Think Like a Doctor, Part 7: How to Encourage Effective Internal Problem Solving

Uncategorized Nov 15, 2019

Most Periodontists agree that problem-solving and decision making are critical attributes for every employee in their practice.  Despite this, very few practice leaders train their staff on how to solve problems and make effective decisions. The problem is that training usually only involves the basic tasks themselves leaving out this crucial element. 

“But I thought you meant”

means only one thing:

“I didn't get it…” 

There are essential components to handling day to day operations, but most practice owners don’t prioritize important decision-making skills enough.  As we discussed in Part 4 of this series, staff will often come to you with problems because they don't have the confidence needed to handle them, aren’t sure about the outcome they need to achieve, and they fear the consequences of making a mistake.

Don’t tell them to simply handle it!...

The best thing you can do is give them a reason to follow your methodology.  Include the reasons behind the task to support the value of doing it so that they can make informed decisions moving forward.

Here is an example to further break it down;

“Please confirm the patient for tomorrow.” is a simplistic example.

Most of us know the reason we confirm patients, however, what if the employee didn’t make it a priority?

Adding the term “So that…” helps.  Instead, you could say;

“Please confirm the patient for tomorrow so that we can be sure they arrive, and production is met.”  

Now that may seem obvious to you, however, your reality is much different from their reality.  You may even need to clarify the reason you have production goals, but that is taking it to a deeper level beyond the point of this blog post.

Silly as it may seem, they often do not understand the relevance of tasks and simply just go through the motions. Even worse, staff can struggle to prioritize projects, because to them it seems like a huge list of to do’s as opposed to critical business necessities.  

Give them the tools to make informed decisions moving forward. Here’s the three-step process we recommend:


Listen carefully to the problem, but don’t attempt to answer. This may seem like communication 101 but it is often overlooked in many business settings. This is a learning opportunity and they need to navigate it for themselves.  If you attempt to help them out at this stage, you will also miss the opportunity to gain vital insight. 

If what you are hearing seems to make no sense or sounds like they don't know what they are talking about, then you are mastering listening techniques and will quickly be able to recognize when they are working blind. 

One of the most valuable benefits of listening is that you will be able to pick up on whether their thinking is in alignment with your practice value system. This alone can give you significant insight as to how to proceed.


So, after listening, what do you do with what you've heard? Your role should be to help them see through your point of view offering insights that drive them to the solution. 

Ask them questions that will lead them to the solution. They will be more likely to remember it when they’re equipped with 'the why' as well as the techniques needed for the task at hand. They’re connecting the dots with the path you provide and will be more likely to remember it when they’ve created it themselves. 

The problems we are talking about are not just little events in daily minutia. The solutions to problems derived through imparting an understanding will help them carry forward habits to aid in future problem-solving. 


I like the idea of using “pop quizzes” to see if they remember what you need and or expect from past interactions with them. This provides two benefits.

When they arrive at the right conclusion that aligns with the value of the practice, it tells you that your guidance, and clarity have been effective. 

Complimenting their thinking skills reinforces their desire to learn and gives them the confidence that you trust them to make well-informed decisions in the future. Let them know you recognize they’re capable.

This acknowledgment when they do well creates reciprocity because they have proven to clearly understand, and are able to navigate the way your practice works. 

Are you developing effective problem-solvers and decision-makers in your practice? Our latest master course covers some high-level tips on how to lead others without doing the heavy lifting - check it out at PANDA College. (Available to PANDA Perio customers only)

Coming up in Part 8, we’re diving into ways to hold your staff accountable to motivate them to perform their best.

PANDA Perio now offers a master course for easy implementation. This enhanced course is called “How to teach your staff to think like a doctor." We utilize the regular training components of PANDA College and incorporate an extra 10 step series to help strategize implementation in less time by showing you how the team thinks and what they need to know in order to effectively get the inside scoop about how you think. This strategy puts everyone on the same page and empowers your staff, in turn, creating cohesiveness and lowered stress.  We also offer the standard full course curriculum that comes free with purchase on any license of PANDA Perio. 


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