You have probably noticed that certain things, people, and actions tend to have a negative or positive effect on you. The rate or level of this effect is directly related to how close you are and the amount of time you are exposed to them. If you are on a mission trip or in church, you would never tell an off color joke or use certain words. Fast forward to the last time you went hunting or camping with the guys, and you probably had a completely different operating standard. Proximity, or the closer you are to a certain situation, will often determine your actions and eventually the results you reap. This is especially true in business. Through habit, choice, or happenstance we find ourselves being held back or propelled forward by the company we keep. This habit of placing yourself closer to the things that will yield a positive effect is crucial to success in every aspect of business, too.
Nothing happens by accident. Your life and work habits give you the results you are getting. In fact everything you do is precisely designed to give you the results you are getting. Through commission or omission, you position yourself to take advantage of the “proximity factor”. Living an intentional life in which you purposely strive to only surround yourself with things, people, and actions that build you up and push you toward your goals is the fastest, least stressful way toward success possible. Purposely placing yourself around successful people and their actions and results has to be in the top 3 leadership skills that you should cultivate.
Let’s take a moment and consider how subtle the “proximity factor” is. Often time we consider certain things positive though they are quite the opposite. I have compiled a list of the top reasons that you struggle in business and life as a direct result of your choice to associate in certain circles.
- Attending and hanging out with other dentists in your area. Sounds good. I’ve done it. Lots of great people and camaraderie. The problem is that a very subtle limiting belief begins to invade your psyche. The group dynamics of hanging out with average dentists creates an acceptance of average performance. You actually begin to believe that your performance and that of those average dentists in your local dental society are normal. That the economy, dental IQ of your patients, your location, etc., explains why you and your friend’s practices are struggling. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you’re thinking that this first proximity effect is not true, it may mean you’re already infected with the proximity virus. It’s not too late, but the first symptom of infection is the justification of your circumstances and the denial of “proximity” logic. The cure: Stop hanging around people who accept their current situation as normal or inevitable.
- Accepting marginal staff and limited results as the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) in dentistry. If you are allowing behavior and results that you know you would rather not have, you’re one step further to “proximity viral collapse”. A staff member is an employee that should have well written job descriptions, policy manuals, and a way to measure their performance that leads to consequences when they fail to meet them. You are not paying people to make your life miserable. In fact, your staff should be concerned about being fired for the “right reasons”. Just because this situation has been around for years or decades in your practice doesn’t make it right. Well-run practices do not have these types of blockages and problems. You can tell when the “proximity virus” is causing you to be delirious when you justify hiring your kids or wife to work in your office because “there just are not any good employees out there”. If there were the ten commandments of dental staff hiring, the number one would be “never hire anyone you can’t fire”.
- Taking lots of continuing dental education courses to increase your clinical excellence. Been there, done that. This is one of those subtle, “how could this be wrong” types of proximity factor symptoms. It is different with different types of doctors. If you are the type that constantly takes courses but really never applies the new techniques then this is the wrong strategy for you. There is no learning without application. Becoming addicted to course after course of unused or un-applied information is the fast lane to the “proximity factor” emergency room. We have had to force some clients to not take any other continuing education classes in order to actually get them to apply what they already know. I call this the “failure to launch” symptom. The good thing about courses on different services and clinical techniques is that you are getting to know other doctors who are clinically excellent. The wrong thing about this is that most of these doctors believe that clinical excellence is what will turn the tide on a struggling practice. It is true that increased “competence” will lead to increased “confidence” and this is great. The negative comes in when you think patients will choose you because you are a “great” clinician. It’s even worse if you start the hammer and nail routine by taking a class on sleep apnea and then assume everyone has sleep apnea problems. Thinking that clinical excellence alone will bring in patients could not be further from the truth. Patients define quality as “it looks good, feels good, and lasts a long time”. It is the people skills of you and your staff that will make the difference between a growing a thriving practice and one that is in a slow death spiral.
- Buying the latest and greatest 3D “whatchamacallit” for your practice. I can’t think of one good thing about being in proximity to any salesman. As a group of people, manufacturers and dental salesmen have one and only one job to do. That is to sell you something that they have and will make a commission on if you buy it. Seems a little unethical if you really think about it. I would have to say that it’s not really the salesman’s fault. He got the proximity virus from the sales manager that got it from the manufacturer that has to pay his overhead regardless of the quality or application of the gizmo that he’s trying to sell you. Once again, this symptom for the proximity factor can be misdiagnosed. I see smart doctors that actually run the numbers, figure the cost/profit or ROI along with the effect on overhead and then make a purchase. This is 3% of all dentists. The rest of us shoot from the hip and it’s the hipsters that have the problem. Max likes to call it the “shiny object syndrome”: The illogical logic that this purchase will change years of lack of management, inattention to detail, no leadership, and poor hiring practices. Shiny objects do not make a successful dental practice.
- Hiring a coach or mentor to push my practice to the next level. I truly believe that everyone needs a mentor or coach. This is a great strategy on the surface but can lead to wasted money and a lack of results. P. T. Barnum said it best: “There is a sucker born every minute”. Dentistry has found itself in a season of consultants on every corner, equipment to fix any ill, and strategies that will make the lame walk. Problem is that 97% of consultants just don’t have the depth and knowledge to help those in need. Lee Trevino, the golfer, with 8 major championship wins and a World Golf Hall of Fame member made a very intuitive statement while watching one of the most well know instructors in the world give a stroke lesson to a young PGA Tour player: “I don’t want swing advice from anybody who doesn’t know what it’s like to stand on the tee box of the 72nd hole of a major golf championship with a one shot lead”. Be careful who you stand next to when it comes to mentors and coaches. It creates a tipping point at which most find they lost money and find themselves worse than they were before.
I hope you get the idea. Turkey’s flock together and eagles soar. Make sure that the people you surround yourself with are tipping you in the positive direction rather than creating an anchor that will hold you back. The Proximity Factor is a no brainer.
Michael Abernathy, DDS