Finding true North

Nature abhors a vacuum. If you don’t give thought to defining your practice’s culture, and exert your influence and leadership to communicate it clearly ...

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Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nature abhors a vacuum. If you don’t give thought to defining your practice’s culture, and exert your influence and leadership to communicate it clearly to the team members within your practice, the result can range from the lackluster to the chaotic. But what is culture?

The dictionary defines culture in a number of constructive – and instructive – ways:

  • The behaviors and beliefs of a particular group;
  • Improvement of the mind by education or training;

And my personal favorite:

  • The quality that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent.

Excellence is rare, and it’s rarely accidental. By creating your practice’s culture with conscious intention, you hand your team two valuable tools: a compass and a magnifying lens.

Armed with a clearly articulated definition of your practice’s culture, team members can change what is not working, protect what they are doing right, and differentiate between the two.

Without that kind of congruence, the culture gets fragmented. Team members work at cross purposes to one another, mixed or unclear messages abound, confidence falters, and it becomes increasingly difficult for the practice to gain momentum or achieve cohesive forward movement.

As a result, the practice spins its wheels and falls prey to the three Cs: confusion, chaos, and conflict. Goals aren’t met, morale plummets, and the quality of service to patients erodes.

In time, inevitably, this vicious cycle makes itself felt economically. When worries and tension about money gain power, the anxiety can eat away at practice culture. When the degree of focus on "the numbers" grows too intense – outweighing acknowledgment of positive areas in which things are working and people are growing, improving, and contributing – the shift in emphasis reduces a team’s sense of mission at the very time it is most needed.

This is the perfect time for strong leadership and a clear and dedicated management style. Restate, and if necessary, sharpen or redefine your practice’s culture. Make sure that each team meeting is a creative and inspiring oasis, not a spirit-killer. Think outside the box. Seek ways to empower team members through fresh areas of learning, such as:

  • New technologies and materials available for advanced clinical care;
  • Contemporary systems to simplify the running of the business office;
  • Social media and its impact on dental communications and marketing, and how it can revitalize connections with your patients.

Above all, be willing to ask yourself culture-based questions: How do I define service, clinical, and organizational excellence? What are my deepest core values, and how can we best implement them?

Be sure that what you are, and what your practice stands for, thunders above you with reassuring conviction. When you and your team members live your practice’s culture, the harmony between your actions and your words earns the lasting loyalty of your patients.

Terry Goss, BFA, a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach and Master Practitioner of NLP, is a nationally recognized practice management consultant, speaker, and coach. Goss has worked in dentistry for nearly 30 years. She has extensive training in advanced management and leadership development. Her advanced skills, and creative resources have energized and empowered practices across the country. For more information, visit www.TerryGossAssoc.com.


As a practice administrator, I believe the practice’s culture is something your patients can see, but more importantly, something they can "feel." Each team member has an impact on the perception of your practice. It’s something that needs to be thoughtfully cultivated regularly.

Some ways that the doctor and office manager can work together to ensure that your practice’s culture stays consistent are:

  • Inform new hires of what the culture is.
  • Ingrain the culture into your team meetings.
  • Use morning huddles to purposefully set the tone for the day.
  • Establish a system to safely and respectfully hold one another accountable for operating outside of the practice culture.

Whatever your practice culture is, the entire team should own it and be mindful of it daily. There are few things truly exceptional in this world that happen by accident.

Mindy Otto, practice administrator for Southern Minnesota Endodontics, is AADOM’s 2007 Office Manager of the Year. Reach her at mindy@somnendo.com.

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