by Linda Drevenstedt, RDH, MS
For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: success, economic times, recall, leadership, strategic planning, Linda Drevenstedt.
The current economic times call for action-oriented leaders. You have to make your own success! Here are seven tips to help:
1 Don't get stuck in inertia. Tough times often bring with them a general malaise in our ability to take definitive action. The media, our friends, family, and staff can all bemoan the current downturn in the local and worldwide economic conditions. You see more openings in recall, patients want to postpone needed treatment, and there are fewer new patients calling. In tough times, your leadership example and actions are “mission critical.“ The team sees your attitude and actions and functions accordingly. If your attitude is pessimistic and negative, then they will take their cue from you and rehash “ain't it awful“ conversations. As in prior downturns, there are practices still meeting and exceeding their goals. You, as the leader, create your own internal economic condition.
2 Know it won't last. Look at a 20-year historical graph of the stock market. You'll see the Black Monday in Oct. 19, 1987, the 9/11 drop, as well as other dips. These cycles are a part of a dynamic economy. All things, including our economy, go through growing pains with growth spurts and dips. Part of your “mission critical“ leadership is to show your team that this is a temporary condition and to have an optimistic outlook for the upswing to come. If you are not already having a morning briefing or huddle, then start or restart this essential opportunity for a leadership moment. Have something positive and uplifting to set the tone for the day. Subscribe to an online inspirational daily quote service such as www.briantracyintl.com. Here is one of his recent quotes: “I don't believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.“ — Ronald Reagan.
3 Do scenario planning. Business school strategic planning courses teach a valuable process. As a business owner, your anxiety over payroll and other overhead expenses can clog your ability to be optimistic and lead the team through these tough times. Part of this “mission critical“ step is to spend time with a close advisor, colleague, business manager, or spouse and to create a scenario plan. Get three sheets of plain paper. Label the pages “Worst Case Scenario,“ “Best Case Scenario,“ and “Most Likely.“ List all of the bad things that are roaming in your thoughts that “could“ happen, including bankruptcy! Getting these thoughts out of your head and onto the paper will help flush out all of those deep fears you are carrying around and recycling in your thoughts. Make a plan for that scenario. Now, look at the bright possibilities in the “Best Case“ column. Dream a bit about the best that could come to you and the practice. Make a plan for that scenario. Next, list the most likely things to come to pass. Make a plan for that scenario. These plans give you confidence that you can meet whatever the economy brings. Use your plans as a foundation for the next four steps.
4 Reboot your program. Often, I see dentists stuck in “old thinking.“ They have attended innumerable courses over the years to keep their clinical skills updated, but they have skipped the classes on practice management and marketing.
Yes, the courses to help you become a more perfect clinician are the most attractive to you, but in reality, another clinical course will not help your practice in an uneasy economy. On the other hand, marketing, customer service, team building, communication, conflict resolution, or treatment plan communication courses will. Now is the time to invest in infrastructure and get your house in order.
Do you really know what happens on your telephone when it rings? Some teams were taught to “screen“ out nondesirable patients. They were taught to be “gatekeepers.“ That protocol may have worked in another day and time, but if you have lower than desirable production, that thinking needs a “reboot.“ Tool back up to do the dentistry that helped you get started. One former client recently called and said his cosmetic-focused practice was suffering.
For years he had excluded some patients from getting appointments. He said he had decided to add in more general marketing and reopen his doors to all patients who called. He was getting a renewed sense of his original reason for becoming a dentist by caring for some emergency patients that he had excluded for many years. Will he keep his doors open? Who knows? But for now, his attitude is helping to feed himself, his staff, and their families!
Do you need to “reboot“ your insurance thinking? Is part of your gate keeping “no insurance“? Handling insurance in today's electronic world is easier than ever. Insurance acceptance in your practice is a marketing decision. Even the most wealthy patients want to use their benefits and want your help in doing so.
5 Hone up on the basics. Years ago, Vince Lombardi was the hero coach in football. One of his basic tenets was to drill the basics. Over time even good practices get sloppy on the basics. If you have not had a consultant, attended programs such as Pride, Levin, or Miles, or used practice-management manuals to install the basics of good scheduling, recall, financial arrangements, perio protocols for hygiene, insurance, new patient process, and collections, then now is the time. If you got the basics installed, but have gotten sloppy, now is the time to hone up. Invest in the best you can afford to hone up the basics.
6 Turn up your action volume with laser point focus. When I go to a restaurant that is slow, I know the service will not be good. Having been a waitress while in hygiene school, I know that wait staff gather in the kitchen and chat when things are slow. They lose track of the rhythm of a busy shift. There is a flow to being busy; you keep your mind on the job, and you don't get distracted. When there are holes in the schedule, it is easy to hang in your office and get distracted on the computer or the phone.
Everyone, including you (the leader the team is watching), needs a productive action plan when things are slow. Inactivity can create its own pessimistic attitude in the practice. The very next time there is an opening in your schedule, gather everyone except one person for the telephone and start brainstorming downtime actions for everyone, including you. It may be time to clean out the lab, the storage, the model boxes, old stuff that only you can clean out. Toss it, sell it, recycle it, or store it out of the office. There is a theory of prosperity that states when you clean out the clutter — the unused and the old — you make room for more prosperity to come to you.
7 Get back to what got you started. There may be actions that you took in your first few years of building your practice, when you treasured every patient who came through your door, that maybe you allowed to fall off as your practice grew. The things I most often see fall off are:
• You, the dentist, calling your patients at the end of the day to see how they are doing after operative procedures. One of the most successful dentists I know with a multimillion dollar practice in a medium-sized, moderate income town, still calls his patients every night. His patients LOVE him for that, and they refer other patients because of it.
• Sending personal thank you notes to those who refer. Again, make it personal. Keep track of those who refer often and send them gifts. Send “care to share“ cards. Buy them lunch; take them to lunch. Be grateful.
• Mailing something to your existing patients every quarter other than a recall card. This can be an update on your staff — who's new, who has attended CE, who has gotten a certification, had a baby, gotten married. Send a “white paper.“ This is a letter on your stationery about a contemporary dental topic. Topics such as “The link between heart disease and gum disease,“ “What about those over-the-counter bleaching products?“ “New products we like at Dr. ____'s office,“ “Our move to a totally digital dental office,“ etc. Send a postcard with a special on a cosmetic procedure.
You can make your own card at www.vistaprint.com or you can buy cards from the dental companies. The point is to keep your name in front of your patients.
The world will survive and so will your practice. The leadership “mission critical“ is to take control of and change what you can. Adopt a “no worries“ attitude to those things you cannot control or change. When times are tough, you have to be a tough-skinned, action-oriented leader. You really do make your own success; it's never “out there.“
Linda Drevenstedt, RDH, MS, is president of Drevenstedt Consulting, LLC. She uses her wit and wisdom to coach, consult, and create courses that assist practices in reaching their potential by developing leadership in each person. Her experience spans dental assisting, dental hygiene, practice administration, and consulting, and she is a member of numerous speaking, consulting, and management organizations. Reach her at (800) 242-7648, send her an e-mail at Linda@drevenstedt.com, or visit www.drevenstedt.com.