June 24, 2021

The responsibility of creating dental offices able to quickly adapt to the fast pace of change lies solely with those in leadership roles. More often than not, this is the doctor. However, in highly developed, team-centered offices, it will also be the team members. Their success depends on their ability to empower their people and to have them take responsibility, or ownership, of the practice’s objectives.

Traditional dentists tend to focus more on “hard” issues such as: 1) quality, 2) service, 3) profitability, 4) cost control, and 5) productivity. These issues most often take the form of declining profits, productivity declines or plateaus, unacceptable patient service and personnel problems. In reality these issues are only symptoms of the real underlying issues. Dentists tend to focus on hard issues because they are easy to see, recognize, measure and, in some ways, they seem easy to address.

In most cases, the underlying causes of hard issues are the soft, or the human issues. These are less tangible and include attitudes, opinions, mindsets, self-image, self-esteem values, beliefs and feelings about how the world is organized and people’s place in it.

A team member’s performance is directly related to their state of mind – a soft issue. Performance, which can be measured, is a hard issue. The traditional dentist refers to the former as “touchy-feely,” and tends to think hard issues are more important than soft issues; i.e., if you ignore the soft issues, they will go away.

According to John F. Welch, Jr., Former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, “America has spent the majority of its time working on fixing the hardware of American business. The Japanese, on the other hand, have the software; the culture which ties productivity to the human spirit which has practically no limits.”

The software of our dental offices – i.e., the culture that drives them – is where private dentistry will flourish; this versus the managed care, PPO organizations, which will constantly focus on the hard issues because their profit margin doesn’t allow anything else.

The challenge facing the leaders of private dental organizations in the 21st century will be how to get back to the roots of ultimate personal care with a spirit and fire that transforms team members into leaders, or stakeholders, who have a personal stake in the outcome of the business enterprise.

Lee Iacocca, former Chair of Chrysler Corporation wrote: “Every day in America, 242 million people wake up, and if everyone would say when he or she gets up that he or she is going to do some classy, quality thing today that he or she didn’t do yesterday, we’d be world beaters. Unfortunately, most people swing out of bed, yawn and figure, ‘Oh hell, I’ve got to make it through another day of drudgery.’ Their attitude is that they are going to do what they are told and not one thing more.” The former automaker added, “Quality, after all, is affected by something as basic as a person’s sense of values – if a person is going to do a good job, he or she has to like coming to work, he or she has to say, ‘I’m going to help produce something great today.’”

In a private dental office, each team member must be engaged in making something great happen every day. The dentist, as the titular office leader, has a vested interest in empowering this to happen.

What Does Attitude Have To Do With It?
Dental office leaders need to understand the 80/20 rule, which tells us that with any new idea – i.e., the intraoral camera or not accepting insurance assignment – people’s reaction will follow Pareto’s Principle: Approximately 20% will be open to it and see value in it; the other 80% will resist the change no matter how much sense it makes. The difference between these two groups is attitude, a soft issue. In an 18-year study of outstanding performance organizations, people’s attitudes were validated as the dominant factor separating high performance creative thinkers from reactive no-change thinkers.

To be continued next week