The winning team

May 1, 2004
The month of May in Indianapolis is famous for the Indianapolis 500. Sometimes called "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," it is the largest single-day sporting event in the world.

Dr. Michael Gradeless

The month of May in Indianapolis is famous for the Indianapolis 500. Sometimes called "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," it is the largest single-day sporting event in the world. The winning driver pockets more than $2 million — the richest purse. Watch this race, and pay particular attention to two race teams. These two race teams epitomize the difference between successful and unsuccessful dental practices. If you watch them in action and incorporate the principles of a successful racing team into your practice, your practice will be a winner.

The first team you should watch is the Foyt racing team. AJ Foyt was one of the greatest race drivers of all time. He won the Indianapolis 500 a record four times. As a team owner, he has been considerably less successful. For years, his cars have been finishing near the back of the pack, with what could best be described as a complete meltdown of team effort. A memorable moment was when AJ temporarily abandoned his position as team owner. He ripped off his headset, climbed over the pit wall, and tried to fix the car himself!

Roger Penske is the owner of the most successful team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He has won the last three "500s" in a row and is the clear favorite to win again this year. Watching his team in operation can be a lesson in how well your team should work together. Look for the differences in these teams and how this can relate to your dental practice.

The technician vs. the entrepreneur — The best explanation of why most small businesses fail can be found in a great book by Michael Gerber. "The E Myth Revisited" describes the difference between a technician and an entrepreneur. As dentists, we were trained to be technicians. We love the technical aspects of restoring teeth. Entrepreneurs know that business success comes when you delegate responsibilities to employees. When AJ Foyt repairs his own cars, he is a technician. Roger Penske, as the entrepreneur, requires excellence from his employees.

You must have enough capital — It takes money to make money. You absolutely must have enough capital or borrow enough capital to fund operations in lean times. New dentists will definitely experience lean times. Roger Penske's team is sponsored by one of the most lucrative sponsorships in racing. Foyt has combined several smaller sponsorship deals and sometimes must back his team with his personal fortune. If you do not have a personal fortune, arrange contingent financing for your practice such as a line of credit.

Deal with employees based on measurable parameters rather than emotion — This is very difficult for most dentists because we work so closely with our employees. They are our friends as well as our employees. You must develop written job descriptions, as well as written policies regarding pay, bonus systems, vacations, and performance. Deviation from these policies must require your approval and should only be approved for exceptional circumstances. This season, Penske has hired a past champion and one of the best drivers on the circuit — his grandson. In contrast, the younger Foyt does have exceptional talent, but will not win for years. If you want success, never hire on emotion.

Never blame anyone — In every situation, placing blame indicates that you are powerless to control the outcome. We are never powerless. Resist the urge to talk about where the blame lies, and instead focus on what you will do in the future. When you talk to your staff about problems, use an "I message" and avoid using impersonal pronouns such as he did, she did, or you did. If you listen to the drivers after they have been in an accident, they will answer in two different categories. They will either describe the incident as a racing accident and express their hope for the future, or they will blame the other driver. You decide which one seems more professional.

In Indianapolis, Memorial Day is a day to cook out on the grill and listen to the race on the radio. While there are over 250,000 tickets sold, the race can never sell out and is not televised in central Indiana. On Memorial Day, I recommend that you throw some steaks on the grill, watch the race on TV, and think about how your dental team can begin to operate with the precision of a winning race team.

Dr. Michael Gradeless, a 1980 graduate of Indiana University, practices preventive dentistry in Indianapolis with an emphasis on cosmetics and implants. He is an adjunct faculty member at Indiana University, where he teaches the Pride Institute university curriculum of dental management. He also is the editor for the Indiana Dental Association. Contact him at (317) 841-3130 or email to [email protected].

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