BACK to the FUTURE
I remember a time when successful doctors shared their knowledge without any expectation of payment or fear of competition. I still remember the mentors that gladly spent the time to help a “nobody” from a small town in Texas to scrape out a living and grow as a clinician and businessman. I am tired of being sold to for coaching, techniques, and products that never live up to their marketing. It upsets me to see doctors selling treatment modalities that damage the natural teeth and will need to be replaced four or five times in the patient’s lifetime. Maybe it is just me, but I’m tired of doctors looking down on a dentist that doesn’t carry the moniker of esthetic, cosmetic, sedation, implant, sleep apnea specialist, etc. What happened to a profession that reveled in serving the families that lived around us? I truly believe we need to go back to the future. We need to embrace a servant mentality for our “purpose” in practicing. Future success in dentistry will be based on service, active leadership, consumerism, relational marketing, and integrity.
I’m wondering if there is anybody out there that feels like I do. Is it possible to show up at a meeting and actually get more than you expected? Would experts share their knowledge at no charge? Has dentistry gone so far down the opposite track that we have forgotten how it feels to learn and share without worrying about the cost? Does there always have to be a profit motive to a presentation or seminar for anyone to attend? Could old fashioned “general dentists” get together and not be intimidated because they haven’t just graduated from the latest “institute” of higher learning carrying the name of an esteemed dentist who treats all of the movie stars? I want to go back to the days when information was shared to help, not to profit.
There is a book called 212 Degrees, The Extra Degree. At 211 degrees, water is hot. At 212 degrees, it boils. With boiling water, comes steam, and with steam you can power a train. The idea is similar to the central argument of “The Tipping Point”: Little steps can make all the difference. Years ago, in the middle of all of his scoring titles and Stanley Cup championships, Wayne Gretzky turned into a philosopher, at least for a minute. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” he said. Maybe he meant literal shots on the ice, but the same thought applies to business and life, too. You may not always be able to turn up the heat and hit the boiling point, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the attempt.
What would happen if someone actually supplied the meeting room, gave a great seminar and charged us nothing to attend? It would be back to the future. As far as I’m concerned it would be back to the way it should be. This 180 Degree Journey is building a road to take back your future. You have stuck with it for 17 installments and we are just about done with the foundation. I want to take a moment and see if I can encourage you to continue the journey and not get distracted with the next “whiz-bang whatchamacallit” new dental shiny object or strategy destined to turn your life around. Before we move away from accountability and leadership, I want to give you the big picture one more time.
In 1911, Fredrick Taylor wrote a breakthrough study describing three principles for management. In 1950, W. Edwards Deming and J. M. Juran were invited by Japan to rebuild its economy. Deming and Juran came up with the ideas that the Japanese packaged into the system we today call Total Quality. In Total Quality, people feel they are permitted to contribute, as well as expected to contribute, because the system was designed to evolve based on their input. I believe this system will also allow the Doctor and Team to simultaneously improve quality and productivity indefinitely. In my own practices I have used these techniques for 40 plus years.
If this sounds impossible, what you need to do can be stated in three sentences:
- Get and keep only the best people.
- Make clear to them what needs to be done by defining their jobs in terms of what is considered good performance and what results are expected and measure it.
3.Let them do it by creating conditions in which they can do what needs to be done.
That’s it. Like most apparently simple approaches, it works very well, but, in fact, demands a lot of hard work to make it succeed. There still is no free lunch. Everything worth doing is up hill.
Once you have the three principles that tell you what to do, the next trick is how to do it. You need a framework, a leadership philosophy. The foundation of this framework is taken from every motivational speaker and management consultant I have ever heard. It has just two points.
1.Doing things a little bit at a time all the time, has the highest probability of success. We work in the real world. We are constantly balancing one priority against another. Problems tend to set these priorities. That’s why crash programs and grand designs do not work. Attack your problems a little bit at a time. Remember: Any effort is worthwhile if it’s done all the time. Learn by doing and don’t wait for a detailed plan. Start simple and take a good idea and run with it. No improvement is too small to implement. Fine tune continuously. You never arrive. Life and leading our team and practice is a journey, not a destination.
- Leading beats managing. Your job as a leader is to get and keep only the best people. To make clear what needs to be done and let them do it. You are attempting to create an atmosphere of job ownership. Enthusiasm and persistent dedication always come from the top. In other words, you are the example or model. You set the pace through your leadership.
Here is how a true leader applies these three steps. Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
ONE: GET AND KEEP THE BEST PEOPLE.
Acquiring and keeping good people is a leader’s most important task. Reward them well both financially and emotionally by regularly meeting and talking with each staff member one-to-one. Focus on learning whether each staff member understands what we are trying to do and whether they can do it. Remove poor performers from the practice. This is as important as finding good ones. The best time to remove them is right now.
TWO: MAKE CLEAR WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE.
Good performance means more than a list of specific tasks. The whole job is to inspire patients, establish good relationships, and improve performance continually. Office monitors such as vital statistics kept by your team and discussed with them in staff meetings crystalize important points in their job descriptions.
Invite constructive complaining. Your staff needs to know their opinions are important. The best indicator of a poor system is when good employees can’t perform. Never assume that your team is well-trained and self-motivated. Ask them.
THREE: LET THEM DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE.
Give your team job ownership. Make clear who is responsible for what. Cross training is essential, but everyone should have an area of primary responsibility with well-defined job descriptions and consequences of not mastering them. Attach authority to responsibility. Your staff must feel you support their decisions and know that they can make mistakes without being yelled at. It’s part of the learning process. Develop a goal for continuing education. Staying on the cutting edge, or being the 1%, is essential.
Peter Drucker said: “The common denominator of all successful people is a perfect balance between thought and action.” This is true for you as both doctor and business owner in your dental practice. Your team and your patients will share the benefits derived from your consistent efforts to improve the quality of your practice, culture, and leadership.
Michael Abernathy, DDS