The culture of the practice

March 1, 2001
The foundation of a business begins with the owner. Dentists are not only clinicians, but they are often the founders of their practices. Many studies have shown that the values of a business leader are ultimately the values that direct the business.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA

The foundation of a business begins with the owner. Dentists are not only clinicians, but they are often the founders of their practices. Many studies have shown that the values of a business leader are ultimately the values that direct the business. It does not mean that all employees will have the same values as the dentist; it does, however, indicate how decisions will be made in the office.

Values are the inherent belief system of an individual. They routinely determine our behavior. The owner's value systems, and those of the team, can clash. This can ultimately result in a valued team member leaving the practice. It illustrates the need to sometimes re-evaluate or periodically create changes in the practice.

The goal of effectively assessing values in the practice is not for everyone to have exactly the same values, beliefs, or behaviors. The goal is for the dentist/owner to truly be aware of his or her values and be able to communicate them to the team.

In today's fast-paced world, team members must understand how personal values can clash with those of the practice. Conflicts can arise between the dentist and team or among team members. If these conflicts are severe enough, they can have a debilitating effect on the practice, and ultimately, the patients.

The six values

Research by some forward-thinking organizational psychologists demonstrates that most individuals have six prominent values that supercede all other values. Take the time to appraise what your six key values are. These can be personal or professional; all will have an influence on your actions and behavior. The same is true for your team members. However, if you do not first understand your own values, it will be virtually impossible to discern whether you are in harmony or conflict with the values of your team.

As the practice leader, the next step is to share your values with your team at a focused staff meeting. It is also interesting to note that once you have established your values, you will have a better understanding of what motivates you and why you take certain actions. This helps promote superior interaction with staff members. For example, a doctor whose value system stresses revenue may recognize the need to work harder than the doctor whose value system emphasizes family time or personal growth.

Value assessment always begins with the leader. Establish your values in writing and reflect on them daily. Once you have a fundamental understanding of your own values, you can enter into a productive discussion with your team. Your staff will also develop a better understanding of their own values, and how they apply to certain behaviors.

With values, there are no right or wrong answers. You can have a productive, profitable practice regardless of any differences in values between doctor and team. However, when those values differ sufficiently enough, the practice will have conflict. It is also important when you are interviewing potential new team members that they understand the culture as well as the values of the practice.

Remember, you set the standards and culture of your practice. You establish the value system of the practice. You must surround yourself with team members who will become committed to your vision for the practice.

In Part III, we will address the topic, Understanding the Strategic Position of the Practice in the Community.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA, president and CEO of The Levin Group and the Levin Advanced Learning Institute, provides worldwide leadership in dental management for general dentists and specialists. Contact The Levin Group at (410) 654-1234.

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