In the July 2012 issue of Dentaltown Magazine, I wrote about the importance of a purpose-driven life and the difference between people who have a passion for what they do vs. the poor souls who trade time for money. I wrote a little about giving your team a purpose as well, but I saved the bigger idea for this column, which is giving your entire practice purpose. Not just your staff, not just you, not just the chairs and the bricks and the mortar, but the driving philosophy of your entire practice.
Your practice’s purpose gives you clear-cut direction. If you take a team of people who place a high value on profitability, every decision they make will go toward maximizing profits. On the other hand, you might have a group of people who highly value customer care and will do and spend almost anything to make sure their customers are well taken care of. Put those two groups together and you’re going to see some battles. One team might want to hold back on spending money in order to lower overhead, while the other team really wants to implement something new to offer customers at the expense of the bottom line.
That’s why it is so important for companies – large and small – to make their values and their purpose crystal clear. That’s where a mission statement comes in. Yes, even though you might consider yourself “just a dental practice,” you need a mission statement. A mission statement explains to your customers and your team what your goal is and why your business exists.
Southwest Airlines’ mission statement says, “Southwest Airlines is a company that is for anyone and everyone that wants to get from point A to point B by flying. Our service and philosophy is to fly safe, with high frequency, low-cost flights that can get passengers to their destinations on time and often closer to their destination. We fly in 58 cities and 30 states and are the world’s largest short-haul carrier and we make sure that it is run efficiently and in a economical way.” In a rather succinct 80 words Southwest Airlines lays out exactly what it does, and if you’ve ever flown Southwest, it’s apparent that its employees take this mission statement to heart.
Other mission statements use broad strokes. Take Sears’ for instance: “To grow our business by providing quality products and services at great value when and where our customers want them, and by building positive, lasting relationships with our customers.” Pretty broad (actually, a little too broad… and maybe a bit vague), but that’s OK, because when you delve into your company’s list of core values, you can further define your mission.
And in case you were wondering, Dentaltown’s mission statement is: “To better dentistry by connecting dental professionals through traditional and innovative media.”
Now that you’ve explained who you are and what you do, it’s time to explain the “how” through developing your core values. Core values are extremely important. Without them, your team members will make all of their decisions based on what they think is best – which may not actually jibe with the practice’s philosophy. You can’t afford contradiction and infighting; everyone needs to be on the same page and adhering to the same values, otherwise you’re not going to move forward. Your company needs to make clear to the entire team what it values and how it will conduct business.
Some companies have five core values, some have 25. We spent months developing the core values for Dentaltown and my dental practice, Today’s Dental, and whittled our list to what we thought are the 12 most important values we, as a company and a dental practice, needed to adhere to. If someone doesn’t “get” my corporate culture, I can get them right out the door permanently.
First off, we all decided it was important to create a fun, positive and professional environment. People don’t want to come to work and deal with all the catty, tacky garbage people tend to bring into an office, which eventually makes people feel bad. These are your teammates and they’re your allies.
We require our teams to be passionate, enthusiastic and determined to make a difference.Try as hard as you can but you can’t train people to be these three things. You must make sure you’re hiring people who carry these traits and be prepared to jettison those who do not.
You have to embrace and drive innovation. You have to adopt all technology that makes you do dentistry faster, easier, of a higher quality and at a lower cost. Macroeconomics is made up of three things – people, technology and capital. You have to embrace all new technology.
You’ve got to follow the golden rule (“Treat others like you would want to be treated”); the common thread found at the heart of every major religion. Simple enough, right? Not really… Let’s say your child was injured or sick and you needed to take her to the emergency room. Your child might be scared and might start asking the nurse questions. Would you really want to hear the nurse say, “I’m sorry, I can’t talk about this with you. The controlfreak doctor says I can’t talk to you like a human.” Nobody wants to hear that, and certainly nobody wants to say that, but when someone calls up your practice and your front desk can’t explain what they think because you’ve got them gagged, there’s something wrong.
Mistakes will be made. Be accepting and accountable, and move forward. You’re not perfect, doc. Nobody is. There’s a reason why we call it a “dental practice” – nobody’s perfected it, and nobody ever will. We are our own worst critics; if someone screws up, help them realize their mistake, redirect if it’s needed and then move forward. You don’t laugh at them or chastise them or belittle them. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn. Speaking of which…
Never stop learning. This is a favorite of mine because if your practice chooses to adopt this particular core value, I can help you and your team along by shamelessly promoting Dentaltown.com’s awesome line-up of online continuing education courses. You don’t have to take notes. You don’t have to get a hotel. You don’t have to buy an airline ticket. And all of our courses will not just benefit you but your whole team. Why don’t you do something educational and morale boosting for your team like Terrific Tuesdays, when every Tuesday you spring for pizza and the whole staff stays in and watches a one hour-long online CE course given by the best instructors around the world? It’s important to continue improving your knowledge base and your skills. Keep learning new techniques that will start making your practice money, like sleep dentistry or implants.
If you’re on my team, you need to be honest and respectful. Integrity is everything. You have to report your cash because if you don’t your staff thinks it’s OK to steal from the IRS, therefore it’s OK to steal from you. You have to warranty all your work. You have to be honest. If you screw up, you tell a patient, hey I’m a human and I just broke the bur off into your nerve and this is what I did. Don’t cover it up. Don’t lie. It just makes things worse. Be honest, get it all out front.
You have to balance life and work and be fully present in both. To take this a little further, I’ve got my four Bs: my body, my babies, my business and my babe. If you don’t take care of your body, then babies, business and babe don’t matter because you’ll be dead. You stay healthy in order to be there for your family and your business. So many of us are workaholics. We ignore our families until they want nothing to do with us and we get upset when they eventually only love us because we give them money (because that’s the only part of you you really ever gave them). It disappoints me when dentists take personal calls from their spouses all day long but won’t let their staff take personal calls from their spouse or their children. When your kid is having a crisis, you reschedule all of your appointments, but when your hygienist’s child is facing a crisis, you raise hell and start making threats. It’s an awful double standard. Remember, treat other people how you want to be treated.
Strive to make everyone feel safe, valued and important. I’ve witnessed dysfunctional staff meetings where the doctor barks orders or makes a decision before talking to the staff, and the whole team just looks at him, their eyes as wide as saucers, and before anyone can ask a question the team is dismissed and everyone runs away. That is so dysfunctional. I remember the last time I ever held a staff meeting like this. I told my staff we were buying a CEREC milling unit and my assistant Jan spoke up and said, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” It wasn’t because she thought buying a CEREC was a bad idea, it was because our office needed to be updated. After that meeting, we argued about this for about a month. Eventually, and with some long-term financial planning, we all got what we wanted. The point of this story is, in that month while Jan and I butted heads, not once was she afraid that she was going to lose her job because she stood up to me. My team knows I’m not going to fire them or abuse them for standing up to me. We can disagree and have heated debates, but they must be done in a respectful way so nobody fears losing their job just because they disagree with me. You need this in a practice because it allows your team ownership of all of the decisions that are made.
Be remarkably helpful. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Empower your staff. Be helpful. Coach them. Invest in training your team and when they are finished training, get them some more! I can’t say enough about online CE. Your hygienists and assistants should know exactly what is going on with a root canal. If you want your receptionist telling people how much a root canal costs, she should at least know what a root canal is. Have her take a CE course on Dentaltown.com. In one hour, she can learn what a root canal is, know how to make one better and faster and then when she’s done with the root canal course, she can explain what she learned to patients (and tell them how good you are at it). Empower everyone with knowledge – it’s the best help you can give.
Our final core value prompts our team to create opportunities to make our customers feel special. In these turbulent economic times, why are you taking off your gloves and mask and slinking back to your office while the local anesthetic sets in? You need to take these golden opportunities to bond with your patients, share things with them and listen to them. At the very least, review their social network. Why not?! They’re just going to be sitting there soaking up the Novocain anyhow. Say to them, “By the way, how’s the rest of the family? I haven’t seen your husband in a while. When’s the next time he’s going to come see me?” Review the treatment plan – not just of your patient in the chair, but of their family as well. Say, “OK, your kids are nine and 10. We talked about sending them for an orthodontic consult when your daughter is 12 and your little boy is 13…” Engage them. Bring up their pano, their digital X-rays. Stay in that operatory to teach. Ensure everyone in your office is a teacher. Give everybody a purpose to teach, you want a measurable impact on the improvement on everyone’s oral health from when you graduated from school to when you retire.
Being clear about your purpose is one thing, but actually following your own core values is another. You might spend a year coming up with your company’s mission and core values, but without consistent follow through, they won’t mean a damn thing. When you review your employees, you must hold them accountable to all of your practice’s values. The staff should also have the freedom to police each other. If someone’s behavior isn’t in line with any of your core values, that person needs to be called out and be held accountable for their actions. Everyone should have the opportunity to change their ways, but if someone on the team is consistently not adhering to any of your company’s values, perhaps it’s time that person find another practice whose values are more in line with his or her own.