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How Darwin can prepare dentists for 2023

Jan. 18, 2023
Given the extreme changes in the last few years and the likelihood of more upheaval, you need to be able to anticipate changes and develop strategies to respond to those changes.

What does Charles Darwin have to do with dentistry? It turns out there's a connection between his revolutionary theory of evolution and what you need to be thinking about at the start of a new year.

Darwin proposed that species who could adapt to changing conditions would be the most able to reproduce and pass on their genetic knowledge. The survival of the fittest does not necessarily mean the strongest, meanest, or biggest survive; it does mean species that can adapt have an edge.

The lesson for you? Given the extreme changes in the last few years and the likelihood of more upheaval, you need to be able to anticipate changes and develop strategies to respond to those changes.

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Getting a high-level overview

Recently my business partner and I completed a SWOT analysis for dentistry and our practice management consulting firm. SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats and is used as a strategic planning tool. We adapted it for our purposes and saw patterns and predictions we could make about the future.

The left column represents anticipated economic and social threats. The right column illustrates actions dentists can take to respond to these threats.

The right-column can represent your “to-dos” for the coming year. As you review them, consider which actions you could implement easily and which will require some prework.

Involving your team

Getting back to Darwin for a second, pretend that your practice is a giant organism seeking ways to survive and grow. As an organism, you need to probe for your weaknesses and expand on your strengths so you can adapt. You and your team need to coalesce under a united purpose.

The best way to engage the team is to hold a team strategy meeting where everyone analyzes the practice’s situation and decides which actions to prioritize and how to implement these actions. When I lead these kinds of meetings, this is the process:

Team strategy meeting

If you’ve never run a team strategy meeting before, here’s a template broken down step by step.

Step 1: Begin with the dentist sharing the practice’s philosophy or vision. Each employee is then invited to answer these questions:

  • What is meaningful about what we (and you personally) do?
  • What are we (and you personally) known for doing well?

Step 2: The team completes a SWOT analysis, outlining your practice’s current strengths and weaknesses, potential threats, and opportunities.

Step 3: On a flip chart, create three categories:

  • What do we want to start doing?
  • Continue doing?
  • Stop doing?

Step 4: Each team member is given sticky notes to record their answers and place them under the relevant category. The team reviews the sticky notes, placing “like” responses together and prioritizing the actions that seem most doable and most likely to make the biggest impact.

Step 5: The team develops an implementation plan with attached names and dates.

This format can be expanded or contracted, but the goal is for the team to have a clear understanding of what they need to do next and why they need to do it.

Next steps

Most of us have had the experience of creating an action list only to have that list ignored until the next annual meeting. If Darwin were here, he would likely shake his head sadly at our lack of follow-through. He might observe that it’s not enough for a species to have great ideas about how to adapt if that species doesn’t commit to changing.

If you want your strategy meeting to make a true impact, your focus must be on implementation. As wordy as it may sound, you will need a plan to implement your plan. You may need a consultant or accountability coach to support you. You may need to take classes, hire new employees, or release current employees.

Growth can sometimes feel circular, but ultimately your goal should be to create a resilient practice while maintaining your core values and philosophy. As a consultant, I do this with dental teams every day. Contact me at [email protected] if you would like a more in-depth agenda and tips on how to have a strategy meeting. I can also facilitate those meetings, virtually, or at your office.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the January 2023 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

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