Building a Strong Dental Team: Trusting Your Gut and Learning from Mistakes with Dr. Jennifer Bell

Host: Dr. Tanya Sue Maestas
Guest: Dr. Jennifer Bell
Edited By: Candy Velez CRDH

We are back with Dr. Jennifer Bell as we explore the challenges of building a dental team and the importance of trusting your gut.

Follow along as Dr. Bell shares her experiences and the valuable lessons she has learned throughout her journey.

Trusting Your Gut: The Importance of Intuition

One of the biggest mistakes Dr. Bell and her business partner made early on in their career was not trusting their gut when hiring new team members.

Dr. Bell explains that they often came across candidates who looked great on paper, but something in their gut told them that the person would be a bad fit for their practice.

Dr. Bell explains:

“You can have a potential staff member come in for an interview, and on paper, they hit all the marks. Nothing about their resume makes you uncomfortable, and they have the necessary skills to be successful. Yet, something in your gut says this isn’t a good fit for your practice.”

Trusting your gut is essential for building a solid dental team. While a candidate may have all the qualifications and experience, listening to that intuition is critical when something doesn’t feel right.

Dr. Bell emphasizes that this doesn’t mean the person is bad; rather, they may not be the right fit for the practice, and when everything was said and done our intuition was always right. 

The Consequences of Ignoring Your Gut

Dr. Bell admits that she and her business partner often ignored their gut feelings and hired candidates based solely on their impressive resumes. However, this led to negative consequences for their practice.

She explains:

“Mistake one was not trusting our gut early on in owning our practices to be able to identify and be confident, to say, yes, I know on paper he or she looks great, but my gut says this isn’t going to fit.”

Ignoring your gut can result in hiring the wrong person for your team. This can lead to a toxic work environment, decreased productivity, and conflicts among team members.

Dr. Bell emphasizes the importance of addressing these issues promptly:

“Delaying the inevitable of letting a person go for fear of loss of production, for fear of whatever is sort of holding you back from fear of conflict… there’s not been one that we’ve regretted either, and in some scenarios, you can sort of feel the cloud lifted, once they have gone.”

Investing in Training and Onboarding

Dr. Bell’s business partner taught her the importance of taking ownership when a team member doesn’t succeed in the practice. Instead of solely blaming the individual, they reflect on whether they have provided enough training and support.

Dr. Bell explains:

“If they fail in our practice, some of those candidates, we didn’t really invest the time, energy, and effort into training them to be at their full potential… we’ve learned along the way how to be more predictable and systematic about the onboarding process and the checklist, to make sure that they have demonstrated knowledge and understanding.”

Investing in training and onboarding is crucial for setting team members up for success. It ensures new employees have the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in their roles. Dr. Bell emphasizes the importance of not penalizing individuals who may have stretched the truth on their resumes.

She explains that she has seen it many times when a potential new hire has stated they have experience with a Cerec, yet in reality, they may have only touched it once at a trade show.

“It’s not a total lie, but it’s definitely not the truth or the full truth. So now our responsibility as bosses and owners of the practice is to invest in those individuals to help them be successful.”

 Dr. Jennifer Bell

Creating a Positive Work Environment

Dr. Bell and her business partner have a clear vision for their practice. They want their team members to leave the practice better than when they arrived, regardless of whether they stay with the practice long-term.

Dr. Bell explains:

“One thing that we’ve said categorically about our staff is that we want them to leave our practice better qualified, better trained, and with a better understanding of comprehensive care and dentistry: that is a win.”

Creating a positive work environment and investing in the growth and development of your team members is essential. It not only benefits the individual, but it also contributes to the overall success of the practice.

Dr. Bell believes in providing professional opportunities for her team members because she wants to provide similar professional opportunities that she was afforded in her own career. She wants her team members to be able to move up the professional ladder to become the most successful job-satisfied individuals as they can possibly be, should they desire and want that type of development. 

Having Tough Conversations

Having tough conversations with team members who are not a good fit can be challenging. Dr. Bell shares her approach to these conversations as she tries to keep it clean and simple:

“We try not to make it a personal attack. We make it very clean… It is really not working out, and now it’s time for you to move on…”

Dr. Jennifer Bell

Regular performance reviews and open communication can help address issues before they escalate. Dr. Bell explains that because she and her partner provide regular feedback and reviews for their team, when it comes to the point of letting someone go, they are really not surprised.

By providing feedback and documenting any concerns, team members are aware of their performance and can make necessary improvements.

Dr. Bell emphasizes the importance of being proactive:

“There’s enough documentation and communication that a good number of the individuals that we’ve had to let go saw it coming. It wasn’t a surprise. It was the final step of this long, painful journey.” 

Embracing Boldness and Leadership

Dr. Bell encourages dental practice owners to embrace their role as leaders and be bold in protecting their vision.

She believes that if you dare to start your own practice, you should also have the courage to make difficult decisions:

“Why are we so afraid to continue to be bold and strong while we run this thing that now is our liability and sole income source? At the end of the day, it is your thing. And you took this huge risk to get started, and you can’t let others disrupt this vision that you’ve built.” 

Being a practice owner requires strength and resilience. Standing up for your vision and making decisions that align with your goals and values is essential.

Conclusion and Future Outlook

Building a strong dental team is challenging, but trusting your gut, investing in training, and having open communication can create a positive work environment. Dr. Bell’s experiences highlight the importance of being proactive and addressing issues promptly.

As dental professionals, we must embrace our role as leaders and make bold decisions to protect our vision to ensure the success of our practices.

In the future, it will be crucial for dental practice owners to continue adapting and refining their hiring and onboarding processes. By prioritizing the growth and development of team members, practices can attract and retain top talent.

Additionally, ongoing performance reviews and open communication will help address any issues before they become detrimental to the practice.

Remember, building a strong dental team is an ongoing process. Trust your gut, invest in training, and be proactive in addressing any challenges that arise. Doing so can create a thriving practice that provides exceptional patient care and a fulfilling work environment for your team.

Until next time, keep learning, keep exploring, and fuel your dental dreams with knowledge!

Dr. Jennifer Bell, DDS, FAGD, FICD

Dr. Jennifer Bell, DDS, FAGD, FICD

Dr. Jennifer Bell is a native of Lexington, North Carolina. She earned her undergraduate and dental graduate degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Upon graduation, she completed the Advanced Education in General Dentistry program at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Fayetteville, NC. In 2010, Dr. Bell along with her business partner started a general dentistry practice in Holly Springs, NC. They opened their second practice in Angier, NC in 2017. Their practices treat all ages and complexity of cases. Her main interests include rehabilitation cases, complex prosthodontic cases, laser dentistry, and sleep disorders. Dr. Bell has earned a fellowship from the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) where she has served the North Carolina state chapter as president, committee chair, national delegate, and most recently as executive director. In addition to her work with the AGD, Dr. Bell is an active member in the American Dental Association, the North Carolina Dental Society, American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and a fellow in the International College of Dentists. In March 2018, she completed and graduated from the Kois Continuum in Seattle, WA. Outside of dentistry, Dr. Bell is active with Kiwanis International and other local philanthropic organizations in her community. Dr. Jennifer Bell is an innovative and fresh voice in the world of dentistry. She brings a unique perspective on digital innovation, practice management, team building, and leadership development through an engaging and interactive style. Dr. Bell is a frequent contributor to leading dental publications, speaks on a variety of relevant and timely topics, and co-hosts a popular, weekly dental industry podcast. Dr. Bell and her husband Brian reside in Holly Springs, NC with their three children.