I’m looking back over the last year and I’m not sure we’re any different or better off as a practice now than we were then”, Sandra said. “What happened?”
With one question this practice leader identified one of the biggest issues in dentistry – we’re so busy seeing patients, solving today’s problems and trying to make payroll that the important decisions we’ve had hanging over us for months never get made. We’re too busy reacting to the Tyranny of the Urgent to proactively tackle the Priority of the Important – the decisions that would actually make us a better practice.
I get it – we’re always too busy to deal with the important decisions, but if all we’re doing is reacting to the Tyranny of the Urgent, we can expect to be in the same place this next year as a hostage of that tyranny. There is a simple solution, make decisions differently than you ever have before – use the 3-Step Decision Making process.
Three Steps to Any Decision
The most profound things are almost always the simplest. It took me twenty years to figure out the simple process of making any decision, largely because I was trying to make it too complicated. I always found myself “deciding” things that never actually happened. Here’s what I learned that changed everything – every decision actually has three steps, and we almost always only do step one. Let’s change that today. It’s simple and it’s profound.
Whether you’re buying a copier, or deciding to open a second location, here’s how to ensure it will actually happen:
Make a Decision. Making a decision is a good thing. But more often than not, we don’t really make one, we just claim we did. So, Step one by itself is just a head game to pretend we’re moving forward. It’s the one we use all the time to avoid actually making a decision.
Put a Date and Time On It.When we pick a date for finishing the task or arriving at the objective, we’ve started some exciting wheels in motion that could lead to success. I always put a time of day on it, too, because that starts the clock ticking in my head. But even if the date comes and goes, we can always change it – no big deal.
Go Public. It’s when we go public that we are changed. When we invite others to celebrate the date and time with us, we are now fully in the game. Going public is like burning bridges—there is no going back. It’s a tough thing to do sometimes, but the focus and energy that comes from going public with your decision and your date can’t be found by any other means.
Three-Steps to Making Any Decision
The Second Most Important Question in Dentistry
Part of the Three-Step Decision-Making process is getting a handle on the second most important word in dentistry (teaser-alert; we’ll get to the most important one in another issue). The second most important question is, “When?” We rarely ask it.
Sandra had known for a couple years that their payment system needed an overhaul. The practice also had been toying with opening a second location for at least three years. But nothing got done – everyone was too busy just getting through the day – Tyranny of the Urgent. This time it was going to be different.
At the leadership meeting she brought up these two nagging issues again, and of course everyone agreed they needed to be addressed “soon.” Sandra said something that got their attention, “I looked on my calendar and I can’t find ‘soon’. Maybe we should nail that down.” And the discussion took off. They tackled the collections issue first. Someone got bold and said, “You’re right, we’ve been putting this off because it will require some real focus. So, let’s commit to having this done by the end of the quarter.”
Sandra had learned the Three-Steps well. She replied, “That sounds better, but I’m still looking on my calendar for “the end of the quarter” and that doesn’t show up either. Let’s see if we can get an actual date, and even a time of day that we will be done.”
The atmosphere in the room changed instantly. And so did the discussion. In order to truly get this done, they now had to figure out a) what actually needed to happen and b) how long that would reasonably take. They made a list, put dates on tackling each step, and went public with each other. They intended now to have this completed by Friday, March 31, at 12:00 noon. As a final step of commitment, they shared this decision with the whole practice.
They missed the date. It took them an extra two weeks to get the new process in place. But that wasn’t defeat, it was victory. They had been “planning” to change the process for over a year. This time they had focused intention on getting it done in six weeks and instead it took eight. Without the actual date and time, they would have continued to limp along with the lousy process. Profits went up immediately.
Over the next year they began applying this simple principle to everything and as a result, it rewired their brains around a sense of urgency connected to important things, not just tyrannical things. Six months later they made a date to open the next practice in exactly 12 months from that date and time. They opened it three weeks early!
Stop Playing Office
The key step was never declaring they were going to do something. They became manic about always putting a date and a time of day on it, and then telling everyone who might be affected that it would happen on or before that time.
It is amazing what happens to us when we take those three simple steps: make a decision, put a date on it, and go public. “When?” shouldn’t be such an unusual question in dentistry, but there’s no secret as to why we avoid it. It transforms us. We don’t like change, even if we’d make more money in less time by changing. So, we “make decisions” without “commitments” in order to avoid actually succeeding.
A decision is not a decision until we put a date on it and go public. Until then, we’re just playing office. Want something really bad? Put a date AND time of day on it and shout it from the rooftops. You’re much more likely to get it done.