Mention “culture” to many dentists and it brings back dental school memories of how they determined what organisms were causing what disease and what antimicrobial could be used to combat the disease.
Actually, the culture of a dental office is the personality that defines what it’s like to work there, how the staff treats their patients, and what the staff’s fundamental beliefs and work ethics are. One of the challenges of growth in dental businesses, whether in one or multiple locations, is maintaining the culture.
All it takes is leadership!
The leader needs to align with the culture and model any desired behaviors. A leader’s values, actions, and development of his or her team need to visibly reinforce the culture of the organization. A leader has the ability to make or break an organization. Through leading by example, the leader sets the tone for the company’s culture every day. One of the biggest factors that can hinder a leader’s ability to effectively drive results is failing to align with, act on, or uphold the organization’s values.
Poor leadership can reinforce the wrong values, behaviors, and attitudes, creating interferences that can lead to a toxic culture and create discord between an office’s image and how it actually operates. Most consultants would say if the culture is not great, it doesn’t matter what system is used or how well it is implemented, because it will never stick. Leadership and culture are the crosshairs that, when coordinated, can make for a competitive advantage in a competitive market.
Sounds easy, right? Here are some steps you can take to start.
Show genuine interest and concern—Connect with the emotional side of the workforce, which creates a shared sense of purpose and motivation.
Lead by example—Never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. If the office staff has to stay late for a patient and they’re behind on closing the day, grab a vacuum and help.
Respect your team, both inside and out of the practice—Empower team members in their positions and let them do the jobs you hired them for. Try not to call, text, or email them when they’re outside of the practice.
Create a clear vision and share your mission statement—Defining the office vision is your responsibility. You must embody the practice’s cause, and that includes defining it. People buy into the leader way before they buy into the vision. Communicate your goals with the team.
Create job descriptions—Make sure your team knows their jobs, that they are educated on how to do those jobs, and that they have the tools and resources needed to complete their jobs. This sets them up for success.
Communicate—All good leaders will not let employees know just once a year how bad or good they are doing at their jobs. Leaders communicate often and openly.
Celebrate wins—Whether big or small, celebrate the victories in your practice.
Create a safe environment for staff—Do not display an aggressive attitude. This can make team members nervous in their job surroundings.
Identify strong suits—Never place someone who is uncomfortable talking about money in a treatment coordinator position and expect the person to be good at it. Find staff members’ strong areas, and place them where they belong.
Use humor and fun on the job—You must have fun. People often spend more time at work than with their families. You want to create an environment that is contagious to your team and patients.
What kind of employees will be attracted to this style of leadership? The answer is, enthusiastic and happy people who look forward to coming to work, who are reliable, satisfied, self-motivated, and willing to help grow the practice.
Nothing is more costly to a business than losing a valuable team member. It might take months or even years to find and train a replacement who can operate at the same level of productivity. In the meantime, the lost productivity will never be recovered.
Your team is your practice’s most valuable asset because patients value relationships with you and your team members more than they value the dentistry you provide. It takes years to build those relationships. Lose a key team member, and you lose some of the relationships with your patients.
Showing sensitivity to the culture of a practice will reap benefits for all concerned and show improvements in staff morale, patient treatment acceptance, profitability, and growth. Without that awareness comes stagnation, frustration, and poor performance. It might be time to revisit the culture if you’re having team retention issues, systems that fail to stay in place, are not progressing toward practice goals, or have high office stress levels.
Vanessa Buchheit is a practice development coach at Henry Schein Dental, where she provides coaching and systems implementation to increase production and reduce stress. Vanessa has lectured extensively on several dental topics related to practice leadership, implementing periodontal programs, increasing case acceptance, and how to increase the number of new patients with internal marketing. She has also published several articles.