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Retain your great new team members

Commitment to development: an alternative to sink or swim onboarding

February 05, 2018

By Ginny Hegarty, SPHR

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Congratulations! You've selected your new hire and today is day one of what you hope will be a long, mutually rewarding relationship. What's your onboarding plan?

First impressions are powerful and lasting. The prospects for achieving success with a new hire will depend to a great extent on what you have planned for this new hire's first day at the office. Putting your best foot forward matters, considering these statistics:

  • Health care is tied with banking and finance in having the second highest turnover rate of 15 percent in 2016, behind hospitality (20 percent), according to Compensation Force, a workforce blog produced by Altura Consulting Group in Wayzata, Minnesota.
  • 40 percent of employees who have quit a job voluntarily did so within six months of starting the position, according to ClearCompany, the inventor of a software/service talent management system.
  • The cost of replacing an entry-level employee is 30-50 percent of their annual salary, according to ClearCompany.

Do the math, it's eye opening.

What is your onboarding plan?

This question is often met by a surprised, deer-in-the-headlights look. "What do you mean, onboarding strategy? We hired an experienced dental assistant, she knows what to do, right?" The reality is this dental assistant does know what to do in her previous practice. She doesn't have any experience in how to best support your philosophy of care and protocols. She doesn't know your perspective on the practice culture or the nuances of everyday life in your practice. Without this knowledge, there is a steep, stressful learning curve ahead of all of you.

"Hmm, I guess I don't have an onboarding strategy." This doctor does have a strategy; unfortunately, it's not a good one. There's a long-standing tradition in dentistry of introducing new hires through a process known as the "sink or swim." For the uninitiated, this consists of basically throwing the new hire into the deep end of the pool and hoping they learn how to save themselves. Some will thrive, some will struggle; others will simply choose to get out of the pool and go home. It doesn't have to be this way.

What new employees really want

As an improvement on the sink or swim strategy, practices will often set aside time to have a new hire complete the required paperwork, set up their direct deposit for payroll and shadow a team member for a few hours on their first day. A good start, but it's not enough to give your new hire a proper introduction to their new role in your practice.

A survey, conducted by BambooHR, a human resources software solutions firm in Lindon, Utah, of what employees really want included in their training and orientation revealed that:

  • 76 percent want more on-the-job training.
  • 73 percent want a review of company policies.
  • 59 percent want a tour including all equipment setup and procedures.
  • 56 percent want to have a coworker as a mentor throughout the process.
  • 42 percent want the onboarding process to last beyond the first week.

A better way

Your practice is likely dealing with the reality that everyone is busy already and even busier due to being shorthanded. It may be hard to imagine how your team will find the time to provide this level of support for a new hire. Do it anyway. Remember, replacing a team member can cost you tens of thousands of dollars, in addition to the time you invest in training and the impact turnover will have on your team's morale. Make the decision to do this right and you'll be so glad you did.

Photo of dental practitioner and patient
In the same way that you know the rewards of having systems in place for all key processes in the practice, creating a system for this process is the solution to supporting your new hire's integration into the practice. Begin with a current and complete job description for the new hire's position. The team members currently performing this or a very similar role should create the first draft of the job description. You should have a current policy and procedures manual. A human resources firm can quickly help you put a policy and procedures manual in place supporting your team members, as well as providing a great leadership framework and peace of mind that your practice is compliant with all state and federal laws.

Operations manuals for both the administrative and clinical processes are a best practice and a first-rate resource for your team. If you don't have them, the best time to start is right now. With a plan and a template, you can document your protocols as you integrate your new hire. Capturing this information during the training process ensures that the time spent in this training process will support your new hire's learning as a reference source. These operations manuals become your saving grace, are a tremendous support to new hires and position your practice to successful bring new hires into the fold.

Here's the game changer

The training and orientation period typically lasts 12 weeks. However, after three weeks, we have definite expectations that our new hire will be a contributor, even while they continue to expand their education and training over the full 12-week orientation period. The first three weeks of new hire's tenure sets the stage for their successful integration. By stepping into this time frame with a clear and solid plan, we set the new hire up to hit the ground running in record time. In addition to a broad training and orientation program, I recommend a detailed three-week training guide that empowers new hires by mapping out the training timeline and allows them to create momentum by accelerating the pace of their learning without having to wait for a team member to be available every step of the way. My clients report this step has made an incredible difference in supporting their new hires. As each step is completed, the new hire can check it off, tracking their progress along the way with their mentor. While practice leaders may visit with new hires every day, it's critical to set a formal meeting at the fourth, seventh and 11th weeks of this 12-week training and orientation period to share thoughts on progress, provide guidance and check in to see how your new hire feels about the training and support.


The most successful businesses know that a commitment to continuous learning is a key driver of engagement and bottom-line results. A commitment to future team development will benefit from the firm foundation you established during your new hire's integration in to the practice.

Ginny Hegarty, a senior professional in human resources, is a dental consultant and management strategist focusing on practice leadership and communication. Her article appears in the Winter 2018 issue of Dental Practice Success. Read more at