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Inside Dentistry
March 2013
Volume 9, Issue 3

Three Simple Steps for Powering Up Your Practice

One of the secrets to a successful practice is inspiring your staff to be exceptional. Here’s how.

By Amy Morgan

In these challenging times, it’s easy to look at your practice through the lens of scarcity and stop investing in your team (ie, training, wage increases, and rewards). Without question, your practice’s productivity and profitability depend on each staff member’s motivation to do the right things at the right time, in any and all cycles of the economy. It is never a mistake to continually invest in your greatest asset—your team—because if done correctly, there is almost always a significant return on your investment.

Even if you buy into the concept that continual improvement demands an inspired, passionate team, a leader cannot force or beg employees to be motivated. You can, however, create a culture in which team members are encouraged to grow, achieve new levels of performance, and feel valued and acknowledged for their unique contributions. The first step in creating this new environment is by linking their self-motivation to effective reward-and-recognition models.

When a good reward and recognition system is implemented, it can act as a catalyst for growth and enhance morale. The bad news is that an ineffective reward system magnifies personal issues such as respect and feelings of self-worth and can create conflict, low morale, and poor performance. As a result, many dentists approach rewards and incentives powered by guilt, confusion, fear, and dread. If you want your team to want to do what you want them to do and be inspired by effective reward and recognition, then follow these three rules.

Individual Performance Always Counts

A bonus system based on monthly collections could be working for you. However, if your dental assistant hasn’t been on top of her game and she receives the same amount as the financial coordinator who continually goes above and beyond, that system clearly isn’t working at its best. For any aspect of compensation to be motivational, it must be based on individual demonstrated skills and abilities. If everyone on your team always receives the same reward, then the presumption is each person has performed at the same level. Uniform incentive plans that only acknowledge the median—your average employees—will homogenize your team in mediocrity, not incentivize it for excellence.

Reward Only Efforts That Are Above and Beyond

Although financial remuneration plays an important role in helping people feel valued and recognized, it is not the sole predictor of a team member’s motivation. Don’t get me wrong: a poorly paid employee who can’t pay the electric bill is not going to rise to new levels of success. The base wage for any staff member can and should meet his or her foundational financial needs. A wage is what you give people to do the job they are hired to do. Reward and recognition can then be used separately, to celebrate individual efforts that go above and beyond the call of duty.

Avoid the “Carrot and the Stick”

A common mistake is to try to motivate based on what we call the “carrot-to-stick continuum.” The carrot represents reward, and the stick represents punishment. When dentists use carrots as incentives, they can inadvertently imply that the task at hand is so unappealing or difficult that the team member requires a bribe to tackle it. Or, this suggests that the dentist has no confidence that the team has the ability to do the task without the carrot. The stick approach also signifies the dentist’s lack of confidence in the team. When dentists use sticks, they are employing power and fear in an attempt to control the staff. The sad thing is that team members may change when they perceive that there is a negative consequence if they don’t. But fear only works for the short term, and the dentist has to keep bringing home a bigger stick for that positive behavior to continue.


As a leader, you have a choice on how to create motivation and change in your practice. You can use the classic punishment and reward system, or encourage a self-motivational culture. You can homogenize your group and incentivize the average, or you can create a culture that goes above and beyond. The best reward-and-recognition models always follow these rules. Do you want to inspire? Then be prepared to celebrate excellence.

About the Author

Amy Morgan | Amy Morgan is the CEO of Pride Institute, a nationally acclaimed results-oriented Dental Practice Management consulting company. Morgan and her team of consultants have revitalized thousands of dental practices using Pride’s time-proven Management Systems, resulting in dentists becoming more secure, efficient, and profitable. For any questions about staff compensation plans or any practice issues, please e-mail or call 800-925-2600.

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