care, communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and technical skills specific to your office. 

Self-evaluations can be integrated seamlessly into the performance review process when you use a performance management platform that includes self-evaluation tools as part of the total package. 

Step Two: Consider Feedback from All Sources

Next, gather input from all available sources on each employee’s performance. That may include compliments and concerns submitted by patients throughout the performance period, as well as information provided by other members of your team. 

These additional pieces of data help you assess employee performance objectively. Better still, by collecting information from the entire performance period, you avoid basing the evaluation on a single positive or negative incident that occurred in the time leading up to the review.

Step Three: Look for Gaps in Understanding 

In an ideal world, the annual performance review doesn’t present your employees with new or unexpected feedback. You have recognized their wins and provided coaching and support around opportunities throughout the year, and the formal document you are preparing now is simply a reflection of on-going conversations. 

Unfortunately, performance discussions don’t always flow smoothly. It is not unusual for there to be a disconnect between an employee’s perception of his or her own performance and your observations of strengths and opportunities. For example, your Chiropractic Assistant might be popular with patients in-person, but his or her phone skills need work. He or she may be shocked when you share your observations, given the number of patient compliments received. 

As you compare self-evaluations to the information you collected around the year’s performance, be on the lookout for gaps in understanding and self-awareness. If such gaps are present, your conversation may need to be structured quite differently. 

Use Thoughtful Communication

The goal of performance reviews is to celebrate progress and achievements, as well as to outline areas in which there is room for growth. The language you use makes a difference in whether evaluations engage, inspire, and motivate your employees to put their best effort into reaching performance goals, or leave them discouraged and deflated - perhaps convinced that they cannot possibly be successful in your practice. 

As you write performance documents and prepare for discussions, keep these three basic principles in mind: 

  • Discuss behaviors, not people 
  • Stay objective and fact-specific
  • Provide concrete examples

Consider the reaction you might get to remarks such as these: 

  • You are sloppy and disorganized. 
  • You are unprofessional with patients. 
  • You don’t pay attention to your work. 

This sort of feedback prompts a defensive reaction, and employees focus on changing your opinion rather than improving their performance. Try these objective, fact-based descriptions of behaviors instead: 

  • There are opportunities for improving your organizational skills, particularly around patient charts. The expectation is that each chart is replaced in the appropriate location by the end of your shift. 
  • Over the past two months, three patients have submitted written complaints about your tone when speaking with them. The expectation is that each patient experiences best-in-class service when interacting with our office. 
  • On several occasions, I have observed you texting on your personal cell phone while verifying prescriptions. This behavior has contributed to the number of errors in your work. The expectation is that use of personal mobile devices is limited to emergencies and break times. 

The second set of examples is more likely to inspire change, as the comments avoid judgment on personal attributes in favor of constructive feedback on performance against the expectations of your practice. 

When giving praise and complimenting performance, you can enhance the impact of the recognition by following the same principles. Objective, fact-based comments with concrete examples illustrate the improvements, making it easier for employees to repeat the desired behavior - and perhaps continue their upward trajectory. 

  • Instead of “You increased your production,” try “In a six-month period, you increased hygiene production by 40 percent.” 
  • Instead of “You have improved your billing capabilities,” try “In the past year, you have mastered our new billing platform, resulting in a 15 percent decrease in the amount of time spent on this task.” 

The more detail you provide, whether you are recognizing goal achievement or encouraging improved performance, the greater your impact on your employees. 

Put Performance Requirements In Your Employee Handbook

In the spirit of avoiding surprises when it comes to performance reviews, a best practice is to put basic performance requirements and the logistics of your performance review process in your Employee Handbook. Of course, it isn’t necessary to outline the specific duties of each role in your office, but you can cover general expectations that apply to all team members. 

The following sections are useful components of any Employee Handbook

  • Expectations for conduct in the workplace
  • Basic policies around dress code, use of mobile devices, attendance, and similar 
  • Details and definitions of prohibited conduct 
  • Philosophy and office practices around interacting with and caring for patients 

If you run into situations in which team members are not complying with the policies, procedures, and practices outlined in your Employee Handbook, you can note this in their performance evaluation, referencing the relevant language. 

Keep Performance Reviews on a Consistent Cadence

In terms of best practices, one of the biggest is to create your performance review process and stick with it - particularly around timing. It is easier to measure progress and evaluate goal achievement when performance reviews occur on a consistent cadence. You may decide that once a year is enough for the formal process, but keep in mind that regular, meaningful feedback throughout the year will lead to better results when review time rolls around.

If you struggle to stay on track with completing performance reviews in the specified time frame, performance management software can help. These platforms offer templates to simplify document preparation, and they automate logistical tasks like collecting employee acknowledgments and electronic signatures, setting goals with milestones, scheduling follow-up discussions, and recording interim feedback. 

Final Thoughts

Let’s face it. Preparing performance reviews is time-consuming, and the discussions that follow tend to provoke anxiety among supervisors and employees alike. It’s tempting to throw the entire process out, in favor of addressing issues as they come up. If you have thought along those lines, you might be asking, why are performance reviews important? 

Recognizing good work is an important element of the performance review process, but identifying and addressing performance issues is even more critical. The bottom line is that no one wants to fail in their job, and the majority of your team members want to meet your expectations.

A bit of encouragement, clear, achievable goals, and a workable action plan may be all it takes to get underperformers on the road to success. Unfortunately, without consistent performance reviews at regular intervals, your low performers will miss out on the information they need to achieve performance goals.

The good news is that there are now comprehensive digital platforms that simplify the logistics of preparing and storing performance information. These tools create user-friendly documents that can be completed online, reviewed, and acknowledged by team members, and stored in a secure manner that makes it easy to locate and access historical information as needed. In other words, no more massive filing cabinets with paper documents that can be misplaced - a significant win for any busy practice. 

Learn more about options available from HR for Health online, or contact HR for Health here.

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HR for Health is one of the nation’s leading Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS) used by small to mid-sized practices. 

Quick note: This is not to be taken as legal or HR advice. Since employment laws change over time and can vary by location and industry, consult a lawyer or HR expert for specific guidance. Learn about HR for Health's HR services