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Rebooting Recognition to Inspire Your Dream Teams

When I started my year as president of the AAE, my presidential profile focused on the importance of teams in my life. I have been fortunate to be a part of many amazing teams in my professional life: in the AAE, the AAE Foundation for Endodontics, and the ABE. However, one of the teams with which I work the most closely is my practice team.  The events of the past 18 months have reinforced my appreciation for the significant role my team has in creating a great experience for patients, and also an enjoyable professional life for me. I suspect, like many of us, I had taken this for granted.

A recent survey from the ADA Health Policy Institute showed that the biggest challenge facing dental practices is “hiring/maintaining staff”, with 44% of dental practices ranking this the most important challenge, surpassing inflation, patient volume, and reimbursement.  Furthermore, 80% of dentists reported “recruitment of dental hygienists and assistants to be extremely or very challenging compared to before the pandemic” and 73% of dentists reported having to raise the pay of assistants.  This demonstrates the challenge of finding and keeping a great team. However, research has shown that focusing only on compensation will not ensure the retention of a team.  Recognition is essential.

Why do we need to get employee recognition right, where employees actually feel personally recognized? A good friend of mine, Sam Jenniges, has written a book on recognition (Recognition Rebooted, A Smarter Approach to Employee Recognition).  In the book she points out why employee recognition is so important. With effective recognition, employers can:

  • Prevent regrettable turnover. Employees who feel their work is unrecognized are twice as likely to quit in the next year.
  • Improve quality. Two-thirds of workers on effectively praised teams strongly agree that “quality is always a top priority” in their organization.
  • Increase productivity. Teams who received effective praise increased their productivity by 31%.

Who wouldn’t want less turnover, improved quality, and increased productivity?

Right now you may be thinking, “Okay, tomorrow when I go to work I am going to say ‘thank you” to my team, so they feel recognized”.  Sam Jenniges will tell you it is going to take a little more effort than that if you want to be impactful with your recognition.  The good news is that it is not too complicated.  Because it is so important, I am going to give you Sam’s tips, or should I say TIPPS, for effective recognition.


Truthful, Timely — Did the work make a valuable difference? Be Truthful. If not, recognition is watered down. Being Timely matters, yet it’s never too late.

Impact of the work — What Impact did it have to you, your patient, someone else, or your practice?

Personal — Don’t lump others in with the recognition. Stay Personal.

Sincere — If you follow the other TIPSS, it will be Sincere.

Specific — Be as Specific as you can so the employee knows you mean it.

I challenge you to use TIPSS at work in the coming week and see the reaction you get.  I’m sure it won’t be hard to find an opportune time.  You might get an immediate reaction from your team member, but the real payoff is long term.

Once you have mastered TIPSS at work, I challenge you to use TIPSS (with slight modifications) in your relationships and outside of work.  When was the last time you recognized the impact a former instructor had on your career or life?  How about a spouse, partner, parent, or child?  How about a colleague or an AAE staff?

In closing, a few additional thoughts and tips: Teamwork motivation and leadership inspiration is a flourishing industry for good reason – they are the heart of a successful business. Before you invest in well-paid motivational speakers, dazzling posters of teamwork events, or tchotchkes with encouraging words, take the fundamental and economical approach with TIPSS.  Consider the words credited to the philosopher Lau Tzu, “to lead people, walk behind them.” Consider also the words of famed basketball coach Phil Jackson, “the strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”

Empower all the teams you belong to by “rebooting” recognition.