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Systems and Culture


There is a duality in every successful dental practice. This sweet spot involves culture and systems. Here are the definitions:

Culture is the way of life of a group of people: the behaviors, beliefs, and values they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.

A System is a set of interacting or interdependent component parts forming a complex/intricate whole. This is often found as a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.

It is the successful joining of these two functions that define a great business. Fall short on one and the whole suffers. No matter how strong you are in any one of these areas, that strength cannot overcome the weakness in the other. Synergy is the goal, where the whole is greater than the parts. It’s when this combination of Systems/Culture allows the improbable to become fact. I have created a simple visual of this relationship at the top of the page. Let’s take a look at the four quadrants. As you move toward the top of the diagram you see better and better systems and as you move toward the right you see better cultures.

1. Quadrant 1: (Upper left) In this quadrant we have really good systems but poor culture. We have the game plan but we fail to add the leadership, vision and management that could make you truly great. You will find, as a practice stuck in this quadrant, that while you do most things right, the staff will not stick around long enough to really develop into a team. Money is not a problem, but there’s something missing in the “secret sauce”.

2. Quadrant 2: (Lower left) This is the quintessential “poor” practice. No leadership, no money, high staff turnover, and a general lack of engagement from the doctor and staff. This is a terrible place to work and it shows. No new patients and few if any referrals. This is the “dead practice” walking. It’s just a matter of time before they are belly up and out of business. The problem is that it is surprising how long these practices can struggle on with such poor results.

3. Quadrant 3: (Lower right) Everyone on the staff likes the office because there are no consequences. Results are the last thing anyone thinks about. Poor systems with a good culture means that you will run out of money. This doctor swears that there is never any staff turnover and everyone loves them but the lack of systems shows up in poor productivity, high overhead, and upsets with patients when the follow through is just not there.

4. Quadrant 4: (Upper right) Great systems and great culture. This is the ultimate in goal setting realized. This is the sweet spot where stress is almost non-existent, overhead is at 50-60%, with great longevity of staff, and an unlimited number of new patients who in turn refer everyone they know. This is the Recipient Practice on steroids: THE INSPIRED DENTAL PRACTICE that we call The Super General Dental Practice.

(To read our article on Donor and Recipient Dental Practices, click here.)

Once you understand the relevance of the Systems/Culture Quadrants you have begun the journey to the practice you always thought you would have. This is how you Summit. Please give us a call (800.252.0955) or contact Max or me at and let us show you how 2016 can be the best year you have ever had in Dentistry.

Mike Abernathy, DDS
[email protected]
972-523-4660 cell