I have also seen creative and innovative responses that have resulted in a significant growth in office production as well as severe declines which resulted in the reduction of staff and/or poor office productivity. As dentists our creative focus is often in the clinical area of patient care. Our response to the ever changing external forces such as insurance carriers or the economy is often passive or even exhibits a victim mentality. In today’s ever changing environment we cannot afford the either choice, particularly the latter one.
Although there are many ways to ramp up your office productivity factor, today I will discuss your leadership role in the intentional development of a thriving office culture. Often we do not have the eyes to see what is limiting our practice growth because it seems totally unrelated to our dental expertise. When we hire an individual for a clinical position we are very fastidious about proper training in procedures, sterilization and equipment utilization. Administrative positions receive training in the different systems such as insurance, calendar/appointment book control and the recall system.
Unfortunately, we often overlook the development of the high behavioral and attitude standards which should be expected in all patient and co-worker relationships. We allow the new employee to bring their behavior and attitude from home, off the street or from previous places of work. This is like playing Russian roulette. You may be fortunate or skilled in selecting the right individual for the position but great cultures are not developed by accident just as beautiful smiles are not created by chance. All the external marketing can be short circuited unless we have an exceptional internal culture receiving new patients. For example, the manner in which the phone is answered is an important byproduct of an office culture and requires intense scripted training.
Behaviors and attitudes are developed outside the office often are not acceptable in a culture of service to each other and to the patient. And, there is often a certain arrogance exhibited by professionals that implies, “I don’t have a problem in this area,” or they download it to an office manager providing little leadership or expectations. More often than not the office manager is well intentioned, but ill- equipped to carry out the critical responsibility that will ultimately be a major factor in the growth of the professional practice. When providing an introduction to a new employee, I was explaining that our culture was built on serving both each other and our patients. Later that day an older employee came to me and shared that the newcomer had said, “What’s Dr. Schroeder talking about, this serving each other stuff? I never served anybody.”
Fortunately, she was teachable, and we helped her develop into a great staff member. This did not happen without teaching, training and modeling over a period of time along with a few difficult conversations which held her accountable. In medical and dental offices that I work with as a consultant, I often find the doctor ignores unacceptable behaviors and attitudes and thus allowing the lowest denominator to set the office cultural standard. This pattern fuels poor behavior from all staff members. With that cycle of behavior, patients experience poor service and leave the practice, or they do not rave about you in the community. And this is an important way in which office culture impacts the bottom line. In surveying patients, the number one reason they tell other people in the community about your office is, “I experienced great and gracious service throughout the office!” I am not discounting the importance of excellent dentistry, but very few people refer friends based solely on the excellent technical service which they received.
Great office cultures attract great employees! When we take time to clearly identify appropriate attitudes and standards of behavior, and we hold employees accountable, great things happen. Clarity of expectations, alignment and equipping our people to meet our expectations, followed by execution and accountability yield amazing results.
In all the different businesses I consult with, I always interview the employees. The top employees often express the desire to me, “Please help him/her be a leader and address the difficult/low performing people that are preventing the business from reaching its full potential.” Often the people I work with have many years of education and letters after their name but they have never acquired the skills and confidence to execute this part of their business.
Another area of culture development which is often not addressed is the differences encountered between generational gaps. Upbringing, work ethic, values, communication styles all impact teamwork. Co-workers will either clash or they will become a well-oiled machine (with respect for their differences) largely depending on the strength of the investment in teamwork and in the modeling that you provide.
Behaviors and attitudes play an important part in the growth of your practice and consequently in your bottom line. The culture of your office also plays a critical role in the enjoyment of your day. It cannot be measured on a spreadsheet, but it is woven throughout the areas of productivity, new patients and profitability. There is not much you can do about changes of the economy, but there is a tremendous amount you can do in the development of your office culture. It is the platform upon which everything is delivered. Whether your office is thriving or struggling in this area can greatly affect the return on your investment.
When was the last time you made an investment of time, fresh energy or had a conversation on growth and development of your office culture? Is the time now?
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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