Chapter 8: Office Manager

Study Guide and Resources

Ask Yourself

  • Do you feel confident with your office manager at the helm?
  • What aspects of your practice does your office manager manage?
  • Is the communication between you and your office manager effective or strained?
  • What expectations do you have for your office manager?

Ask Your Staff

  • Do you know who to go to with issues, questions or concerns?
  • How often do you want to have staff meetings?
  • What items do you want to see on the staff meeting agenda?
  • How would you describe the “feel” and the culture of the office?
  • How is drama handled in the office?

Take Action

  • Commit to staff meetings, put them in the schedule and plan for them with an agenda and topics to cover.
  • Write an Office Gossip Policy.
  • Create a unified front with the office manager, so the team knows where to go with problems and who can solve issues.
  • Host a team building event.
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6 Tips for Increasing Staff Performance

How to make sure your team is doing their very best.

Improving employee performance is an ongoing process. In a previous article, we talked about the reasons why continual training is essential—Staff Efficiency and Productivity, Staff Motivation and Ownership, and Staff Loyalty and Retention. But exactly how can your office achieve these goals with continual training?

A practice that stands out from the competition is usually comprised of a great team that works well together—a like-minded team of employees that work hard to achieve the practice goals. So, how do we develop and nurture such a team to ensure stellar employee performance? Most practices make the mistake of focusing on increasing production, and so they invest in means and systems to support performance results. Unfortunately, many of these systems turn out to be time-consuming and impossible to implement into everyday work responsibilities.

Here are six ways that your practice can improve staff performance to meet those long-term growth goals.

  1. Discover the Reasons Why

The first step is to discover why a staff member is not performing well, and it is important not to assume or jump to conclusions. Discuss your concerns with an open mind and positive attitude. Always ask open-ended questions and, more importantly, listen to the answers. Remember that your goal is to determine the root of the problem, which will help you determine how to improve the staff member’s performance.

Study Guide Increasing Staff Performance Image

  1. Encourage Communication

Staff members want to be involved in the success of the practice’s growth and want to play an important role in creating excellence. Encouraging communication among staff members, teams and even management is essential. Awareness can be gained from employee input at staff meetings, team meetings, morning huddles or even a simple suggestion box. Again, being open-minded and uncritical of ideas helps encourage staff members to speak up and express their thoughts, which can sometimes be very insightful.

  1. Establish a Positive Culture

The culture within your practice starts with the practice owner, and should be developed and encouraged in all staff members. The culture you create must be one in which all team members feel they are appreciated and valued. Keep your door open, and always make sure your staff knows they can come to you with questions or ideas. Remember, a happy staff is a productive staff.

  1. Establish Continual Training Opportunities

Ongoing training is essential to practice success. Staff can help improve their skills with virtual training that is available at their fingertips when they need it. Learning is an ongoing process, and training should not be regarded as a one-time event, but rather a continual activity that happens over time. You can successfully train your staff and improve their performance by taking advantage of technology which enables staff to learn anytime and anywhere with virtual training.

  1. If It’s Not Fun—Don’t Do It!

Training doesn’t have to be boring, and, in fact, it should be fun! No one wants to sit in front of a speaker, a webinar or a training module that is boring and dull. If you want to inspire change in behavior and adoption of new ideas for growth, the training you provide must be interesting, challenging and engaging. Give your staff members the opportunity to learn and grow in their skills with a program that’s fun and entertaining, and they will grasp the knowledge twice as fast, as well as be excited about implementing it. Some people don’t understand the necessity of training to be fun and entertaining. But the fact remains: if training is boring—regardless of the content—it will fail.

  1. Recognize and Acknowledge Contributions

Everyone appreciates when they are recognized and acknowledged for their contributions and achievements. Use recognition to reinforce the actions that will cause your practice to excel. This approach will give your employees the essential boost to help them be engaged, and it has a trickle-down effect that goes well beyond the individual. Your recognition lets staff members know that you care about their contributions and accomplishments. It also demonstrates your dedication to creating an environment where they can succeed. Through recognition and acknowledgement, you establish a culture that attracts and retains the best staff members.

In addition to these six tips, it’s also important to develop protocols for identifying and working toward practice goals. Putting protocols in place will ensure that the team works effectively and efficiently towards achieving your practice goals. Like any practice policy, your employee training protocol should have clear guidelines in place that every team member must follow.

Take advantage of the opportunities for virtual continual training for your staff. In doing so, you’ll be the catalyst to their success—and, ultimately, yours!

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Teaching Dental Staff How to Prioritize

At a recent speaking event, a new dental office staff member asked me something I’d never been asked before. The question threw me off because it wasn’t easy to answer, and there was no obvious answer. When I went back to my office on Monday, and since I have new employees on my team right now, I realized the question would be a great topic to share.

Teaching Dental Staff How to Prioritize

An employee new to the world of dentistry asked, “How do you know what to do, and in what order? How do you know what to prioritize?” She wasn’t asking me whether should she complete confirmation calls before calling insurance, or about the order of her daily duties in her office. She was asking about the judgement call someone needs to make when they have seven things going on at once, with patients are looking at them, the schedule falling apart, and the phone ringing.

I’m having a similar experience with new employees in my office. I think this is a hard question to answer. It’s not obvious to everyone what to do and in what order things should be completed. Not everyone has innate troubleshooting skills or decision-making skills. If employees are not told what you expect of them, they will do the best they can, but their decisions may not be the same as yours, or may not be what you expect from your office staff.

How do you train your dental office employees to prioritize?

First, it’s important that you have regular conversations and provide feedback to your employees. These regular communications will help them when everything comes up at once and you expect them to make the right decision regarding what to do. After talking to one of my new employees about this issue, what we determined was that when someone is having to make decisions, they need to start by figuring out the following.

  • What can have the biggest impact? The items that will have the biggest impact are those things that need to be handled right now, to keep today’s schedule together and to make sure patients who are in the office are being handled. We want to do whatever we can not to let the day fall apart, and that takes priority over issues that affect next week’s schedule.
  • What’s going to have the most immediate impact? If you have four or five things that need handling, you need to determine what is going to take the most versus the items you can check off the list the quickest. Let’s say you must decide between calling an insurance company versus making calls to confirm tomorrow’s patients. It’s going to be faster to make the confirmation calls, and it’s going to make a bigger impact on the daily schedule. However, if you’ve got a patient in today’s schedule in the chair right now and you’re trying to verify benefits, call the insurance company as this is a priority over tomorrow’s dental office employees to prioritize image
  • What is going to be the easiest or the hardest to solve? If the impact and time commitment are the same, how many steps will it take you to complete a task? Do you need to speak with the doctor, or call the insurance company, or check with a team member? The item with the least number of steps should be completed first.

As a dental practice owner or office manager, you must recognize that not every employee has these innate skills.

Not everyone you hire is going to know how to make the right decision at the right time. It’s hard to train new employees or to incorporate this into your employee manual because each day in a dental office is completely different, and each minute in a dental office has different variables and challenges.

You can’t write it down and say if this happens do this first, and if this happens do this second. Decisions have to be made on the fly and you need to make smart decisions. It’s important to help current and new employees recognize when they made the right decision, so they know that they’re doing well. If they made an incorrect decision give them quick feedback so you can keep the day moving in the right direction. Be prepared to discuss the incorrect decision in more detail at a more appropriate time.

When you have this discussion do not make employees wrong when you ask them how they came to their decision. Recognize the fact that they decided because that’s much better than somebody always coming to you and asking you how or when to do something. Ask them how they came to their decision because it’s important to hear their thought process, and it’s important to acknowledge that thought process because it made sense to them. Then explain why they should have taken a different course of action.

When your employees receive immediate feedback and two-way communication, they feel respected and acknowledged. They will be more willing to grow and learn to adapt to the way you want your office to be run. The worst mistake you can make is to become frustrated with someone or leave them alone. Then you’ll have an employee not trained well and doing things in the wrong order.

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From Top to Bottom - Motivating Employees

Before I became a dental office manager, I earned a master’s degree in Organizational Development. Consultants in this field help businesses grow by implementing organizational changes to enhance employee knowledge, effectiveness, and overall performance. Corporations pay thousands of dollars to have a consultant help them find ways to better motivate their employees for improved performance.

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In most of the businesses that I’ve worked with, the changes that needed to happen to increase employee performance were things that needed to start from the top. In other words, it wasn’t the employees who needed to change first but the managers who hired the consultant in the first place.

Why is that? Bottom line, managers want employees to be more motivated and more productive, but that will not happen simply by spending money to bring an outside person in on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis to tell employees how to work differently. Surprisingly, it also won’t happen just by paying employees more. Numerous studies show that although employees appreciate more pay (especially if they feel that they are being under compensated), increased pay does not automatically increase their motivation.

Webster’s Dictionary defines motivation as something inside people that drives them to action. It’s also important to differentiate between external motivation, such as higher pay, and internal motivation, such as work ethic. This internal drive varies in different people, but the common thread is that internal motivation is a much stronger force than external rewards. Therefore, since motivation comes from within, owners and managers need to acknowledge and cultivate the motivation that their employees already have.

Am I saying that hiring the right employee is not important? Not at all. However, we tend to complain about our employees not being motivated, without stopping to look at the environment in which they work. Quality leadership is the answer to helping motivate employees. Unfortunately, most people are not natural-born leaders. With that in mind, here is a quick-study strategy guide on what you can do to turn an unmotivated employee around.

Be approachable and easy to communicate with — Check in with each employee on a regular basis, and let them know it is okay to come to you anytime with anything you might need to know, whether it be good or bad news. When an employee feels their boss is open to communication, they will work harder and be less afraid to come to the manager in times of need.

Give employees needed resources — Employees feel unappreciated when they are told to do a job that is virtually impossible to achieve the desired outcome without specific resources. When an employee sees managers investing in them to help them be better at their job and make them more efficient, the employee will push to accomplish more for the organization.

Keep employees in the loop — When employees feel like they are informed of key events, goals to be reached, and important up-coming changes, they are more likely to get involved without excessive cajoling or bribery from management. In contrast, employees who feel they are kept in the dark are the ones who tend to clock in and out without any consideration of the bigger goal.

Remember that people like to be recognized — Even the most motivated people get burned out and lose motivation if they don’t get some sort of acknowledgement or recognition from time to time. This does not have to be much, really—it could be as simple as a “thank you” to an employee who went above and beyond or a recognition when they did something well. These small tributes are very meaningful to most employees. Finding ways to make sure employees get frequent positive feedback at appropriate times will help to motivate the targeted employees, in addition to anyone around them who will become motivated to earn that recognition too.

Look in the mirror — The best way to show employees what is expected is to lead by example. If you ask your employees to go the extra mile, show up on time, maybe stay late here and there… yet you show up late, don’t put in extra effort, and leave right after the day is done… what is that saying to them? If you are feeling that your employees aren’t giving it their all, before pointing fingers, look in the mirror. Are you showing them what a motivated person looks like?

Give them the training they need — New employees may be exceptionally motivated to give their best, push harder, and help wherever they can. But if they are not trained well, they will not be able to do that—leading to a sense of discouragement and reluctance to put in extra effort. Investing in training will not only increase their skill level but also show that you are investing in them as an asset to the organization.

Avoid “all work and no play” — You spend more time with your work family than you do with your own family. If the focus is all about work and no fun, you’ll have employees who are eager for their shift to end, so they can get home and enjoy life. Owners and managers tend to push to achieve goals, but there needs to be a balance of fun along with the push. Playing games, rewarding success, and enjoying the little things helps keep employees motivated and shows them they are appreciated. Let them know that they are personally valued in your organization and that their effort matters.

These strategies are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to increasing motivation in your employees. When you begin at the top by truly changing management’s approach to motivating employees, you’ll see bigger and more lasting results. Of course, this kind of significant culture change can’t happen overnight, but by implementing small and immediate steps at the management level, you’ll see a trickle-down effect that will lead to a more motivated staff.

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Office Manager: Job Description

Primary Responsibilities

This position is responsible for the overall management of the day to day operations of the dental office, to include but not limited to patient flow, goal attainment, staff training and daily operations of office and staff.

The Office Manager acts as the liaison between the dentist and the employees of the office and may also be required to assist with general front office duties.


  • Requires knowledge and experience in office and staff management.
  • Must have good attention to detail, great communication skills and excellent customer service skills. Good interpersonal skills to maintain effective rapport with patients, dentists, other staff members and community
  • Able to adapt to office policy improvements (office is constantly striving for improved customer care/service)
  • Conflict resolution experience
  • Customer service or patient relations experience
  • Quick response/accurate data entry
  • Must be focused, personable, punctual and can handle a busy dental office

Specific Duties

Office Management

  • Manage day-to-day operations of dental office
  • Oversees daily deposits and ensures end of day reports are accurate and reported to doctor daily
  • Oversees the responsibilities and duties of all the office personnel so that the office runs smoothly and efficiently
  • Ensures inventory and offices ordering is done correctly
  • Fills in anywhere needed throughout the day to achieve daily goal and great patient care
  • Maintain the office computer network. Maintain computer software at all work stations. Act as primary liaison between office and network support and between office and the computer company.
  • See that all necessary forms for the next workday are ready before closing the office, and that all backlog paperwork is completed before closing the office on Friday
  • Keep running total of office production for doctor and hygienist and post on board each morning
  • Market the practice internally and externally, help encourage patients to proceed with dental care, and support necessary treatment

Staff Management

  • Establishes staff schedules, daily duties of staff and ensures quality patient care.
  • Plans for and helps conduct staff meetings
  • Manages employee payroll and monitors hours worked by employees
  • Trains and rotates staff, as needed to ensure employees are cross trained
  • Arrange emergency back-up coverage for dentist when dentist is on vacation.
  • Performs other duties as needed
  • Keep CPR certification current. Keep OSHA and HIPAA training current
  • Keep appointment scheduler in computer up to date. Enter or change all time off, vacations and holidays.
  • Manage professional attire for all staff who routinely work in the front office area
  • Oversees hiring, job ad placements, screening resumes and interviewing candidates.

Ensures All Staff:

  1. Always demonstrates exceptional customer service skills
  2. Communicates with patients in a courteous, professional and mature manner
  3. Answers telephones are answered in a timely and polite manner
  4. Accurately enters procedure codes and bills insurance and patients correctly
  5. Observes and ensures practice OSHA and HIPAA compliance is met
  6. Follows office policies and guidelines

Ensures Environment:

  1. Oversees and maintains a safe environment for patients and staff
  2. Completes equipment is in working order or repaired in a timely manner
  3. Ensures mandatory training and certifications are updated
  4. Communicates necessary changes/updates with staff and owner
  5. Establishes and ensures emergency procedures are followed, when needed

Ensures Patient:

  1. Follows policies and procedures for patient privacy
  2. Maintains a great environment for patient care and to help increase referrals
  3. Monitor that any patient issues or complaints are addressed accurately and timely
  4. Verifies patient flow is controlled well and intake of new patients

Ensures for Owner:

  1. All staff are following policy and procedures and enforces correction, if needed
  2. Monitors all reports and achievement of goals and reports to doctor, as directed
  3. Works with staff and doctor to develop, implement and monitor goals and policies
  4. Assures staff meet deadlines on projects


Education/Training Level:

  • High School Diploma
  • Prior supervisory experience or completion of management training program