Baby, You’re a Rich Man

One of the topics that I often get asked about is how to handle employee reviews and raises. This is one of those subjects that should be given much more attention than it receives. I know practices can get busy and because of that it’s easy for reviews to get delayed or even forgotten. I used to be guilty of that.
When I did an employee review, it used to be pretty simple. I’d meet with an employee talk with them about what was good and what needed improvement, and give a raise. Even though I did it that way for years, I always felt like something was lacking. It needed more.  But what?

I’ve always thought that it was silly to give someone a raise just because he/she had put in another year. I could see how a “raise receiver” wouldn’t have a problem with this. But, as a “raise giver” I thought it was a really bad idea. We had employees in the past who wanted more money, but who weren’t offering any more to the practice.  Why should that behavior be rewarded? The doctor certainly isn’t going to get a raise by doing the same old thing. If a doctor wants a raise, he/she has to raise fees, offer new services, improve systems, and/or do more dentistry. To put it plainly, it’s MORE work that gives a doctor a raise. Yet, here we were, just giving out raises for people who were just doing the same thing day in and day out.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how to change my lackluster system for reviews and raises.
I knew I wanted my new system to meet the following objectives:
Reviews were meant to encourage new skills.
Employees were to be responsible for their own learning.
Raises were no longer to be assumed.

I spent some time talking and (taking notes) with some other dental (and non-dental) friends about how reviews were done in their offices. It seemed as if everyone handled reviews and raises differently, although there were a few who did it the way I did.

I thought and thought…and a vague memory of something Dr. Farran had once said came to mind.

I started putting it all together.

Employees really should EARN their raises. We shouldn’t simply hand out more money to someone just because it’s a new year. The doctor doesn’t get a raise just because another year has gone by. The doctor earns more when he/she offers new services, improves systems, or does more dentistry. It should be a similar concept for the employees. You learn more. You do more. You earn more. End of Story. (OK….not really the end I have a lot more to say about this.)

I revamped my entire thinking and ended up creating a more effective system.
Here’s the method to my madness now:

  1. Once a year I indicate on a calendar when all employees are due for a review. (Sometimes, depending on an employee’s actions or if they are new, a review may happen more than once a year.)
  2. 30 days before an employee is due for a review, I start observing that employee. I note strengths and weaknesses.
  3. At the end of 30 days, I create a chart of the things I’d like the employee to learn about or improve upon and assign monetary values to each category. (Don’t worry, there’s an example below.)
  4. I conduct the review by starting with some positive employee behaviors.
  5. I then ask the employee what things he/she would like to improve upon. I think it’s important to allow the employee to have a say in what he/she is learning. “I don’t know” is NOT an acceptable answer. I add the employee’s personal goal to my chart.
  6. Then I share the chart with the employee.  Expectations are outlined in a very CLEAR and EXACT manner.
  7. I let the employee know that he/she will be responsible for completing the items on the chart in order to EARN the raise. They have 30 days to accomplish everything on the list. I tell them I will NOT chase them down to complete items on the checklist. If the employee wants to get that raise, then HE/SHE will have to make it happen! Although I will observe behavior and oversee progress, I will expect the employee to take ownership over his/her own learning.
  8. I schedule another meeting with the employee that will occur in 30 days.
  9. After 30 days, review the chart and the employee’s progress to figure out how much of the raise the employee has earned. If all of the categories have been completed, then the full raise is given. If one of the categories is only partially completed, then the employee has NOT earned that raise.

The beauty of the system is that it accomplishes all three of my earlier objectives. It forces employees to to learn new skills. The employee becomes responsible for the follow through. (I’m too busy to chase people down all day and ask how their progress is going.) A raise is earned, no longer is it simply given and taken for granted. The accountability falls on the employee-where it should belong.

Here’s very basic example of what one of the reviews could look like. In this example, let’s imagine that Julie is a new employee who is also new to dentistry. Although she’s learned a few things in assisting school, she still has a long way to go. She’s due for her first probationary review. This review will keep her on track for learning what is important for the practice. One of the coolest things about doing a review like this is that it’s completely customizable for the employee! Feel free to add any categories that pertain to your office and to your employee.


I’m happy with this review and raise system and so glad we changed our old ways. We’ve seen a lot of employee growth since we changed our review and raise system. Our practice is filled with employees who are not only learning more, but who also take ownership for their own learning. What practice wouldn’t want to have that?

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