Interview with Alan Twigg from Bent Ericksen & Associates on dental practice culture, hiring and compensation

Alan Twigg, VP of Bent Ericksen & Associates
Alan Twigg, VP of Bent Ericksen & Associates

Alan is passionate about education, teamwork, positive work environments and culture, with an emphasis on long-term personnel retention and employment compliance, where his solutions-oriented outlook excels.

Alan and I sit down for a candid interview about the state of the dental industry hiring crisis, culture and total compensation. You can listen to our podcast with the link below or read through the transcript. FYI . . . the transcript was transcribed by Otter so please forgive the grammar, spelling errors or duplicate words 🙂

CLICK HERE to download Bent Ericksen’s FREE compensation worksheet

Dayna Johnson  0:08 

We are super excited you have found Novonee on the Go, the premier Dentrix community’s free podcast. I’m Dayna Johnson, the founder of Novonee, and my goal is to give you about 15 minutes of juicy content to take back to your practice and help your team have a more productive and less stressful day. Enjoy.

Hey, welcome, everyone. I’m Dayna Johnson, your Dentrix expert. And my goal is to help dentists and dental teams understand their Dentrix software better. So you can create systems to improve the profitability of your practice, optimize your appointment book and have a more stress free day, I started devotee to be able to give all Dentrix users a platform to attend live one on one events with me and tap into best practices resources for optimizing your Dentrix software. If you want to become a Dentrix super user to join our exclusive membership, go to and sign up today.

Alright, so today, I am joined by a guest when a good friend and fellow dental professional Alan twig with Ben Ericksen and Associates. So, we’re actually not going to be talking about your Dentrix software today. Today, we’re going to be talking about our hiring crisis, and helping doctors and HR specialists understand like more about total compensation when you’re talking about hiring. They know the culture in your practice. And so we’re going to bring Alan Twigg on with us today. And so welcome Alan.

Alan Twigg  1:53 

Yeah. Thank you. Dayna. Great to be here. And thanks for having us. And, you know, I’ll just share with everyone here at Bent Ericksen, you know, we believe that work can be engaging and fulfilling and enjoyable for everyone, doctors included. And when that happens, teams find purpose and connection and they create a healthier, stronger world. So all of that stuff you mentioned a minute ago is near and dear to our hearts, and so excited to get into it. Yeah, I love that.

Dayna Johnson  2:23 

And then Bent Ericksen just finished up their inaugural HR conference in in Denver this year in October, and you’re already planning for next year. So tell us about that.

Alan Twigg  2:39 

Yeah, it was our first year doing it was super fun. The purpose of this was really to hit on the side of HR that’s about leadership and team building and culture. We had speakers on emotional intelligence, Joy.

We had a little bit of compliance stuff, but it was mostly about leadership and how to really create an awesome, effective team. We had about 150 people there in Denver. It was an absolute blast over two days, we had a great time. And yeah, like you mentioned, we’re already starting the planning process for next year. We’re looking around that same time frame in October and probably going to do Denver again, just for something Central and easy for folks. And yeah, we’ll get information out about that, as we get the details finalized. Yeah, I was so bummed that Kevin and I were out of town when you had the conference this year. So we’re definitely going to get it on our calendar, so that we don’t miss out next year and hoping that, you know, some of my offices will be able to attend, because I know you’re just going to keep growing and growing. So it’s probably going to be bigger and better than it was this year. Yeah, absolutely. That’s the plan. Yeah. Great.

Dayna Johnson  4:19 

So, let’s kick it off by so I had a doctor reach out to me, you know, I’ve doctors reach out all the time about hiring and, you know, what can we do? We’re short staffed and, and, you know, we’re trying to put together more efficient systems, you know, because that’s, that’s my, my area of expertise is helping officers create more efficient systems, and especially now when they’re short staffed.

But what we’re finding what doctors are asking me about is, you know, I have these team members that are these these interviews that are coming in, you know, hi, Janice are asking for these astronomical wages that, you know, we just can’t afford to pay, you know, how do we deal with that? And, you know, one thing that I’d like for you to touch on a little bit Alan is, you know, how do we not focused on the hourly salary, hourly wage, but look at things you know, a little bit in a more bigger picture, like, like looking down on the 37,000 foot view, you know, more like, total compensation, you know, we have to talk more about total compensation. But it’s even more than that, isn’t it?

Alan Twigg  5:06 

Yeah, big time. And I think that it’s easy for both doctors, employers, office managers, as well as candidates to fall into that hourly wage trap, where it’s just you feel like the only basis for comparison of comparing one job to another is the hourly wage. And of course, as we know, there’s so much that goes into it. There’s the benefits, there’s the schedule, the hours, there’s the opportunities for growth and advancement, what the practice is doing for CE, there’s everything about the culture of the office, what’s it like to work there? What does it really feel like? What is it that makes one practice unique from the one down the street, and I think that one of the tools we sometimes recommend, and that is a form that we have, it’s called the annual compensation and benefits summary. And it can sometimes be a useful tool or part of the system to to sort of really sit down with a candidate and say, Okay, I know that you’re probably looking at, you know, other positions elsewhere. And let’s really, let’s dive into the weeds a little bit about where you’re working now, what it would be like to work here, and, and maybe some of the other places that you’re looking at, and this form, really drills into the hourly wage, the benefits, the, the amount of those benefits the dollar value of them. And if you want at the end, you can essentially create an effective hourly wage. So the position might be advertised at $25 an hour, but in reality, you’re making an effective wage of $30 an hour. And I think it can be really beneficial when you when you really get into that level of detail, especially for the candidate to have them really think about and compare multiple job offers, because they may realize that, even though working at this practice may be a little bit less and an hourly wage, overall, the actual, you know, total compensation and benefits are actually a little bit higher. Obviously, with things like culture, and what it’s like to work in the office, that one is obviously harder to measure and quantify, I think that employees who have worked, you know, really anyone that’s worked, at least one job has some basis of experience of what they like and what they don’t like. And everything from the schedule, the type and kind of work that they’re doing, what the managers or the boss are, like, from a personality standpoint, how the office responds when an employee makes a mistake, you know, do we have a culture of, hey, let’s learn from our lessons and move on? Or do we have a culture of you make one mistake, and I’m going to hold that over your head forever, kind of a thing.

And, and, you know, we all have stories of those Nightmare Bosses that that were a huge, a huge pain for us and all of that. And so, I think it’s really important, even if the candidate doesn’t bring it up that that the doctors, the office managers, the folks that are doing the hiring, are proactively bringing that up in the interview process, and really talking to people about, hey, we really want to emphasize that for us, this is not just a job, this is a career, this is a, a whatever it might be for your office, maybe it’s we have a family atmosphere in our office, maybe it’s, Hey, we really, you know, value professionalism. And we really take that seriously as professionals, whatever it is, it’s not that there’s a right or a wrong with it. It’s more about what makes your office unique. And we sometimes use the term the unique employment proposition or EP.

A lot of folks are familiar with the USP, the unique sales proposition, you know, why should a patient choose your practice versus the one down the street? You can make the same case with employment, why should an employee choose your office versus the one down the street? And can you articulate that to a candidate about what it really feels like to work in your practice? And what makes it fun? What makes it engaging? You know, why should a really awesome high quality candidate choose your practice? And on the money piece, I’ll just say as one last thing, you know, there’s a quote that we heard recently, I think you were there from Dan Clark that if they come for money, they’ll leave for money. And so it it’s so easy to get, you know, down that that that trap of of, Oh, I’ve got to provide the highest hourly wage otherwise, I’m never going to be able to get someone work for me. And I think that’s just the moment that we’re living in right now. Where everyone’s talking about money and thinking about money and and employees are talking to each other and going oh my gosh, did you hear so and so was able to get this hourly wage and everyone’s like, Oh my gosh, I want that hourly wage too.

And I and I think it’s just about bringing the conversation back, back around to these other things about benefits and culture and team and the feel of working for the for the practice that that can really kind of remind candidates. Oh, yeah, that’s right. It’s not all about money, I actually do care about how I’m treated. And do I feel appreciated? Do I feel valued. And that in our experience, that definitely does move the needle. And we have plenty of examples of clients who have had employees who have been sort of recruited or tempted to leave by a higher hourly wage. And then when they really get into these, you know, details about the culture, in the workplace, and so on, they ended up staying with the office, or we’ve even heard of clients where an employee leaves because they thought the grass was greener, they get there, they realize, oh, you know, yeah, I’m getting paid more, but I’m getting treated like, you know, just a cog in the wheel, and I’m not treated like a human being. So they actually end up coming back to the practice they left.

Dayna Johnson  10:59 

Yeah, I’ve heard of that happening, where employees have left, you know, exactly what you said, grass looks like, it’s greener on the other side, they leave, and then the doctor hire someone new, and the they want to come back, and their position wasn’t there any longer. And so then they have to kind of wait it out.

And that’s another thing I hear about from my doctors is that it’s hard to be patient, you know, and, and I just let them know, you know, you might not, you might be without a hygienist for a little while. And he’s like, I can’t be without a hygienist, you know, what am I going to do without a hygienist? I’m like, Well, you might need to do some hygiene for a little while. And, you know, because it’s important that you do find, you know, the right person and not just hire a warm body for a higher salary, because you might not get the right person for your practice, you know, that’s hard to kind of be patient hold out for the right, the right person.

Alan Twigg  12:04 

Yeah, and I would say, in my experience, I think patients are understanding of that, if you if you lay it out and say, Look, we have really high standards of care in our office, we’re not going to hire some random person to work on you. We want to vet it, you’ve heard in the news about the great resignation, the Gregory thank etc, you know, that their staffing issues that all companies all over the place and all industries. And I think if you’re upfront and a little bit vulnerable, and a little bit honest with the patients, they get it, it’s like, yeah, this is a tough time. And as a practice, as a practice owner, as a manager, we are committed to having a really good high quality candidate. And so we’re going to take our time and the hiring process, that might mean that some appointments get delayed, or or rescheduled or canceled or something, but we’re gonna make it work, because we’re committed to, you know, finding the right person, we don’t want to rush into this and hire the wrong person, and then, you know, have them, you know, struggle for a month, and then we have to let them go, and then we’re right back where we started, let’s take our time.

Dayna Johnson  13:05 

Yeah, and also hiring the wrong person for the wrong salary. Because, you know, if you’re just hiring and trying to match up those salaries, and it puts you into a unprofitable situation, then the whole practice struggles, you know, I’ve heard of, you know, doctors that are hiring, you know, for the salary just to get, you know, somebody in in the, in the office to fill a vacancy, and, you know, then it skyrockets their, their overhead, and you know, then that really straps, the practice for other things that they that they need to spend money on, and then they get into a situation where they’re not profitable. And then that could be an even worse situation than just not hiring at all.

Alan Twigg  13:54 

Oh, sure. Yeah, and it can snowball to I mean, you can hire one person at a high wage that impacts your financials, then, you know, you also have to think about the impact of hiring, you know, that person on the rest of the team because as a as a little tangent, just to get a little bit nerdy with this, there’s a thing called the National Labor Relations Act, and that specifically has a provision called protected concerted activities, which is the part that allows people to discuss their wages and their benefits with each other, as well as working conditions. So you, if anyone out there has an old employee handbook that says, You’re not allowed to discuss your wages and benefits with each other, you’re gonna want to take that out immediately. That’s been the law for a long time.

And so you have to just assume that people are going to talk about their wages at some point right away, it might take a few months, but it’s it’s pretty much inevitable that that will come to light at some point and you need to think about the impact on your current team if somebody has been with you for five years or 10 years. And now this brand new person is making more than they are, you know, yeah, you can sort of take that kind of hardline corporate kind of approach and say, Well, you know, if you want a higher wages, then you need to negotiate it well, but that’s not going to make anyone feel valued and appreciated, they’re not gonna, they’re not gonna enjoy that.

Dayna Johnson  15:19 

So yeah, and then, of course, if if you then have to raise all of your salaries across the board, just to keep everyone well, now you’re in a very different position financially. So I totally get it, we’re in really tough times right now, I know a lot of people are desperate.

And, you know, we just feel like, it’s one of these things where you want to do everything you possibly can to avoid the outrageous unsustainable salaries, or the enormous signing bonuses, or just avoid that as much as you possibly can. And that can be things like taking your time emphasizing culture, you know, doing this idea of the total compensation piece, and whatever it can, can be to kind of avoid that as much as possible, because it’s just, it’s just kind of a poison pill. Really? Yeah, well, before, you know, before we started recording today, you and I were talking about how, you know, it’s almost like, offices are trying to, you know, jump into doing something that they really haven’t trained for, you know, and that they haven’t been, you know, kind of building up to, you should always be prepared to hire new people, you know, and have that culture and have those, those sustainable workplace environments built and created for the long term. Right. You know, we were kind of talking about that a little bit before we came on today.

Alan Twigg  16:53 

Yeah, exactly. It’s kind of the, you know, the analogy I think of is, you know, it would be like somebody who has never done any running or jogging, or any kind of training whatsoever. And then they say, I want to go run a marathon tomorrow. And it’s like, well, you can try to do that, but it’s probably not going to be very good outcomes. And so I think it’s the same with, especially this idea of the long game around culture, and are you creating a workplace that people genuinely want to work for, you know, not just, oh, yeah, it’s a job. And yeah, you know, work there until I find something better, it’s okay. But really, this idea of a place where people say, I don’t want to work anywhere else, this is the practice that I want to stay at, I have, I feel valued, I feel appreciated. And that culture piece, I think, you know, kind of like, you know, marathon training or anything, it, it is something that you do every day, it’s not something where you go to one seminar, you take one class, or you implement one thing, and then you’re just done forever, it it really is kind of an everyday thing. And it’s it’s your your day to day interactions with each team member and how you handle conflict, how you handle adversity, the way that you communicate with people, all of that plays into your overall culture and the employee experience. So I think it’s absolutely critical to kind of view it like, I mean, there’s, there’s a Zig Ziglar quote that says, you know, motivation doesn’t last, and neither does bathing. That’s why we do it every day. And I think it’s that way with culture, you know, you you basically have to reinforce this every day. It’s not that you have to be over the top and some enormous, you know, massive effort every single day, it’s we’re just talking about small things, but those small things add up. They do, they’ll do but it’s the little things that matter.

Dayna Johnson  18:54 

So, I just want to go back to the total compensation worksheet that we were talking about. So that we can, you know, kind of wrap up our conversation for today. Because I love the idea about have giving the doctors or the HR, the office managers a tool that they can use not only with hiring, but also to reinforce that with their current team members. You know, as they do their reviews, or their their annual salary review or whenever they do that, I really liked the idea of giving them giving people a worksheet that you know, you can offer up to our audience and and I think you’re you’re willing to give that that worksheet out as a you know, as an as an offer a freebie to our listeners. Is that right Alan? Yeah, yeah, absolutely. If folks are interested in getting a copy of that and using it or giving it a try, absolutely go for it.

Alan Twigg  20:00 

Perfect, happy to make that available to the audience and I think it would be great. Okay, good in our Yeah, in our show notes for today, I’m definitely going to have Alan’s contact info. And then I’ll just have a quick form that you can just put your name and email address in, and then you can instantly download his, his form for calculating that total compensation. Totally free, we’re not going to sell you anything. Allah may reach out to you and just say, Hey, thanks for thanks for you know, downloading our form. And you know, if you want any more info about Ben Erickson, here’s some information.

Dayna Johnson  20:37 

We’re not going to spam you or anything like that. No, no, we’re not one of those companies that spam people. If you’re no, if you have questions about the form, absolutely. Feel free to reach out to me. I’m happy to, you know, answer any questions about it. And if folks have any other HR questions, we’re always, always here and available. Happy to help folks. Yeah, you guys are so generous with your time and your resources. And I’m really looking forward to your your next HR conference next year. So I will also put the information about your conference in the show notes so people can get that information and make sure that they register, you know, when the registration opens up, I want to make sure that everybody has that information.

All right, Alan, so any last words that you’d like to kind of spill out to our audience today, before we wrap it up?

Alan Twigg  21:32 

Well, I would just really encourage folks to think about in and try to sit down even potentially, with their existing team and really think about what is it that makes our practice unique? You know, why? Why should someone work for us versus the practice down the street and think about how you can articulate that. And I’ll also add to that, if folks haven’t already thought of this, consider recruiting folks from outside of dentistry. Obviously, this is more for positions that don’t require licensure or special certifications. But consider hiring folks that that have the you know, the really great personalities and the and the soft skills, and get them into the mix. It’s very common in other industries that you hire folks for fit and you train them. Because you know, we can we can train people how to process payments, and check patients in and out and even train people how to do assisting and other clinical aspects. But we can’t teach people how to have a good attitude. So I really encourage folks to think about that. So I agree with you. Yeah, playing that playing that long game of hiring for fit and culture and getting someone who’s a good fit and not just a warm body and certainly not just someone who’s interested in money.

Dayna Johnson  22:52 

I agree with you 100% Definitely, I always say you know, if you are if you you know, if you go to the bank every week, and there’s a bank teller that you really love, she’s so personable great customer service, you know, ask her if she’s ever interested in coming to work in a dental practice. You know, if you are your favorite restaurant, and you get really great customer service from someone that works at the restaurant, you know, ask them if they’re ever interested in dentistry, you know, so, yeah, I love hiring outside of dentistry, you can definitely teach people the skills that they need to use a computer or anything like that. So true. Yeah, absolutely. All right. Great. Well, thank you, Alan, so much. If this topic resonated with you today, and you know, other doctors or other dental teams that would benefit from our podcast, please share it, rate it, review it wherever you listen to your podcasts. This helps get the word out about our Novotny family of resources. And I look forward to watching your journey of becoming a dentrix super user. And make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, we’re on all the social media channels. So I hope you all have a really great rest of your day.

Transcribed by