Think big, act small

Feb. 1, 2006
In my travels, dentists often ask me: “What new information is out there to improve my practice?”

In my travels, dentists often ask me: “What new information is out there to improve my practice?” I’m constantly looking to the greater business world for solutions to business challenges, and when I find them, I customize them to dentistry. I recently came across a new book that addresses leadership in a way that applies perfectly to dentists. It’s called: “Think Big, Act Small,” by Jason Jennings.

Jennings studied companies that have increased revenue and profits by at least 10 percent a year for 10 years or longer. Only a small group qualified - nine companies in a field of 70,000. These top-performing companies display long-term profitability, longevity of staff, and goodwill in the community. How would you like to achieve the same results?

A common thread weaving through the nine companies, accounting for these desirable outcomes, is that they all “think big, act small.” Jennings sums up the meaning of this phrase in several key building blocks. I was pleased to discover that the building blocks are what we at Pride Institute do, and what we train dentists and their teams to do to be successful. Ready to think big, act small? Here are a few of the things you need to do:

First, you must be down-to-earth. The top companies identified seven attributes vital to leaders: stewardship, transparency, accessibility, work ethic, standing for something, erasing superficial distinctions, and no big offices. Leaders are regular guys. In any dental office, a leader who keeps screaming “I’m the boss” and doesn’t communicate gets nowhere. Communicating technical information to patients in the operatory isn’t enough. The leaders in “Think Big, Act Small” maintain constant contact with staff and customers. In the office, you need to understand a patient’s dental motivators and concerns, build trust, confer with staff on matters that affect them, and acquire other people skills.

Make short-term goals and long-term horizons.A dentist must be a “possibility” - not a “probability” - thinker. That means having a long-range horizon with challenging and far-reaching goals. While steering your boat toward it, it’s also crucial to establish benchmarks and celebrate successes along the way. The number one complaint we hear from dental teams is, “Whatever I do is never enough.”

Learn to let go. If something isn’t working, fix it; if it can’t be fixed, get rid of it and move on. A common rut is “analysis paralysis” or overworking a failing idea. This then leads to giving up and procrastinating instead. Are you nursing a failing bonus program, an inadequate staff-training system, an insurance mind-set that hinders you from offering comprehensive care? As Dr. Jim Pride used to say, “If your horse dies, get off of it.”

Have everyone think and act like an owner.Grant “decision rights” to the people with the best knowledge - assistants, hygienists, and front office staff. Because they directly interface with patients in valuable ways, they deserve autonomy, recognition, and compensation based on the value they bring to the practice. Constantly encourage, search for, and reward the “WOW!” excellence in your staff to replace the merely “OK.”

The next building block is to grow future leaders.Eliminate the disconnects between your proclamations of how important people are and your actual practices. Constantly educate, cross-train, build skills, increase responsibilities, and encourage innovation, creativity, and risk-taking in your staff.

These principles not only work in big and small businesses, they certainly work in our business. Take this opportunity to look at your practice. What could you do better? According to Jennings: “To build an organization with balanced focus, camaraderie, and the ability to prosper over the long term ... think big, act small.” Follow these principles, and you’ll see results.

Amy Morgan is CEO and lead trainer of Pride Institute, the practice-management firm that helps dentists better their lives by mastering the business side of their practices. For more information on staff motivation, order Pride’s workbook/CD training resource, “Take Pride in What You Pay.” For information on Pride’s seminars, training materials, transition services, and management programs, or to ask Amy a question for this column, call (800) 925-2600 or visit

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