Empowering your team means being clear and communicating your expected performance standards. Here’s how to do it, in four simple steps.

FOR OFFICE MANAGERS, instilling a sense of accountability doesn’t just make their job easier—it also makes for a happier, more productive and cohesive team. It’s an ongoing process over time, one I often liken to steering a ship. By keeping your hand on the wheel and making a lot of minor corrections along the way, you avoid having to deal with a craft that has veered perilously off course.

With that notion in mind, start thinking of yourself as the navigator of your practice. The key to good navigation is urgent coaching: When the ship starts listing, in other words, let people know in the moment. The longer you wait to face the conversation, the farther the ship has drifted.

When it comes to accountability, the process starts and ends with you. After all, if your team doesn’t know their ship’s ultimate destination, they won’t know how to help direct it where it needs to go, and that leads only to frustration for everyone. Plus, if you fail to say something when you see something wrong, you’re nonverbally communicating that such behavior is acceptable. There are four major components of making accountability an important part of your everyday routine.

  1.  Set clear expectations. Ensure that all team members understand their roles and what they need to do to be successful.
  2.  Gain commitment. The team has to believe in your practice culture, your standards and your philosophy of care. Be open and transparent to ensure that your team understands the “why” in your decisions—and recognizes how they benefit patients, themselves and the practice as a whole.
  3.  Inspect what you expect. You’re not forever on the lookout for mistakes to criticize; you’re looking for opportunities to coach people in real time. Supervision of this sort is not about correcting team members—it’s about guiding them back on the right track whenever they need help.
  4.  Sanction accordingly. People aren’t perfect. There will always be times for both praise and punishment. Be sure to praise in public and punish in private.

Maintaining constant communication is how we keep our imaginary ship on course. Touch base frequently with the team, and focus special attention on these things:

  •  What has gone well? You want positive behaviors to continue, so be sure to call them out—and be specific so team members can be proud of what they’re doing right and motivated to keep it up.
  •  What hasn’t gone as expected? Ask probing questions to discover areas of opportunity and room for improvement.
  • If you had to do it again, what would you change? This empowers team members to commit to the right behavior going forward. It’s a way for them to self-reflect and determine their opportunity at that precise moment.

As an office manager, you’re in a privileged position. You owe it to your team to empower them to grow. Sometimes that means letting them fail. Failure, after all, is a necessary part of growth and learning. If you allow your team members to become part of the solution, you increase retention and build a winning culture in the process. By implementing the four components of accountability listed here, you make it much easier to accomplish your goals, because everyone’s working to pilot your ship in the same direction.

KRISTEN JORDAN is Benco Dental’s Practice Solutions Business Developer, specializing in revenue analysis. She has been an office manager, regional manager and operations executive for several large practices. Contact her at kj8713@benco.com.