"To develop initiative– having the courage to assume responsibility and the imagination to create ideas and develop them."
Juliette Southard was right. It is important for everyone in a dental practice to take initiative. Taking initiative builds confidence, both in the dentist toward the assistant, and in the assistant herself. Courage is needed because sometimes taking initiative means making mistakes. This means that the assistant must be well trained and able to make decisions based on what she has learned about the dentist's preferences. Good, clear, consistent communication will ensure that the assistant and dentist will develop the confidence needed to give good care to their patients and will keep the practice running smoothly. When I work with a new staff member I remind them that mistakes are really learning opportunities. Most mistakes can be fixed and they provide me with a chance to see how the employee reacts under stress and what kind of problem solving skills they have. It also gives the staff member the ability to see that if they make a mistake, they can fix it and we won't disown them.
We recently spent a lot of time discussing accountability, which is what Juliette is referring to when she talks about assuming responsibility. It means making a decision or choice and standing behind it. If it turns out to be a mistake, own it. Don't make excuses, just state the facts and try to offer a solution. Allow the issue to be discussed at a staff meeting so that everyone can learn from it and offer their own solutions. Managers and dentists, don't make it a blame or shame issue. Make it a learning process, respond with kindness, no one comes to work to do a bad job. Let your employees see that you will support them, even when they make a mistake because you believe in them. It will empower them to take initiative.
Encourage employees to offer their ideas. Assistants, try to look at everything in the practice and figure out how it could be done better. Could you find a way to greet patients more warmly, set the room up for more efficiency, develop protocols that make it possible for anyone to help if you're not there, etc.? Don't be satisfied with just good enough to get by. Knowing that perfection is elusive, strive for excellence. Try to make your practice stand out from all the others. Don't just come up with the ideas, be prepared to implement them. Participate in staff meetings and help create interest and excitement in the working of the practice. Don't just be an observer, get in there and make things happen. That makes you an outstanding assistant.