The Sesame Street syndrome

March 1, 2000
Make sure when you spend your time and money on a meeting, you get educated ... not just entertained!

Make sure when you spend your time and money on a meeting, you get educated ... not just entertained!

A. Keith Phillips, DDS

My earliest experience with group presentations was as a high school math instructor. Let`s face it. Most high school students don`t really want to learn how to factor algebraic equations. Likewise, change is stressful, and learning new ways of doing things often creates havoc in our lives that we would just as soon avoid if possible. Because of this, our dental practices all too often become victim to the "Sesame Street Syndrome."

What is the Sesame Street Syndrome? Think back to the last time you saw a "Sesame Street" television show. You`ll probably remember that a question or problem was presented. Big Bird and his friends came out and did their song and dance routine, and then gave the answer or solution to the problem. A neat, clean, and effortless package. A few very gifted kids walk away from the show with the beginnings of an education. Most kids were at least entertained, and a few left totally confused.

That`s pretty much the way dentists all too often run their practices. In our search for the neat, clean, effortless program that will put our practice and our lives back on track, we seek out the best meetings around the country. We go to a seminar, often paying substantial amounts of money; listen; rate the speaker, the facility, and the food; clap enthusiastically when the speaker is done; and return on Monday to our practices.

Monday morning is busy and all the wonderful ideas on how to improve our services and make our lives easier go down the tubes. We tell ourselves, "When I get time to work out all of the details, I`ll go over it with the staff." Or, worse yet, "I`ll just assign it to Jenny and then I won`t have to think about it again. Besides, if it doesn`t happen, then it will not be my fault."

So, what`s the end result here? The dentist took time out of his or her busy practice schedule (lost productivity) to take the staff to a continuing-education seminar. He or she spent hard-earned dollars on registration fees, travel, and lodging. Those attending took time away from their families, and they got entertained ... but not educated. They would have been better off buying tickets for everyone to attend a local football game!

The question becomes: How do you avoid the "Sesame Street Syndrome?"

Rule No. 1: Develop in yourself a "teachable spirit" and hire staff members with the same spirit. Complacency and unwillingness to believe that there might really be another way of doing things make for a dangerous position. The world is changing so fast today. If you don`t change along with it, you will be left out of one of the most exciting times in the history of dentistry.

A good friend of mine received his Mastership in the Academy of General Dentistry just a few years ago. Just this year, I helped him sell his practice and transition into retirement. Wow! To think about all those years of continuing-education training taking place right up to retirement! What a commitment to lifelong learning! The dentist who purchased the practice found early on that he had inherited a staff that had grown and changed over the years. They, like their initial leader, were committed to continual learning with the new owner of the practice.

Rule No. 2: Put your staff members in situations where they are constantly bombarded by new and creative ideas - one in which they are allowed to interact freely with each other. Resist the temptation to schedule a staff meeting with an agenda designed to "solve" the latest problem in the practice. Once you select staff members with a teachable spirit, they must be exposed to situations where brainstorming occurs and people are trying new ideas without fear of reproach - even if a new idea fails!

Rule No. 3: Be open to new ideas that your staff members may bring into your practice. Rarely will great ideas come from a formal staff meeting. More often, they will be the result of an "Ah hah!" experience as two or more individuals are talking over the everyday activities of the practice.

Rule No. 4: Even if it is against your nature, allow your employees to identify good ideas and give them a try in your practice. All too often, dentists believe that to be a "leader," they have to "develop and institute a vision" that will lead the practice to low stress and high productivity. Unfortunately, we all are the victims of our experiences, and those experiences tend to limit our way of thinking to only that which we know. Staff members may well have had different experiences that may open them up to new ways of thinking and new ideas ... if the dentist gives them encouragement and support to try these new ideas.

Rule No. 5: Commit to trying a new technique or idea for a fair amount of time, then re-evaluate and make adjustments if necessary. Remember how many of us thought the rubber base was the best impression material out there just a few years ago?

Rule No. 6: Use a note-taking system that encourages employees to identify good ideas and to share them with you and your staff. I divide a sheet of lined paper and place a three-inch-wide margin on the left side, titled "Ideas To Think About." The column to the right is used for note-taking, while a three-inch section at the bottom is reserved for "Take Home Ideas" - things we need to do!

Then, hold a staff meeting and have each staff member share the items at the bottom of the page. Be sure to include in advance what successful implementation of this idea will look like; i.e., less than one crown remake per month.

Bring an end to the Sesame Street Syndrome in your office. Quit paying for tennis lessons, then never getting out on the court to practice. Your game doesn`t improve because you took the lesson. It improves only when you put the new ideas into practice on the court!

For more information about this article, contact the author at (336) 765-4688.

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