Picture a typical practice team meeting. Team members straggle in, do their best to appear interested, but more often than not the real feeling is resignation; “Here we go again…” The enthusiasm level drops through the floor. Having sat in on such snooze fests with more than a few new clients for nearly 30 years, they are painful to watch. But, they don’t have to be.
There is a better way.
You can do it yourself at your next team meeting, with lasting benefits for you, your team, and your whole practice. Start by playing to the lowest, rock-bottom expectations, as if you’re about to drag on and on and rehash things everybody has heard before. The team will be sure it’s a rehash when you pose this question:
“Who are the most people important to us?”
Chances are near 100 percent they’ll offer the same very obvious answer: Our Patients! “Wrong!” you declare. And you go on to say that what they’ve heard about the patient-centered practice is wrong, too, and you want them to forget about it.
Do you have their attention? Absolutely!
Do they know where you’re going with this? Not very likely.
Explain that they’re looking at the answer, which is, “We are. We on the team are the most important people in this practice. And we need to put us first.” It’s the truth, and the whole team needs to know it, especially you the practitioner so you can lead your team in a workplace revolution.
This might seem very odd, coming from a person who branded one of his companies, “Total Patient Service.” For decades I have spoken about, written about, trained dental teams, and developed systems for patient service, case acceptance, and team case presentation. I deeply believe in helping dental teams provide the best possible care and create happy, loyal patients who repeat and refer other patients. But I do not believe in having a patient centered practice!
Because the way team members treat each other first when they walk in the door each day directly affects the way patients are subsequently treated and the way patients feel about the practice. For a practice to truly achieve success, the team and its Culture comes first.
Culture is, in a word, the all-important “We.” It is the combination or organizational beliefs and how the team acts on those beliefs every day. Every organization has a culture, which represents the sum-total of all interactions within the group and the whole workplace environment. Culture happens either by design, or by default. In either case, make no mistake. Every organization, every practice has a culture.
For many practices, the culture usually evolves by default, with dismal results. I have seen far too many purportedly “patient-centered” practices where the team culture is toxic. If you have ever worked in a practice environment filled with passive aggression, territorialism, gossip, and stonewalling, you know that it is almost impossible to do your best for the patient when there is distracting and destructive background noise.
Patients, like all human beings, are exquisitely sensitive to group dynamics and the “vibe.” If the culture’s bad, they’ll pick up on it. They want out – often without even knowing why.
On the other hand, patients are eager to keep coming back to a happy place with a positive team culture. This happens by design, never by default, and it’s a major component of practice success. Top dental practice teams are aware of their culture and constantly work to maintain and improve it. They work in harmony with no negative background noise, and top patient care and service result, as a natural consequence.
You, with your shocking news – “No, patients do not come first. We do!” have prepared your team to get culture out on the table, so you can begin to discuss and improve interrelationships in the workplace. You can reassure the team by explaining, as I just did, that the Culture-Centered Practice ultimately does more for the patients, and does it better, than strictly patient-centered care.
With a firm grip on the concept, it’s time to get serious about culture. Tell your team that together you’re going to discuss and define how you are going to work together. What are the rules of the game? What are the guidelines for interacting? You will discuss the guidelines and commit to living up to them, with full accountability to each other. That means you, too, the dental practitioner and team leader – especially you.
Jump-start the process by handing a draft of some cultural guidelines. Here are a dozen-and-a-half.
➤ Be our organization. Be the best example of what it stands for.
➤ Live our culture. Leave old, negative habits behind.
➤ Be loyal. To the team and everybody in it. Help everybody do the best possible job.
➤ Be early. To work, meetings, all scheduled obligations, and you’ll always be on time.
➤ Be ready. Properly dressed, fed, groomed, and good to go when work time starts.
➤ Leave your emotional baggage at the door. The team doesn’t need, or want, distractions.
➤ Be honest. If you don’t know, don’t pretend you do.
➤ Do what you say you’ll do. On time, as promised. Leave no commitment unfulfilled.
➤ Follow-up. Having delivered on promises, make sure there are no loose ends.
➤ Be happy in your work. Positivity is infectious, and it lights up your own life.
➤ Make it fun. Find new ways to make good work more entertaining and even better.
➤ Be solution-minded. When you spot a problem, come up with a way to fix it.
➤ Take problems back to the source. Go directly to the person with whom you are having problems.
➤ Look your best. Good grooming and dress positively impact teammates… and you.
➤ Acknowledge others. Wherever “Thanks!” is deserved, say it and mean it.
➤ Speak up. If it’s important, and constructive, share it with the team.
➤ Keep the workplace clean. And neat and orderly. This benefits team and patients.
➤ Embrace change. Don’t fight it, because it’s inevitable, especially in a constantly evolving field such as dentistry.
This is where discussion, buy-in, and team commitment to new, positive Culture begin. The benefits in morale and performance begin immediately, too. Just by taking this first step, you have joined a select few practices committed to a Culture by design. Most teams have never ever even heard the word, much less made it a shared focus. They have policy and procedure manuals and employee manuals, but very few have set down the guidelines for what they value in terms of how they work together.
Write and introduce your own Culture Guide today.* It is the first step to making your practice the place where everyone wants to work, and patients clamor to come. It is also the foundation of solid treatment plan acceptance. It all starts by getting your priorities straight. It’s about the team first and the culture you have in your practice. When that’s right, you’ll have a team that naturally works together to serve your patients in an extraordinary way.
Steven J. Anderson is Founder of several organizations serving the dental industry including the Total Patient Service Institute (www.TotalPatientService.com), Crown Council (www. CrownCouncil.com), and the Smiles For Life Foundation (www.SmilesForLife.org) among others. He is the author of several books including The Culture of Success – 10 Natural Laws for Creating the Place Everyone Wants to Work. (www. TheCultureOfSuccessBook.com)
*For a FREE analysis of your practice culture, log onto www. TheCultureOfSuccessBook.com or call 1-877-399-8677.