Playing to win

April 1, 2001
Several years ago at the height of his too short career, one of my favorite professional golfers, Payne Stewart, dropped a five-stroke lead in the final round of the U.S. Open at the Olympic Coun try Club in San Francisco.

Craig Callen, DDS

Several years ago at the height of his too short career, one of my favorite professional golfers, Payne Stewart, dropped a five-stroke lead in the final round of the U.S. Open at the Olympic Coun try Club in San Francisco. He lost to Lee Janzen, who had started the last day of play seven strokes off the lead.

I am not a big golf fan, but this was impressive to say the least. What happened? How could someone take the lead in a major tournament when that person is seven strokes down and there are only 18 holes of golf left to play? How could the leader lose such a commanding lead? The answer is Payne Stewart started to play not to lose instead of playing to win. He got defensive. He tightened up and became too conservative in his play. He quit playing the way he had before, which is what got him into the lead. We've seen it over and over in other sports, such as football games, where one team ends the first half with a three-touchdown lead, only to watch it disintegrate in the second half and end up losing the game. The players often are complacent and maybe a little too confident.

The same psychological problems occur in business every day. Look at what happened to the "Big Blue," IBM. It used to dominate the computer industry until it became complacent and was outpaced by the upstart Apple Computer and a whole group of other aggressive, innovative companies. What followed was a revolution in the computer industry, and IBM has been playing catch-up ever since.

Another example would be the U.S. auto industry that was devastated by the foreign car companies in the '70s because they refused to change to meet the needs of the market. A basic rule of business says that it is impossible for a business to stand still and maintain the status quo. You must grow or die!

The best you could do would be to try to control the rate and the direction of your growth. Noted practice-management expert and national lecturer, Greg Stanley, talks about doctors cutting back their practices trying to save money, only to find out that they can no longer compete. Other doctors nearing retirement may decrease their hours, then find when they want to sell their practice when it is worth a fraction of its previous value. This is why most experts recommend bringing in an associate and selling off all or a part of your practice at its peak, not in its decline.

A few months ago, our front-desk staff was in an upheaval because we were converting to a new practice-management software system —a then state-of-the-art program. This was a necessary change for our office as our old system had become outdated and would not allow us to grow in the direction we desired. While bringing the new system online was a challenge, the reward was well worth it in terms of the increased quality of our work, more efficient scheduling, and fewer people handling patient data (with less chance for errors and omissions).

Dentists often become too comfortable as they achieve success. They tend to stop doing whatever it was that got them where they are! They quit investing in new technology such as filmless X-ray or air abrasion. They cut back to the minimum number of hours of continuing education. They quit offering new procedures to their patients. They quit putting the effort into the internal marketing plan they developed to stimulate referrals. In short, they take the path of least resistance ellipse straight downhill!

Pretty soon, these dentists notice their production leveling off, despite fee increases. Overhead begins to rise and profits start dropping. The number of new patients calling for appointments begins to decrease. Patients become less likely to refer because they just don't feel these practices are "up-to-date" anymore. By the time the dentist-owners realize what the problem is, their practice is no longer the dominant one in the community anymore. If these dentists are close to retirement, they soon realize that they don't have much of a practice to sell anymore.

Maintaining a thriving dental practice requires a steady influx of time and money, just like any other business. Don't get caught up playing defensively trying to protect what you have achieved so far. The game isn't over yet! Don't allow complacency to creep silently in and destroy all that you have worked for. If you want to slow down, consider bringing in a young, enthusiastic associate dentist and limit your procedures to what you enjoy doing the most. That's what I have done, and my production has risen dramatically, even with fewer treatment hours. You may elect to offer some sort of buy-in to your associate or keep him or her as an employee, and then focus your efforts on using your management expertise.

Think of your practice as a business that needs to be fed in order to grow. Compete and you will have no trouble maintaining your profitability and practice value for years to come. Remember what so many forget - you must play to win!

Craig Callen, DDS, maintains a full-time practice in Mansfield, Ohio. He lectures on high-tech dentistry and practice management in his seminar, "High Tech and High Touch Dentistry." He is the author of three books - The Cutting Edge I, II, & III - and is associate editor for The Profitable Dentist Newsletter. He can be contacted by phone at (419) 756-3144 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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