Dental practice owners and team members often speak two different languages. And there’s no better example of this than when we talk about team member pay. As dental practice owners, we think in terms of profits and production. Dental team members think in terms of acknowledgment and self-worth.

So when the topic of pay raises comes up, it's often an awkward situation. Team members are wondering how to bring up a raise at all. They want to get paid more but don’t want to get in trouble or get rejected. Practice owners worry whether a team member will leave if they don’t pay the right amount.

What’s the solution? It’s simple. We must create a pay system that gives all team members a clear path to higher pay that is profitable for the practice. That system will be based entirely on profits and performance and let team members know exactly how they can earn more money so there will be no more stress about pay. Here are three simple steps to establishing a pay structure that encourages team members to perform.

1. Establish a paygrade system.

When Lebron James signed with the Lakers, they agreed to pay him $37 million for one year. Why? Because he had a skill that brought in a lot of money.

So when we pay them, they need to justify their pay based on production. For example, with a dental assistant just starts, they don’t do as much or have as many skills as people with more experience. So they are on a lower pay scale. As they learn skills that increase productivity and profits, they move up the pay scale.

We post the payscale charts all over my practice so everyone knows what they need to do to get a raise.

2. Support your team members so they can rise up the paygrade system.

Every year, Fortune magazine publishes the top 100 places to work. For many years, the #2 place to work is a grocery store called Wegmans. They beat Apple. They beat Amazon. Almost every other company ranks below this grocery store. How?

They support their team. They get high marks for support because they put their team members in a position to succeed. If you pay your team members based on a paygrade system, you must support them in moving up.

You can do this by investing in three things. First, invest in their education and training to expand their skills and increase their productivity. Second, invest in giving them the tools they need to perform. Third, invest in putting in place systems and processes to make their work more efficient.

3. Foster a culture of partnership in your dental practice.

We know you’re busy. We know you’re often overwhelmed. So, the idea of putting in place a paygrade system or adding new training, education, tools, and systems might sound like a lot of work.

If that sounds like you, it might be worth empowering your team members to propose education, training, tools, systems, and processes that could help them increase production. Have them propose it to you. Then you can focus more on putting in place the payscale systems to reward them for their production. Empowering them to propose solutions can help build momentum when you’re just starting.

Are you incentivizing and supporting your team members to be more productive?

If you don’t establish a paygrade system, support your team members, and foster a culture of partnership in your practice, your team members’ pay will be out of whack. You will overpay some people and underpay others. When this happens, it’s never the high performers who are overpaid. It’s the low performers. The high performers become underpaid.

When high performers become underpaid, they look for other jobs. When low performers become overpaid, they don’t. That means, over time, all your high performers will leave and your poor performers will stay. And when that happens, patient care will suffer and everyone will lose.

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