People need leaders more than ever in a time of crisis. Your actions, expectations and direction will either help your practice recover, damage your reputation or lead to failure.
Under the ‘well-led’ key line of enquiry, the Care Quality Commission expect all practices to have a disaster and contingency plan in place but the way you lead your team to implement it is the difference between your survival or demise.
This sounds quite drastic but I would recommend taking the following simple steps to support a smooth transition back into the workplace.
1. Regroup – Our human instinct is to get back to the grindstone as quickly as possible.
However, I would urge you to take some time to reflect. Give your team time to pause, take a deep breath and consider what has happened since lockdown and the best way to start operating again. Regroup.
Some team members may have had bereavements themselves. Others may have suffered anxiety or stress. Leading at a time of crisis and recovery is about taking an empathetic stance and the time to stand in each team members’ shoes and see the ‘new world’ from their perspective. Only then can you tap into their fears and motivations to steer everyone in the right direction with a common purpose.
I would suggest ‘inner views’, ‘one to ones’ and an initial team meeting to formulate a plan to gradually resume operations. Daily team debriefs are ideal for discussing issues you are facing and finding a better way of doing things as we find our new ‘normal’.
2. Resolve – Deal with displaced anger. Keep your eyes open for irrational behaviour. During a recovery phase, many employees will blame the organisation for the crisis and speed of recovery.
The key to a resolution is building trust. Experts outline a number of helpful measures to build trust and minimise fears in nervous employees returning to work.
These include the following:
- Practising two-way, transparent, open communication
- Providing outlets for emotional support
- Encouraging staff to take care of themselves
- Adopting a firm, fair and consistent management approach
- Simplifying new, potentially confusing, stress-producing processes and ways of working
- Displaying your vulnerability as a leader
3. Retrain – Do not expect productivity to get back to normal quickly.
Grace Burley, a strategic crisis advisor in the US, says that it is common for companies that have been impacted on by a crisis to initially see a drop in productivity. This is followed by a spike in activity with another drop off and a steady return to ‘normality’.
How the COVID-19 crisis will impact on the way dental teams return to work and their productivity will be dictated by more rigorous infection control and prevention measures. This will involve retraining to use more robust PPE and to follow revised guidance from the Government and other governing bodies.
This is a perfect opportunity to implement ‘skills gaps analyses’ to highlight where each team member needs support, coaching and training to address disparities in their knowledge, skills and attitudes.
4. Rebuild – Open communication is vital to bouncing back after a crisis. Let your team know that it is OK to talk. This might be in a large group or on a smaller scale depending on the size of your team.
The pivotal thing is to build an effective and productive workplace by focusing on your purpose, values and culture. In effect, we have an opportunity to start with a blank slate.
Think about your purpose as what people say about your practice and what you wish to be remembered for. It should be transparent, tangible and consistently demonstrated to each patient every time that they visit your practice. Your purpose creates emotional connections with your people, be that with staff or patients and is central to business development.
5. Reconnect – The effects of a disaster or crisis can be long-lasting. I have experienced this first hand.
I took my daughter and her friend to the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester for their 13th birthdays and we got caught up in the bombing. Outwardly, my daughter, Maddy, seemed to deal with the emotional aftermath very well.
However, on her 15th birthday, on the second anniversary of the bombing, we were watching the evening news bulletin commemorating the victims. She started to cry and wept on and off for a week. She could not concentrate or focus her efforts on anything.
Likewise, the effects of the COVID–19 may have an emotional impact on team members much further down the road than you might anticipate. Communicate, share experiences and reconnect now.
Watch out for any changes to someone’s behavioural norms that might flag up a problem. For example, if a team member is usually punctual to work and their time-keeping becomes a problem, there might be an underlying problem. Reconnecting early on allows for open questions to be asked in an environment that offers tailored support to each individual.
Great leadership is a challenge at any point least of all following a crisis. If you need support or to tap into expert advice, join my Facebook group, Leadership in Dentistry. There is a wealth of information in the form of interviews, videos and other posts to support you through to the other side.
Nicki has lived and breathed practice management since opening Perfect 32 Dental Practice in East Yorkshire in 2005. Over an 11-year period, she nurtured her team to achieve exemplary standards in both clinical and customer service-based areas of work and as a result, the practice has won countless awards. These include The National Training Awards for Yorkshire and Humber in 2010, as well as being a national finalist in the Small Employer category that year.
In 2014, Nicki set up her own business, Practices Made Perfect by Nicki Rowland, primarily as a dental consultancy and training organisation. She is impassioned about sharing her knowledge of CQC compliance and practice management with other practices to help them survive and grow in the present tough economic and political climates. Success, Nicki believes, lies in innovation – accomplished through the introduction of not just new products and technologies, but robust CQC compliance, strategic business processes, and ‘exciting and inspirational’ initiatives too.