Making change work

May 1, 2000
Don`t make these five errors if you want to successfully implement new systems or procedures in your practice!

Don`t make these five errors if you want to successfully implement new systems or procedures in your practice!

Tony Ratliff, DDS

I can`t wait to get back to the office and change the way I practice dentistry." Does this phrase sound familiar? How many dentists have this thought running through their minds while attending a motivational lecture on practice management or a course designed to improve their clinical dentistry? After listening to one of the many gurus of dentistry, are you excited about implementing changes in your own office? Do you dream about how this new system will better your practice, benefit your patients, increase your services, or improve your quality of life?

First thing Monday morning, you hold a meeting to share this new and improved system or procedure with your staff. Changes are initiated and your "new dental career" begins. However, six to eight weeks later, things appear to be returning back to the "same old familiar routine." Why didn`t this new program work? Why do we blame the staff, or feel like they were against this transformation from the start?

Few dental offices have been totally successful at incorporating change; otherwise, we all would be working in the "top 5 percent of practices." Patients would be willing to pay us, and we would not let insurance dictate any of our treatment plans. Unfortunately, we never will be 100 percent successful at implementing change, but we can improve our success rate by understanding a few common errors and problems associated with change.

Error #1: Not establishing a sense of urgency

According to Dr. John Kotter, a professor of leadership at Harvard Business School, more than 50 percent of companies fail in this area. Do you underestimate how hard it is to move people out of their "comfort zones?" Do you use a "let`s get started today" approach, but forget about why you want or need to change? Change, by definition, requires changing the system or creating a new system. This starts with generating a sense of urgency, a reason or need to change. If your staff members do not fully understand this reason or need for change, how can they effectively change the system? This sense of urgency is essential to rally the staff`s support. Take the necessary time to explain to your staff the reason or need for change. Your dental team needs daily encouragement that this change will benefit both the patients and the practice.

Error #2: Not explaining why it`s important to the staff

People are more likely to change if there is something in it for them. Dentists must be aware of the "WIIFM" attitude - i.e., "What`s In It For Me." Take the necessary time to share information with the staff on how this new change will have a positive effect on their careers, both personally and professionally. Remind them that change usually means becoming more productive and efficient. This efficiency will allow your office to purchase new technology, make their jobs easier or less stressful, and even allow you to pay higher salaries. Communicate with the staff the advantages and benefits of this new change, how it will benefit your patients, and how it will improve the practice as a whole.

Error #3: Lack of vision and leadership

Without a sensible vision of the future direction of your practice, the change effort can dissolve into an unorganized project. Develop a vision that is easily communicated and appealing to the staff. It should reflect your philosophy and values and determine the future direction of the practice. This vision should be kept simple and all team members should understand and commit to the same vision.

A major change is impossible without leadership. The dentist must take on the role of an active leader in the transformation. You may delegate duties to an office manager or key dental assistant, but you must stay involved. Reorganize your employees` roles and responsibilities to allow them to dedicate time to make the change happen.

Error #4: Not developing a plan that includes your staff

While a vision may guide and inspire the transformation, your staff will still require a more detailed "game plan" on what to do and how to do it. Open up the channels of communication. You and your staff must develop a simple game plan for the new way of doing things. It is important to have their participation in this beginning process - in fact, it is critical to the success of the program! By involving your staff and implementing a plan together, you can avoid some of the normal, negative psychological reactions to change. Spend time with individual staff members explaining his or her key role and importance in making the change a reality. Discuss how the employee`s behavior actually helps or undermines this new vision and plan.

Error #5: Not planning short-term goals and wins

Real change takes time. A long-term goal risks losing steam if there are no short-term goals or rewards along the path. Many people will have a tendency to revert back to the old way if they do not see any accomplishments in the new system. Set the goals, reach the objectives, and reward your staff with recognition, promotion, and even money. Support efforts to make change by celebrating the small victories. Treat your staff to a movie and dinner for reaching a short-term goal, or change the staff bonus system to reflect this new, wanted change.

In reality, change is not easy for dentists or their staff members. But, just as a simple idea can lead to an improved bottom line, a mere understanding of the most common errors can improve your success rate at incorporating change.

For more information about this article, contact the author at (317) 773-1302. A biography of the author appears on page 10.

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