It is truly a dynamic stage of life in our dental profession with many implications for us as individual practitioners. Currently I have the unique opportunity to work with young graduates entering the world of dental practice, coaching established practices making decisions to strengthen their practice and the senior group of dentists contemplating their exit strategy. Each of these groups has different needs but they all share the common denominator of entering the road of the unknown. Skills and tools required for successful decision making go far beyond those acquired in our professional training. Hopefully you have read the excellent information provided by the VDA leadership that the changing landscape of our profession will impact all of us in different ways depending on our stage in the life cycle of our profession.
Regardless of the stage of your career, the knowledge base for decision-making has increased dramatically. How does one begin to understand the new tool box necessary to navigate the storm taking place in the health care profession? We start with our own self-assessment of our skill and knowledge base outside dentistry.
Allow me to share a recent experience with two dental students to illustrate a critical skill needed to begin planning and developing our personal tool box. Student A comes to me with a vigorous complaint that all of his patients are lousy and everyone cancels their appointment! Student B presents to me that he has too many patients and they all want to come in as soon as possible! This story has great implications for each of us to examine how we draw conclusions and make strategies to move forward in our practice.
Student A drew the conclusion that his patients were at fault. Although we are all taught self-assessment in our technical skills, rarely are we engaged in the self-assessment of our leadership, communication and ability to navigate our changing environment. My challenge to Student A was examining his communication and ability to build effective relationships and value with his patients. We have a billion dollar industry competing for our patient’s time and money. Student B invested considerable time in development of his patient relationships and recognized delivering information does not guarantee patient understanding and ownership of the information. Unless understanding has been created communication did not occur.
How does this story apply to our own practice situations?
Self -Assessment is an important part of our development as a professional. Understanding our leadership style and decision-making process is often overlooked leaving blind spots that your staffs, partners or family are reluctant to point out. Unintended negative consequences of our decisions are often overlooked and are a hindrance to practice growth. Regardless of your stage of professional growth I encourage you to be a life-long learner in development of your leadership skills. Failure to understand the development of this important skill will be the rate limiting factor in the growth of you practice and professional development. The Truth about Leadership by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner highlight ten principles:
1) You make a difference 2) Creditability is the foundation of leadership 3) Values drive commitment 4) Focusing on the future sets leaders apart 5) You can’t do it alone 6) Trust Rules 7) Challenge is the Crucible for Greatness 8) You either lead by example or you don’t lead at all
9) The best leaders are the best learners 10) Leadership is an affair of the heart
A colleague asked me “Jim what does any of the above have to do with dentistry?” My explanation was we work so hard doing dentistry and the technical aspects that our glasses fail to see beyond the mouth. This is a very dangerous condition as we are unable to see the change taking place around us and the impact it will have on our practice. Just a few examples are:
a. Blindly signing on as a provider with all insurance programs without understanding the financial and quality implications on your practice. b. Corporate dentistry and government are impacting the delivery of health care. c. The experience your patient encounters will be greatly impacted not only by your dentistry but by your ability to develop your staff. d. Future associate needs are changing as we see the class make-up of 55 % female with a growing debt upon graduation ranging from $150,000 -$250,000. Failure to understand and vet a new associate’s expectations and clarify your expectations can trigger a tremendous storm. e. Careful examination of your employee handbook to assure compliance with the ever changing labor law. f. Compliance with HPPA and OSHA. g. Regular and careful data analysis of both the expense and revenue side of your business. From that data analysis make targeted strategies to impact the metrics you want to change.
Your approach to increasing your income may center on expense reduction which can also have unintended negative consequences of poor service and low morale. Cost reduction alone will not lead to prosperity. Innovative strategies must be developed with your team to increase revenue. This can be an opportunity to move outside your comfort zone and acquire new skills.
The resources I am suggesting in this article have nothing to do your technical skills but, everything to do with your professional and practice development. At 65 years old and 30 plus years in practice I would be so bold as to say they will be the rate limiting factor to the growth of your practice.
Regardless of your current practice status I encourage you and your team to do a book study over the next month. "Our Iceberg is Melting” by John Kotter or understanding change is another tool necessary to navigate our current environment. I always found change within the dental team exciting but challenging. As a leader your understanding of change is important to be effective and lasting.
Planning and execution on a daily basis is a requirement and usually a strength for a successful dental practice, often it is so consuming we fail to take the time to plan for next year in the area of growth, examination of accurate data to make decisions on strategies that will ensure continued success. The inability to execute a desired plan often leaves us scratching our head when we realize we are in the same place as last year.
I am encouraging you to examine your glasses to assure your sight may include the immediate care of your patients, but the swirl of external forces exerting pressure on our profession and your practice. Critical areas for your growth and understanding to respond to this external swirl of pressures are self-assessment, leadership, planning and execution.
Please contact my office for a free personal profile to start your own self-assessment and leadership development. Help your staff develop through your book study.
Dr. Jim Schroeder is the Founder of Leadership by Design. He has been writing about leadership and organizational growth for over 30 years.
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