Home Practice ManagementLeadership Why Dentists Fail to Create a Culture of Success

Why Dentists Fail to Create a Culture of Success

by Steven Anderson

Culture, according to Dr. Clayton Christensen, a professor of management at Harvard Business School is, “The combination of priorities and processes and how an organization and the people in it act on them daily.”

Priorities are the things that are more important to you. Processes are the systems you put in place to make sure the organization lives up to those priorities. The proof of the effectiveness of the processes is how consistently everyone in the organization acts.

I believe there is a lot that dentistry can learn from organizations that have created successful cultures. After all, the culture of a dental practice makes or breaks case acceptance, the practice reputation, on-line reviews, and the over-all success of the practice.

Consider this culture case study from one of the most successful culture turn-arounds in history, the lessons from which could have a huge impact on your own practice culture.

No leader on the planet would want to be in the shoes of the new leader who had to turn around an organization going straight down the tubes. To do so, he had to establish a Culture of Success where there was not one but two catastrophic legacy cultures.

The root cause of the mess was an old, old culture of tyranny. A legacy organization where team members had labored under entitled leaders who were high-handed, arbitrary, and just plain mean; who made their authority felt through degrading words and attitudes. Any wish or passing whim was “law,” whether or not it made sense or completely contradicted what came down from on high yesterday. Woe to anybody who didn’t obey instantly and work until he or she fell over. Just look like you might question authority and you were terminated on the spot. You could be terminated just because the leader was in the mood.

Years of poor leadership had sent the organization into decline. Its hoped-for revival came at the hands of a near leader who promised a new culture – A Culture of Success.

One of the first moves of the new leader was the establishment of a new set of cultural standards that were put in writing. They were simple, straight-forward and powerful. So powerful, in fact, that they were credited with the ultimate turn-around of the organization.

Here they are:

Rule 1 – Follow the leader. There’s one top leader in the organization. Follow her or him. If the organization is to be successful, everyone must follow the leader’s direction.

Rule 2 – Dump the old cultural junk. Don’t bring the bad cultural habits from the past with you. If the organization is to succeed in the future, we have to leave the old culture behind.

Rule 3 – Show respect. The organization will succeed to the degree that each individual in it trusts and respects each other. It starts with showing respect for the leader. Respect for the leader engenders respect among the lead.

Rule 4 – Show up! Every organization has significant meetings and events that hold the organization together and move it forward. They strengthen the commitment to the work, reinforce the organizational core values, and remind everyone of what the organization stands for.

Rule 5 – Respect roles and responsibilities. Everyone has a role to play. That is what makes the organization successful. You don’t have to like everyone, but you must respect them and the role they play to help the organization move.

Rule 6 – Respect each other’s livelihood. The job that each person holds is not only important to that person, but to the many lives that depend on that person. If you do anything to undermine the person that threatens their livelihood in any way, you are potentially threatening the many lives that depend on that person as well.

Rule 7 – Honor the working relationships of others. The organization is as successful as the working relationships that co-workers have with each other. Never do anything that would harm or cause those relationships to be damaged in any way.

Rule 8 – Don’t take what’s not yours. You are a steward. Protect the assets with which you have been entrusted. Organizational assets are not yours.

Rule 9 – Tell the truth and don’t gossip. Don’t tell lies about other people or anything else. Tell the truth, because an organization that is not based on truth will fall apart. Tell the truth for your own sake, too.

Rule 10 – Support and cheer each other on. Success of the individual leads to success of the organization. Be each other’s best cheerleader and encourage each other’s individual and team success.

Not only were the new culture rules put into immediate action, they were put in writing to be reviewed on a regular basis. Not only were they responsible for one of the most dramatic cultural turn-arounds in organizational history, they have been the foundation of many other organizational successes as well.

Who was the leader? Moses.

What was the organization? The Children of Israel.

What were the rules: The Ten Commandments.

Here they are the way you were taught them (with some editorial additions in parenthesis for explanation.)

1) Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (The Israelites had lived in the Egyptian culture for over 400 years where the theology included the worship of multiple gods. No more! The new culture had One in charge. Follow the One.)

2) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. (Dump the old cultural junk. Egyptian culture was steeped in idol worship. No more!)

3) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain. (Show respect. Respect of the leader engenders respect among the lead.)

4) Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Show up for the important stuff; meetings, events, conferences. They are organizational glue. In Israel, the Sabbath Day was one such “event.” It was a weekly reminder of the values and beliefs that were foundational to their culture.)

5) Honor thy father and thy mother. (Resect the roles and responsibilities of other people. The mother and father roles were the most basic and most important roles in the culture.)

6) Thou shalt not kill. (Don’t threaten each other’s livelihood. Take out the breadwinner, and it creates cultural stress for those who remain.)

7) Thou shalt not commit adultery. (Respect the working relationships of others. Don’t do anything that would harm or destroy that relationship.)

8) Thou shalt not steal. (Don’t take what’s not yours. The success of the organization is based on trust.)

9) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. (Tell the truth and don’t gossip. Enough said.)

10) Thou shalt not covet. (Support and cheer each other on.)

In order of the Children of Israel to move on and create a new Culture of Success, new cultural rules had to be put in place for the people to follow. Also note that the new rules were set in stone as a way to communicate their importance. They were carried with the Children of Israel from place-to-place for hundreds of years. They were the foundation of their culture.

My Own Moses Moment

The idea of creating what I now call a Culture Guide was born out of my own frustration – anger, to be honest – when nobody at the company I headed showed up on time at a scheduled morning meeting everyone knew about. I relate our situation to that of Moses and the Israelites, because I had just relocated the company to get us out from under the direct rule of our founder, who was a tyrant. The company had been built on the man’s public presence and sales genius, but he was one horrible manager. He ruled by fear, and chaos followed him wherever he went. Three-hundred miles away we were still in chaos – witness the nonstarter morning meeting – because people didn’t know how to act in the absence of fear.

While I sat alone, anger simmering, it dawned on me that I was the one to blame, because I had not made my expectations crystal clear about meeting attendance and punctuality and a host of other things. So I ascended my own figurative Mount Sinai, thought deeply for some hours, and descended with our workplace Commandments, if you will, a rulebook for how we would agree to interact and behave in our workplace. This Culture Guide became foundational in our work together as a team, which was more productive and fulfilling because we had written rules to follow.

That original Culture Guide had 21 items that outlined the behavioral expectations of our team. Here are two examples:

Be Early.

Everyone wants to work with a team where everyone can rely on each other. It starts first thing every day. That’s why we all agree that, “When you’re early, you’re on time; when you’re on time, you’re late; and when you’re late, you’re lost.”

Be Happy to Do It!

Everyone likes to work on a team with individual members who are willing to do whatever it takes to make things happen. When asked to help or contribute, team members frequently respond by saying “Happy to do it.” Having a willing attitude makes teamwork happen.

That is just the start. The creation of that original Culture Guide was the beginning of a new cultural effort on the part of everyone in the organization to create the place where everyone wanted to work.

Every organization has a culture either by default or by design. My preference is to have a culture by design where the leader and the people in it intentionally decide what kind of culture they want to create. They write it down and go about it with daily intent knowing that their future and the future success of the organization depends on the success of the culture.

Has the culture of your practice been created by default or by design? My challenge to you is to create it by design. Get started today by creating your own culture guide to define the behavioral expectations for your team. It may be the foundation of the future success of your practice.

Steven J. Anderson is the Founder of the Total Patient Service Institute (TotalPatientService.com) and the Crown Council (CrownCouncil.com) and many other dental related companies and charities. For a copy of an example Culture Guide, order a copy of his latest book, The Culture of Success – 10 Natural Laws for Creating the Place Where Everyone Wants to Work. www.TheCultureOfSuccessBook.com or call 1-877-399-8677.

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