How Dentists Can Help You Become a Better Manager
Managers often complain that no matter what they do their teams always find something to complain about. The interesting, and strange, thing I noticed is that team problems seem to pop-up out of nowhere and they have momentum. A lot of focus is placed on urgent and tangible things (i.e. get the targets), but things that are important are left ignored until they become urgent problems.
Dentists can help us understand this better.
Managing a team, or a company, is very much like managing your teeth. Your dentist will tell you to take regular care of your teeth (brush your teeth, floss, get regular checkups) and you will have nice healthy teeth with little problems. If you don’t, you will have problems… painful problems that always seem to show up at the worst times. You will be spending your time fixing problems that you could have prevented with much less hassle, pain, and cost. It’s the same thing for managing a team or a business.
So, here are a few lessons to take from our friendly dentists:
Brush Your Teeth Regularly:
At work, that means do the basics. Set and communicate your team’s goals. Have clear expectations for people. Reward and acknowledge them for their accomplishments and correct mistakes as they occur.
Dig a little deeper. From my experience, one of the most effective things to do is to sit one-on-one with each team member on a regular basis (monthly). Spend more time listening and less time talking. Let people speak their minds and tell you how they feel. What they like/dislike and what ideas they have. Make sure you orient the discussion to be constructive. If there is a problem only you can solve, do something about it. If it’s something they can resolve, orient the discussion towards that. If there is a minor conflict between colleagues, clear it up or get them to do so.
Get Regular Check Ups:
Most people hate visiting the dentist. The sound of that drill (yikes). The good news is that you can be your own dentist in business. The important thing is to step out of your daily routine and do an overall check up of the team. Are you all going in the right direction? are there issues you were not aware of before? etc. These are things you will identify by stepping back, zooming out and looking at the big picture rather than the day-to-day activities. You might get that insight from your manager, colleague, consultants, or from a book or article you read.
Fix Problems Right Away:
This is what most managers avoid. You know there are problems. You might have a crooked tooth (e.g. team member who’s out of line) or other issues. Whatever it is, don’t put it off and deal with it right away. Left untreated, problems grow like tooth decay. So straighten out that team member or remove him/her if there is no fix and it will only get worse. It might be annoying, but its far better than leaving them until they blow up in your face. I learned that lesson the hard way when I found six people waiting for me to return from my summer vacation to submit their resignations (not the nicest way to end your vacation). It was a bunch of small issues that grew as I focused on the hard figures at their expense. As people grew more frustrated and complained to each other, emotions added fuel to the fire and it became a problem. .
The key lesson here is: Address problems right away before they grow into bigger ones.
Managing people is not just about preventing and solving problems. You can add polish to have that extra sparkle in your team. Have fun. Let them express their personalities. Build the team spirit and a positive momentum for everyone. This all depends on your personality, the type of company you are in (banks will be very different than tech start-ups), and your team. Whatever your background is, find your unique way. Zappos is often sited for having a great corporate culture and have two of their 10 core values (Create Fun and A Little Weirdness and Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit) dedicated to building a happy team.
Listen to your dentist and you will have a team of loyal, engaged, and flourishing people… and healthy shiny teeth.
Now if you will excuse me, I will go brush and floss my teeth.