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Held Captive by Fear: The 180 Dental Journey

Recently we began one of the most interesting coaching outreaches I have ever heard of.  It is called the “180 Degree Dental Journey”.  In Portland, Oregon, an Endodontist has hired Summit to create a “never done before” 6-month coaching experience for their referral sources that would literally reshape any dental practice.  A course so interactive and comprehensive that it will allow challenged practices to make a 180 degree shift in results:  Whether they struggled with day to day survival or just wanted to take their already good practices to a new level of greatness.  It is a strategically based, results oriented training that encompasses six individual half day seminars with monthly to do lists, and companion materials to support the monthly training.  It is literally a full court press, no holds barred assault on mediocrity in a dental practice.  Forget where you are, decide where you want to be and go get it.  As the “Journey” progresses, I intend to give you some insight on some of the challenges that these practices have encountered.

During the first session as I looked over the crowd I was surprised at how few of the offices had brought their teams.  It was especially surprising owing to the fact that we had stressed how important their teams attendance was.  In fact, I had mentioned in several of the 8-9 contacts we had emailed to the potential attendees that if given the choice of having the doctor or the staff, I would rather have the staff in attendance.  During the seminar we approached this topic by helping them to see that the entire team is an integral part of any change, and without participation, they will not embrace any improvement in the office’s systems or results.  From the podium, my first thought was that the doctors did not see the value in the staff’s attendance.  I assumed that they felt that they could listen, filter, and bring home to the troops the portions that they felt were pertinent to their situation.

If this was the case, there are several fallacies in their reasoning.

  • Failure to be where you want to be is always the Doctor’s fault.  Like it or not, the economy, staff, systems, dental IQ of the patient, competition or location are a distant second to the leadership and vision of the doctor.  By “omission” or “commission” the doctor’s actions have created the situation in which they now find themselves.  It is always the doctor’s fault:  He hired the staff, allowed the systems, and encouraged a corporate personality that has created their current results.  In this journey, the first person to work on, and the first area to change is the doctor.  Without this revelation and subsequent commitment to change by the doctor, the practice is doomed to repeat its past mistakes.  I like to call it “dead practice walking”.  The practice is doomed, it just hasn’t happened yet.
  • The doctor is repeating a flawed and failed strategy.  One form of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.  You have attended seminars without your team and tried to bring back some particular technology, system, or idea only to fail to implement it.  It is a mistake to think that your ability to sell this change will equal the effect of the team actually being there in the first place.  Immersion in the original presentation is what excites the imagination to help everyone embrace the new idea or system.  You have always failed to perform with this strategy in the past, so admit it and change your own behavior and reap the results of a “team” effort.
  • Everyone filters new information.  As you, the doctor, sit thru a presentation, you filter the information based on your past training, what you currently do, and your limiting beliefs.  It is a fact that if we survey doctors attending a seminar, we will get drastically different interpretations of what was actually taught.  Many doctors are confounded when forced to listen to the actual speakers words a second time that cover the very topic they have misheard or misprocessed.  When confronted with this inequity of understanding it is obvious that the doctors miss many of the salient points being made by the speaker because of inattention or internal turmoil with the philosophy of the system being presented.  If it is a challenging topic they just check out at times.  If we add the staff, there is a more uniform understanding, recall, and implementation of every aspect of the lecture.  If you think about it, we are all affected differently by the implementation of any system or change.  It creates empowered ownership with the listeners.   Once you get back to the office, you will see a dramatic reduction in the time it takes to implement, and that means you see a faster improvement of results.  Remember: There is no learning without application.
  • Many doctors are too “cheap” to bring the staff.  While another huge mistake, in this case the Endontist has paid us for the time and material.  There is no additional cost of attendance or travel because everyone lived within 30 minutes of the seminar location.  I guess old habits are hard to break.  In any event, great information is not expensive.  It is priceless.
  • A missed opportunity rarely presents itself again.  I guess it is human nature to put off till tomorrow what we can and should do today.  Since this seminar is an effort to step over mediocrity, you could almost use the previous sentence to define it.  We need to adapt the attitude of “Ready, Fire, Aim”.  By a selection process that I truly do not understand, it appears that dental schools like to attract and reinforce a student that has a natural predilection to procrastinate; an “analysis paralysis”.  If you are waiting for everything to be perfect before you act, then you will never grow or progress.  That time will never come.  That’s why faith and positive expectancy are so important.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  For all of you folks attending the 180 Degree Journey (180 DJ), this is it, you get no do-over’s, this is your time to grasp and create your own successful future.  (For those of you who are attending this seminar, I would like to ask you to copy this article and hand it out to the staff as well.)

While the seminar progressed, the lack of staff continued to rub me the wrong way.  I finally just stopped and asked why they did not bring the staff after being encouraged to do so?  One doctor said it, and most confirmed it.  Here is what they said.

“We tried to get them to, but couldn’t talk them into coming.”

Are you kidding me?  You asked them to come?  They had a choice?  Whose practice is this anyway?  I was dumbfounded, not speechless, but really dumbfounded.  What has your practice evolved into?  Let me rephrase that:  What has their practice evolved into (because it sure looks like they are the boss now). You worked hard to make it through dental school, you graduated with a huge school debt, you added to that debt with your investment of opening an office.  You are the doctor, business owner, leader, and “the buck stops here” person, and you’re telling me that your employees decided they did not want to come?

I guess deep down, hidden beneath our social graces resides a side of us that identifies with R. Lee Ermey (“The Gunny”, retired Marine staff sergeant), from the movie Full Metal Jacket, History Channel, and the psychiatrist in a recent commercial.  Well let me tell you, it is not that well hidden in my personality.  I couldn’t help myself and before I knew it I blurted out my response.

“Are you kidding me? You guys need to put on your big girl panties and deal with this.”

During the seminar we concentrated on the Doctor’s leadership requirements.  The first job of a leader is to define “Reality” or what is “Core”.  The leader sets the atmosphere and Esprit de Corps or the business personality.  You determine the rules; you decide what flies and what doesn’t.  The responsibility for deciding and enforcing this falls on you, the doctor/owner.  You cannot abdicate or delegate this role.  It is a slippery slope towards loss of control of you practice and your future.  A few months ago I wrote an article entitled “What You Allow, You Encourage”.  Allow me to take an excerpt from the first few paragraphs.

Leading, Allowing, Encouraging

“Whatever you allow, you encourage.”  That is one of my favorite quotes about leadership as it relates to a dental practice.  Let’s take a minute and talk about leadership.  This is what separates winners from losers in this business.

Ever wonder why your employees don’t seem to do what you want and need them to do?  Actually, we’ve all been here at some point.  Leadership is all about influence and inspiration.  It’s showing people by your actions what’s important to be successful at your dental office.

If customer service is supposed to be important at your office, but you complain about a patient in front of your team, or don’t get back to patients quickly, what have you just done?  You have just shown your team that customer service really isn’t that important at your office.  When you don’t take the time to share good news and bad with your team or you don’t recognize an incredible new patient that one of your staff just referred, what have you just done?  You have just shown a lack of communication, and that your staff really isn’t that important in your dental practice.

Too many of us are constantly searching for new, great ideas with which to improve our practices, and attract new patients.  We think new software will save the day, or a new piece of equipment will enable us to make a ton of money.  Yes, they can make a difference and they are important, but success in our small businesses is rooted in our people and our leadership.

The behaviors you don’t want permeating your organization need to be addressed and eliminated from your culture.  If you want to win in dentistry, you need good communication, a culture of accountability and good leadership.  Let me make a suggestion to you:  Go buy John Maxwell’s “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” and read it.

The first law, and my favorite, is the Law of the Lid.  Your leadership is like a lid ora ceiling on your organization.  Your dental team cannot rise beyond your ability to lead.  People often think if they just work hard, they’ll find success.   Yes, you may find a little success, but the rest of the people on your team will not.  The key is to develop others around you to take the lead.  This is what allowed some to the best dental practices in the US to get where they are today.  They are entire practices made of leaders.

Enough said.  The 180 Degree Journey will meet again soon, and I hope to report to all of you that the room was filled with staff, excited about the opportunity of helping their doctors, and the entire team, move to the next level.

Michael Abernathy DDS
972-523-4660
[email protected]