The Hard Choice

By Teresa Duncan, MS, FADIA, FAADOM

Newly promoted office managers often have to navigate new dynamics of their working relationships

When a practice expands it usually needs a manager to foster this growth. Typically, dentists promote from within, and the receptionist or the assistant find themselves in a position of making decisions, handling team dynamics, and oh yes – still doing many of their previous duties. In a group practice setting, the manager can be new to the team of a new location – usually told that now two to three offices will be under his or her management. It can be quite a shock for most people!

Both situations require that the new manager walk a fine line: manager or co-worker/friend? Your first thought may be that you can and should be both. Because we are typically social creatures that seek approval from friends and colleagues, it’s normal that this is our first response.

Truthfully, we really shouldn’t be close friends with people we are trying to manage. At least not initially. I know of many teams in which the coworkers have been together for 15+ years. They know about each other’s families, habits and personalities. This can be a recipe for success, but many times it’s not. Think back to the positions you’ve held in which there were weird dynamics in the office. The source can often be tracked to a manager or doctor playing favorites with team members.

Conflict of interest
As an example, let’s discuss Jenny, who has just recently been promoted from receptionist to manager. Her new duties include payroll, reporting to the regional director, training new hires and working on increasing cash flow in the office. She has also been asked to continue with light reception duties until another receptionist can be found. Her former team members were excited for her, but as time passed they realize that she is serious about increasing production and collection. She runs reports regularly and talks to the hygienists and assistants daily about the amounts they are expected to produce and by how much they miss their goals.

Jenny is under the impression that because they were all such great friends the team will want to help her improve the numbers. She still hangs out with some of them after work, and as a result, hears the complaints about other coworkers. She laughs about it with them because it’s after hours and she figures she is off the clock.

What Jenny needs to realize is that there is never a clock-out time when you’re a manager. The job that she now has is to ensure the practice success, not to make new friends. When I coach new managers, I give them the following scenario:

You’re hanging out after work and one of the assistants tells you that she is looking for another job. She asks if you can keep it quiet.
A friend’s answer: Of course – just give me as much notice as possible.
A manager’s answer: Well – you need to know that I have to prepare the office for a change in staffing. If you’re looking now, then I’ll place an ad to begin the hiring process. We can keep it quiet with the team but I will have to tell the doctor. I hope you understand.

Do you see the difference? A manager has to put the office’s interests first. Jenny’s focus on the numbers is well-intended. However, she shouldn’t use loyalty to achieve her goals. Jenny could position herself as someone who needs help from the team. Asking her coworkers to brainstorm to achieve these goals is a much better way to obtain help than just expecting it.

The missing skill
What is missing from Jenny’s skill set? She is smart enough to evaluate the practice metrics and to train new team members on the office systems. What she lacks is management skills training. Her new duties alone require exposure to skills such as facilitating team interaction, goal-setting, and talent development. Her coworkers will now look to her for guidance, but will be more likely to accept her suggestions if she makes them based on the practice’s needs, not based on a whim or an emotional decision.

It’s hard to be the manager – no doubt about it. Several managers have told me they miss being in on the office chitchat. New managers know what it’s like to come around the corner only to have the conversation stop suddenly. The experienced manager is comfortable enough to walk in and start another conversation with the full knowledge that she doesn’t have to know everything that goes on in the office. As long as she can stay aware of the issues that affect the practice, she’ll be just fine.


Teresa Duncan is President of Odyssey Management, Inc. and Dentistry’s Revenue Coach. She is an international speaker that focuses on recapturing and maximizing income opportunities for dental offices. Insurance and accounts receivable systems are her specialty. Her company offers a Billing and Coding ESupport line to answer any questions your office has on those topics. Visit her website for more information and to send her any questions or comments. www.OdysseyMgmt.com

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