Each quarter, we host Practice Growth retreats, where we invite dentists and their leadership teams to work ON their practice instead of IN their practice. One of the most common questions during this experience is, “How do you find great staff? We just can’t seem to find the right people.”
I wish there was an easy button or one website where you could find all the best people ready to hire. But the reality is that we don’t hire superstars, we develop them. I love giving great people the opportunity to improve their skills and become a valuable asset to the practice growth. We utilize a variety of strategies to develop our team, including an incredible process we call Personal Development Interviews.
A Personal Development Interview (PDI) is a key part of each employee’s development.
Break All The Rules is a business book by Curt Coffman that explores the common qualities of highly successful companies. One shared trait the author found was having great employee interactions. Employees felt someone in the company was interested in their development. This was an inspiration for the PDIs.
What exactly is a PDI?
Managers meet with each employee who reports to them. Meetings are held weekly or biweekly, depending on their experience and tenure. The idea is to develop objectives for each one of your employees to make them an even more valuable part of the team. PDIs, as a strategic management system, are effective because they are consistent.
Occasionally, people have an “Ah-ha!” moment and make radical and sudden changes. That doesn’t happen often. Change usually happens much slower. The PDI system is setup to help people have those “Ah-ha!” moments that change behaviors quickly, but if that doesn’t happen, it allows them to have that change over time.
Employees appreciate that there’s time set aside that you’ve committed to their success. If you try to skip a PDI, team members will chase you down and remind you. It’s that valuable to them. Once objectives are determined, simply ask questions during the meetings that’ll lead the employee to fulfill their objectives. Each team member knows that they are going to meet with you every week. You’d always ask them how they have improved. When team members know they’re going to be held accountable, it’s easy for them to start adhering to objectives.
Team members clearly understand what is important. Otherwise, you won’t be repeatedly asking them the same question. It’s a comfortable way to discuss what they’re doing well and what they’re not doing so well. When they struggle with something, it becomes a new objective.
PDIs are motivational meetings.
If you have a performance issue, don’t use PDIs to begin the discussion. If you have to reprimand someone, that’s a separate meeting.
You may add an interview question about an issue they need to work on, but don’t make PDIs downers. PDIs are never downers. No one will want to show up for 30-minute lectures every week. You have to keep it motivating and positive.
PDIs should always make people feel more valuable, confident and that they are making progress (when they are) on their path of personal development.
Make sure you don’t send contradictory messages at PDIs. Don’t tell them everything’s fantastic if it isn’t, but do maintain a motivating environment.
If you had a disciplinary conversation previously about arriving on time, for instance, you can certainly follow up in your PDI and say, “I see you were on time four of the five days last week. Tell me how you made that change.” Reward them for progress. We always say, “Progress, not perfection.” The more you reward their progress, the quicker they get to where you want them to be.
This is the opposite of the typical carrot-and-stick management style many dentists were taught. The carrot for people with the PDI system is their own personal development, and there is no stick. They’re not going to lose their job. There’s no yelling.
Employees want what’s good for them and what’s good for the practice.
Help them get there and make them feel confident they can do it. Many employees feel we have expectations beyond what is possible. With the PDI system, we help them understand it’s possible and that we’re going to help them to get there.
Cutting into production is the biggest concern administrators and owners have with starting PDIs. Abraham Lincoln said, “If I was given six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first five hours sharpening my axe.” Sharpening an axe feels non-productive but, in reality, it makes you more productive. PDIs are the best way we’ve found to do that. It makes you more productive because it gets team members to focus on a bigger future for the practice and themselves.
Since we started doing PDIs several years ago, our need for disciplinary conversations has shrunk. This is because we took the time to develop people and clarify our expectations. Some questions are universal. Most are unique to each employee. They’re developed specifically to help that employee get to the next level.
PDIs are very clear-cut.
Team members should get it whether they want to do it or can do it. If they aren’t getting it, it’s an indicator you have someone that either can’t do it or won’t do it. Remember, you’re trying to weed out poor performers. Give employees every chance to develop. If they still aren’t developing, if they just can’t get it or don’t want to do it, then you move them out of your practice and make room for someone who will.
I understand the struggle when it comes to developing super-stars, there were times when I just wanted to hire someone to do it all for me. I struggled when I saw that scheduled time for these meetings was taking away from me producing as a dentist. It’s a fine line you have to walk as a business owner between leading and mentoring your team and still being the high producer who pays the bills. It’s why I very quickly saw the need to develop a leadership team in my practice.
It wasn’t easy – but it was the best thing I ever did!