“I want to be sure I'm following the right"ethical" path when delegating tasks and duties to my team. What recommendations do you have to keep me on the straight and narrow?”

Since I’m not an attorney, this article is not meant to provide legal advice on business ethics. And, since I am not a licensed dentist in Arizona, I don’t possess the clinical expertise to evaluate a person’s skill level when providing dental services. My experience as a practice management consultant and broker for dentists and dental practices has given me the opportunity to develop an extensive knowledge and understanding of the business of dentistry. As a result, I will provide recommendations that I have found reasonable, prudent, and successful in developing a standard of excellence in managing the business aspect of dental practices relating to delegation of duty.

As a matter of course, it’s important to be knowledgeable and understand the code regulating dentistry as it relates to unethical conduct. My first recommendation is to reference Arizona Revised Statues §32-1263 Grounds for disciplinary action; definition, for an explanation of the code. For the purpose of this article, I would like to point out the area that meant the most to me when I researched the stature:

D. For the purposes of this section, “unethical conduct” means the following acts occurring in this state or elsewhere:
15. Engaging in any conduct or practice that constitutes a danger to the health, welfare or safety of the patient or the public.

Since 1983, I have been extremely fortunate to work with exceptional dentists and team members in Arizona and across the country who embrace the principle imbedded in this statute. In order to accomplish realistic goals for the development of a successful dental practice, a foundation in principle must be laid. Basing these principles on the fundamental concept that what a person is doing must trace back to the thought of providing services that bring health, welfare, and safety to the patient and the public is vital to good business and practice management.

With this in mind, consider how a dentist may delegate duties to the team so that the practice grows and ensures that patients become healthy in a safe, professional, and comfortable environment.

Dentists have long wrestled with balancing the duties of a clinician with those of a manager. And as a dental practice grows, so do the tasks and responsibilities needed to sustain growth in such a competitive profession. Effective delegation can dramatically improve the efficiency of a practice by helping to build teamwork within the staff. And cooperation and teamwork can contribute to helping staff members to reach their full potential.

One of the reasons why people hesitate to delegate is that they believe they can do things better themselves. However, market forces such as managing the financial aspects of a dental practice, dealing with managed care, ensuring compliance with governmental infection control standards, leading a team of workers, ensuring the practice is following a code of ethical conduct, and sustaining growth in a competitive environment take dentists away from productive treatment time. These factors necessitate the proper distribution of responsibility in such a way that it is embraced and accepted by the staff.

But don’t confuse delegating with dumping. If an employee feels he or she is being dumped on, then that is probably because a task has been delegated without adequate authority to carry it out. It’s all in the way one delegates. Yes, there’s an element of risk in delegating authority. But if one doesn’t feel comfortable with that risk, it probably means that the task is being delegated to the wrong person. And if the right person to delegate to doesn’t exist, it’s time to hire better people.

Here are some tips on implementing distributed responsibility effectively:

a) Remember that the ultimate goal of delegation is neither to get rid of the work; nor is it just to keep employees busy. The ultimate goal is to increase the output of the team and the practice.

b) Don’t delegate the method delegate the task. Let the person you delegate to determine the method.

c) Make sure that the person delegated to “buys in” to the task, agrees to the time frame, and accepts the responsibility. If one is unwilling to delegate the responsibility, one shouldn’t bother delegating the task.

d) Make sure the person delegated to has input into what constitutes accomplishment. Goals should be measurable.

e) Once the task is assigned, keep your distance. It’s okay to ask for updates, but don’t snoop or pry. If you feel you must, you’ve delegated to the wrong person.

f) Require reporting, but not excessive reporting.

g) Follow up only on target dates, or when the project is finished, or when it should be finished.

h) Make sure the person delegated to is accountable for his or her success or failure. Applaud and reward success, discuss and document failure. If necessary, develop a plan together to improve performance.

i) Beware of over delegation to superstars. If one employee is relied upon too heavily, then there is a superstar shortage. And there may be a bigger superstar shortage if the overloaded superstar’s workload is not balanced.

Finally, do not confuse the “delegatee” with the “gofer”.

Gofers “go fer” because they have to.
Delegatees “go fer” because they want to.

In summary, the basis of effective delegation is trust. If one doesn’t trust, then one can’t delegate. Prepare a plan to carry out the work, implement the plan, and measure progress. Keep to the principle of ethics that is the foundation of management and conduct in the practice. Effective distribution of responsibility will yield leverage by allowing the dentist to become more productive with their time. Enjoy distributing responsibilities effectively and witness increased staff productivity, enhanced practice performance and increased profit.