In football, as the clock expires at the end of the third quarter, teams and fans alike hold up four fingers to signify the beginning of the most important 15 minutes of the game. These four fingers signify that the fourth quarter belongs to their team. The tradition is emphasizing a commitment to finishing the game strong. The problem is that this has become just another sports cliché for football teams, and less of a mission statement and commitment to winning the contest.
Like it or not, we find ourselves at the end of the third quarter with a tough uphill push to finish the year on top. Unlike football which is, at its basics, a binary contest where two opponents face each other during four 15 minute quarters, we find ourselves in a year where we were forced to close our doors for two months (or more), shelter in place, and now come back out with most of the uncertainties that we found ourselves with back in March. Add to this the surprise of how quickly most staffs abandoned the practice when they had $600 a week dangled in front of them by the feds and embracing an unemployment tsunami, while we, the owners, found ourselves short on options and unable to financially support our overheads when we could not work. Forget the fact that there are no vaccines, most vaccine development has not panned out, one has caused irreparable damage to the volunteers who took it, and flu season begins in two weeks. Surprise, it’s not over.
The black hole of hygiene looms ahead as October is faced with filling seats where 6 months ago, we were closed. Therefore, there is no recall. Schools have started back, and people have gathered only to find that without PPEs and distancing, the pandemic raises its ugly head. The public has grown tired of isolation, and it seems that the built-up demand that fueled the first 6 weeks or so when we came back has reversed and practices are seeing the recovery waning. Truly, it is not surprising that a lot of the public would postpone their next dental appointment without a pressing demand from pain or loss of function. But wait. The distraction and competition for consumer dollars in the form of Holidays approaches for the knock out round of “will you finish strong in 2020”?
Hopefully I am preaching to the choir, but reality says no. Too few learned their lesson form the Great Recession ending in 2009 whose affects lingered over the last 10 years. The smart group learned and focused on production and profitability. They paid down debt and saved money. They invested in cash flowing assets that would not have the volatility of the stock market. They took their office and fine tuned their systems and protocols while creating an ownership mentality in their teams that has transformed their culture. These practices used their forced vacation to see emergencies and to further embrace and adapt to the change of the new reality in healthcare triggered by a pandemic. For those few doctors, March through May was a learning opportunity rather than a catastrophe. These offices are optimistic about the future and doing better today than they did last year. They are using the bruises and surprises as a way to test their plans and adapt to a new dental economy. Their staff support them and the team is a significant part of the solution. As you look over your situation and the people you call your team, you are realizing that each and every one of them are either part of the solution or part of the problem. The wise are eliminating the mediocre staff and failed protocols very quickly. The winners of this game are not those that approach business and life with the mantra of: “I will do_____________, when I ______________.” They are the “ready, fire, aim” group. They know that any action or decision is better than doing nothing or waiting to see what might happen.
I believe, as I did in 2009 after the end of the Great Recession, that 2020-2021 will be an unbelievable time of opportunity and growth. The problem will be that this will only occur for those who act quickly. The doctors who do not fear this period of uncertainty will not let the numbing effect of change distract them from the goals and actions they know they need to take. Doing what you did in 2019 will not get you where you need to go. The future is different and the present will reward those who realize this and act accordingly. October through December 2020 is going to be different and it is not a time to coast. Be accountable and act.
Finishing well these last three months of 2020, and doing what you need to do will surely define 2021. Yes, finishing well is still possible for most of you. But those that finish strong will have created a positive momentum and adjusted to the consumer and economy to have the proper trajectory for 2021 to be your best year ever. The real key is beginning next year with what you do now creating a wind at your back to push you to better results in January and through the rest of the year.
The clock for the third quarter has ticked down, and your fourth quarter begins. You can still win this game. There is still enough time on the clock to offset a poor start and mediocre third quarter. This is how you Summit.
Michael Abernathy, DDS
PS. I put my cell phone number on every article I write. That number is an invitation for you to call me and discuss the challenges you face. I promise, I will have an answer to anything you struggle with. Don’t let anything keep you from giving me a call. I want to hear from you. I want to help you finish strong.