by Cathy Jameson
When a doctor or group of doctors invites Jameson Management, Inc. to evaluate their practice and design a strategic business plan for their immediate and future growth, we carefully listen to their goals, joys and concerns. With a clear understanding of their desires, we create a plan that we believe will help them achieve these goals. One of the goals that we often hear is to reduce stress. Good goal! Since stress is accountable in 80 percent of the illnesses treated in America today, it makes good sense to control it, both at work and at home.
Notice my choice of words - “control” stress, not eliminate it. Big difference! Stress isn’t bad - in fact, it can be good. It can energize, motivate, stimulate, and activate you, the people on your team, and your patients to move forward, stretch, go into unknown territories, expand learning, and more. Stress releases endorphins and can be a source of the exhilaration that comes from learning something new.
There is no way to eliminate stress, nor would you want to. Stress is good, unless it debilitates you either psychologically or physiologically. Then it becomes distress, and that is the enemy - the harmful entity - the stimulant of disease. It is the “distress” you want to reduce, manage, and control.
We teach “preventive management.” Our experience has shown that the major stresses in the practice of dentistry are not the patient problems, but rather the personnel or business and management problems. Certainly, there are times when patients - or the provision of treatment for some patients - are stressful. Providing dental care is stressful physiologically, since all five senses are “maxed out” constantly. However, most of the challenging and long-lasting stresses are related to nearly everything but the dentistry.
Let’s look at how you can control, not eliminate, this factor that impacts the lives of people more emphatically today than ever before. I have made the word control into an acronym (C.O.N.T.R.O.L) to outline some of the most important factors you can implement into your personal life and practice to accomplish this:
C = Communication
We believe that communication is the bottom line to success, no matter what your relationship or role in the practice, and no matter what the interaction. You can say something one way and get a negative response, and say it another way and get a positive response. This premise applies to everyone. In your practice, each person has the ultimate responsibility to communicate so effectively with patients that they make the decisions that are good for them - proceeding with treatment! Research has shown that one of the main reasons people leave a dental practice is unfriendly staff. Does communication matter? You bet!
Most practices do not need more new patients as much as they need patients to say yes to the recommended treatment. Of course, generating a healthy new-patient flow is imperative to a healthy practice. However, it is every bit as important to nurture that which you already have. Most practices have more dentistry sitting in the charts waiting to be done than they have ever done in their practicing years. How you communicate with patients - your recommendations, financial options, scheduling opportunities, and more can make the difference in whether or not they proceed with treatment.
There is much stress related to underproducing, low profit margins, and not being able to do the kind of dentistry you love to do. Diagnosing is one thing. Listening to patients to determine their wants and needs, helping them clearly understand your recommendations, and determining if there are objections so you can overcome them are critical factors that make the difference between case acceptance or denial.
As important as patient communication is to your practice and stress control, there is nothing more stressful than conflict among team members. Poor communication - or the lack of communication - is the single greatest stress for dental professionals.
If team members do not get along, if they gossip about one another, if they are not open and honest about concerns, stress is the result. Learning to communicate effectively improves team relationships, reduces burnout and dropout, improves job satisfaction, increases productivity, and decreases stress.
If there is a problem in the office, avoiding it is not the solution. Ignoring a festering problem can lead to it becoming worse or a relationship deteriorating. Neither is healthy. Learning to confront - but to confront with care and appropriate skill - can lead to resolution. This will strengthen the relationship and control the stress that comes from difficult situations.
O = Organization
There are 25 major systems in a dental practice, and many subsystems within those. Having each and every one of those systems organized, working well, administered correctly, and monitored to determine if the system is working well takes great management skill. Even if just one system is not working well, it will have a negative effect on every other system. Poor organization leads to stress.
If the management systems aren’t working well, the productivity and financial health of the practice will suffer. Many practitioners think that the key to practice success is the number of new patients attracted each month. Even though new-patient flow is essential, enrolling patients properly and having them agree to treatment recommendations and stay with you are equally, if not more important. Every one of your systems helps make this happen. These systems include telephone skills, new patient experience, diagnosis, treatment-planning, financial consultations and protocols, scheduling, patient education, and retention programs.
Lack of organization in any area of your practice or life leads to chaos, and chaos breeds stress! Organization is the key to stress control.
N = No
Learn to say no! When a system in your practice isn’t working well, stop the process. If you are not getting the results you want, do not continue doing what you are doing. Alter that system. If a person on your team is not performing well, say no to the unacceptable performance. Mediocrity of performance will lead to mediocrity in your practice. John Maxwell says, “If you keep on doing what you are doing, you will keep on getting exactly what you are getting.” If you do not like the results you are getting, stop doing things that way. Alter. Refine. Improve.
Learn to say no to behaviors that are debilitating to your practice and your happiness. For example, say no to negativism. Say no to lackadaisical attitudes. Say no to selfishness and those who do not participate in the team concept. Say no to back-stabbing, negative gossip, and people who are unwilling to change.
Learn to delegate and say no to taking on more than you can handle. Focus your attention and energy on the things that make the greatest difference. You need to be doing things that only the doctor can do, and delegate everything else. Learn to say, “No, I cannot do that anymore.”
In your personal life, “saying no” also applies. For example, you may be asked to do numerous activities to support various organizations. Of course, it is honorable to participate in your community, profession, children’s schools, place of worship, etc.
However, when the demands on your time and energy take away from your relationships at home or work or you feel physiologically or psychologically challenged, this is “distress,” the factor that leads to emotional and physical illness. So identify your priorities. Put your time and energy there.
T = Time management
As you work toward stress control, take a few minutes to outline the things that are the most important to you, both in and out of the office. Then do a brief “time in motion” survey to see if you spend the desired amount of time in these important areas. If not, make some decisions to rearrange and reallocate some of your time.
For example, if you think that you are not spending the appropriate amount of time with a new patient to build the relationship, analyze his or her situation, develop an appropriate treatment plan, and prepare for consultation, then you’re not focusing on one of the most important interactions of your practice. No one will purchase your product or service unless they have a relationship of trust and confidence with you. Having too many patients in a day and running around like crazy eliminates the opportunity to educate and motivate your patients toward treatment acceptance.
In this case, alter the way things are done so that you can prioritize the things that make the biggest difference to the success of your practice. Refocus your attention and energy. The result will be increased productivity and decreased stress. Be able to:
- Identify the top priority activities.
- Alter management systems that don’t allow you to focus on those activities.
- Steadfastly honor your commitment to reorganize and prioritize.
R = Realistic goals
Set goals. Follow a process of goal accomplishment. Integrate this essential aspect of business management into your practice. Goal-setting is strategic business planning. You are running a business. You need a strategic plan. Set goals in each of the systems of your practice so that each team member knows the benchmarks and if you’re reaching goals or not.
It is essential that each team member be aware of the vision of your practice and their role in making that vision a reality. Goals are the stepping stones along the path toward the ultimate vision. As you set goals, constantly stretch to new heights. There is no such thing as status quo. You are either moving up or down. Nothing remains stagnant. You want to be moving forward at all times, so always set your sights a bit higher.
Know your numbers, then set realistic, reachable goals. Keep everyone apprised of those goals. Celebrate the small victories along the way as you move toward the accomplishment of each goal.
Researchers in the field of motivation found that organizations or individuals who faithfully write down their goals and follow a process accomplish the following things:
- Increase in productivity a minimum of 10 percent
- Increase of personal income by as much as 100 percent
- Improved teamwork
- Less procrastination
- High motivation in the work place
- Excellent time management strategy
O = Optimism
Earl Nightingale coined a popular truism: “You become what you think about.” Napoleon Hill said, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, so shall he achieve.” The Law of Attraction states that we attract a reflection of our thoughts and energy.
This applies to both positive and negative thoughts. If you put out negative energy or think negative thoughts, that is what you will attract. If you put out positive energy, you’ll attract positive people, experiences, situations, and rewards. So why choose to be negative? One of the great realizations of modern humankind is that we can control our attitude. We can choose to be negative or positive.
All people have challenging situations in their lives. The difference in the results lies in the response. One’s choice can be healthy or not healthy. Wallowing in despair is not healthy. The choice to learn from a challenging situation and grow from it is healthy. Zig Ziglar says, “You don’t sing because you are happy. You are happy because you sing.”
Believe in possibilities. Life will happen to you. But outside influences and events do not control you. You control how you respond to each situation. Choose optimism. The Law of Attraction will bring you results in abundance either way.
L = Letting go
You may have had challenging experiences. You may have had a bad experience with a team member, your first associate, your last computer system, or at a recent CE course. Wisdom comes from learning from each experience. Make a concerted effort to let go of your anxiety about trying something again. No one ever gets things right every time. Just because something may not have worked well the first time doesn’t mean it will never work. Trust is easily broken and is difficult to regain. However, without trust, you stifle into a state of entropy.
Each time you implement a new technique, engineer a new management system, hire a new person, purchase a piece of equipment, build a new building - or whatever you do - there’s a chance you will make a mistake. There is risk with a new endeavor. However, think of risk as a two-sided coin. On one side of the coin is the chance you will make a mistake. But if you learn from each mistake and don’t make it again, you will be wiser. On the flip side of the coin is ultimate success. No one has ever accomplished true success without risk.
You and I and everyone else on the face of the earth have made mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes hurt others. Sometimes the mistakes hurt you. Sometimes people hurt you. Give yourself permission to forgive yourself for your mistakes. Then you can truly forgive others. It is in the forgiveness of self that you are truly able to let go and move to a place of peace. Let go.You will never eliminate stress, nor do you want to. However, controlling stress is vital to health and well-being, longevity, financial soundness, and personal and professional happiness. That is what each person is seeking in life - happiness. Here’s to your journey toward stress control.
Cathy Jameson is the president and CEO of Jameson Management, Inc., an international dental practice-management consulting, lecturing, seminar, and product provider. An accomplished speaker, writer, and workshop leader, Cathy’s work in organizational psychology focuses on effective stress-controlled management. Cathy’s books, “Great Communication = Great Production” and “Collect What You Produce,” are top sellers for PennWell Books. You may reach her toll-free at (877) 369-5558, by e-mail at [email protected], or on the Web at www.jamesonmanagement.com.