Dental Office Culture: Many, Happy Returns by Jay Geier

Dentaltown Magazine 

Cultivating a strong dental office culture is one of the best investments you can make for your practice


by Jay Geier


If you have a long-term vision for your practice, you undoubtedly have given it a lot of thought. At the very least, you have an annual business plan where you established revenue and profit goals and defined some action plans. Your organizational culture is a make-or-break component of your financial plan, and yet many business owners fail to recognize the connection between culture and their bottom lines. A great culture is characterized by a high-performing team that is engaged and motivated, capable and committed to delivering an excellent patient experience, and shares in your growth goals for the practice. Clearly, these are all directly linked to your financial success. Culture is not expensive—it’s an investment with a guaranteed return. But just like an effective marketing plan, it does take some thought. You’ll need to invest focused time, energy and funds to instill and nurture a winning culture.

Invest in time to think about and define your desired culture.

It’s up to you to define “your way of doing business”— the values, expected behaviors and ways of working that you want to exist by and between team members, and for your patients. Think about how you want your patients to feel when they come to your practice. What would you like them to say about you and your team when referring others? How do you want your team to feel about their jobs, their teammates and working for you?

In addition to performance characteristics, a great culture fosters high morale by employees who love coming to work, are appreciated, respect their teammates and feel part of something bigger than themselves in an organization with a meaningful purpose.

Invest in engaging the team in the process.

With that as your filter, honestly assess your existing culture. This can be hard to do, because you will see it through rose-colored glasses and your team may be reluctant to tell you the truth. But this is a critical step so you know what you can build on and what needs to be dramatically changed.

Engage your people in the process of designing your new culture:

  • Demonstrate that you want and value their views. Use an anonymous survey, if necessary, and meet with your best people individually to get their input. Don’t overcomplicate it—just start to get something down on paper. This will enhance your own thought process and give your team something to react to and help you refine.
  • Discuss your findings as a group. Ideally, hold an off-site retreat in a neutral, less distracting environment that allows you to focus. A retreat also signals that you’re serious about making changes and are willing to invest the time into having an open, honest discussion about what the new culture should look and feel like. You’re also willing to understand the fails you need to learn from and the wins you can build on.
  • Engaging your people also shows that you recognize you can’t do this without them. Each person must own a piece of the culture and bring it to life. Involving everyone in the discussions will help them understand why goals that are good for the practice are also good for them.

Invest in training the team to deliver on new expectations.

We coach clients to define a culture that is high-performing, patient-centric and growth-oriented. Your exact words may differ, but those three concepts should be represented. Engaging your team members in planning new expectations but then not training them to deliver on those expectations is setting them—and you—up for failure. You have to follow through on what will give you the results you want, not just what looks good on paper.

  • To meet high performance expectations as individuals and as teams, people need to improve their skills and change some behaviors, which they can’t do without effective training. Training also helps engage and motivate people to commit to goals because they better understand the importance of key results and feel capable of achieving goals they’ve been involved in setting.
  • You may think your practice is patient-centric, but there’s probably more you could be doing to distinguish yourself from the competition. Consider getting training and coaching for you and the team on how to keep patients top of mind in all decisions, actions and behaviors in ways you may never have thought about.
  • No matter how high-performing the team is and how happy your patients are, if the practice isn’t growing with new patients, you will eventually plateau and inevitably decline. That’s why your culture must also be growth-oriented and attach financial accountability to individual and team goals. You’re in business to help people, and the more you grow, the more people you can help; that’s the heart of a growth culture.

Training, in combination with coaching and mentoring, is an investment that helps people reach their full potential as higher-performing individuals and team members. By doing what’s right for them, you get the best from them and in turn your practice can reach its full potential. Benchmark this status at least every six months—preferably quarterly—to stay factual and truthful about how you’re doing against what you intend, and regularly reinforce with training to prevent backslide.

Invest in reward, recognition and fun!

Don’t underestimate the impact of reward and recognition. Your team may be highly engaged and motivated at the start of the culture-building process, but if they begin to feel unnoticed or unappreciated for their improved performance and commitment, they won’t stay that way for long.

Effective reward and recognition isn’t about across the- board raises or bonuses; it’s about a culture of gratitude and appreciation for living up to the desired actions, behaviors, attitudes and ways of working that lead to desired results.

  • Motivate performance with incentives and bonuses that are tied to specific measurable goals that have been met or exceeded. Structure payout so they are win-wins—the employee wins only when the business wins. Inexpensive but thoughtful gifts can be equally impactful.
  • Recognize progress along the way as positive reinforcement for what’s working. Celebrating small wins creates momentum toward the bigger end goal. These can be planned or random.
  • Show gratitude to your patients by holding appreciation events. Have patient gift days and recognize those who have been special to your practice over the years (e.g., longest tenure, most referrals, most visits, highest value, etc.) This further demonstrates that you are grateful to those helping you and your practice succeed.
  • Allocate funds for “fun”—literally! Empower and enable the team to plan activities they (not necessarily you) deem as fun and memorable in recognition for all they do. Even if you don’t participate, the team will continue to talk about these events long afterward. They also create bonding experiences that carry over to better teamwork and communication in the workplace.

Investments in reward, recognition and fun bring you a positive business return while bringing personal joy into the lives of your team members and patients. Once you start living a culture of gratitude, it becomes addictive!

Invest in execution.

A plan that’s not executed is pointless. Just as you have a marketing plan with the details and timing of individual campaigns for the year, you’ll need a similar culture plan with activities mapped out well in advance. Use a large, color-coded calendar to keep everyone easily informed and to reveal where you have gaps. At the very least, your culture calendar should include:

  • Training dates, scheduled and published well in advance.
  • Regular recognition events and fun activities. Don’t wait until the details are decided. Go ahead and schedule “Recognition TBD” and “Fun TBD” so you can plan around those dates.
  • Benchmark meetings or retreats (at least every six months).
  • Monthly and quarterly goals (which keep culture tied to performance).

Conclusion

Building a winning culture is a process. It won’t happen overnight, so don’t set yourself up for disappointment with unrealistic expectations—or, worse, quickly decide that “culture doesn’t work” and abandon the process.

Culture always works as a component of your financial plan—the question is, does your current culture work for you or against you? The investments you put into designing and building a winning culture that works for you will provide a highly positive return over the life of your practice.

Author Bio
Author Jay Geier is an authority on growing independent practices. His passion is in turning practices into businesses, doctors into CEOs and employees into high-performing individuals and teams. He is the founder and CEO of Scheduling Institute, a firm that specializes in training and development, and coaching doctors on how to create a performance-based culture that drives business results.
For a limited time, SI is giving Townies a free Blind Spot Analysis—for more information, visit schedulinginstitute.com/townie. For information on Geier’s live events, visit schedulinginstitute.com/events.
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