I met Mark at a dental conference, one of the same ones that you probably have gone to many times. Mark was frustrated with many things going on his practice, and wanted to get them off his chest; he didn’t know I was a professional coach in addition to being a practicing dentist, so I listened. I could tell he wanted to talk; he NEEDED to talk.
Mark shared with me his story of how completed dental school, and like the rest of us, he was eager to start practice. He first became an associate in an established practice, and after several years, purchased the practice from his senior partner. The practice was vibrant and growing, and Mark was excited about seeing his dreams come true – and the efforts of all his hard work. He was now ready just to sit back, work with patients, and do the dentistry he loved so much.
However, Mark was a little surprised to find out how difficult practice was – especially now since he was “the owner.” Yes, his partner was around still doing dentistry, but he wasn’t much help. He, too, was tired of the daily struggles of dealing with grassfires, such as underperforming team members, gossiping and squabbles, lack of accountability, and so forth. As Mark’s father remarked to him one Thanksgiving dinner, “yesterday he didn’t know how to spell manager, and now he was one.” Mark was discouraged! Going to work every day and being the “heavy” wasn’t fun, and he was spending more time than he ever thought he was going to have to spend on the non-technical aspects of dentistry.
Mark was also discovering that dental school didn’t teach him many of the things he really needed to know, such as people and communication skills, business acumen, and more. Certainly, Mark was feeling more and more inept, frustrated, disillusioned … even downright angry. One day he decided he’d had enough and that he needed help. Now.
Like most people who are in “pain” of some sort, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, or otherwise, we want out of it – quickly. Someone just tell us what to do, and everything will be okay. Mark was no different, so he sought outside counsel; someone to tell him what he needed to do to make his practice something he looked forward to going to each day, whatever the cost. He thought he could just work harder to see more patients, make more money, and everything would work out just fine. As a bonus, he could just focus on doing what he loved best: dentistry.
There’s an organization called Heifer International which goes to impoverished countries to help the people learn how to grow crops and raise cattle. They don’t just bring food in to feed them and then leave; they show them, they teach them, they work with them on how to make their life sustainable. Yes, there are other organizations similar to Heifer International which does the same things as this organization. They, too, understand the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.
What does it take to instill lasting change? Would you say it is teaching skills or providing a “bandage” of sorts? Is it growing people or managing people? Is it holding a person accountable or having them choose what they want to do?
Perhaps it’s time to consider a new approach to this generic term we call “practice management”. After all, it seems to be a catch-all term which encompasses anything in dentistry that is not technically-oriented. I challenge you to consider this: Is it your technical skills that will make you successful, your non-technical skills, or maybe some combination of both? Further, how have traditional “practice management” approaches worked for you? Extreme success? Partial success? Varied success? Even more, why do you feel they have or haven’t worked for you?
As a professional coach, I can’t help but ask a lot of questions; it’s in my genes and has been as long as I can remember. By me asking questions for myself (initially) and then of others (to help themselves), I’ve been able to learn and grow at a pace that was appropriate to me. I’ve been able professionally to develop my practice into a reflection of who I am as a person and as a dentist. When we look outside ourselves for answers, we usually won’t find them, although there are a plethora of well-meaning people willing to give us our answers. Real answers come from within.
Bill was an avid sailor, yet he lived inland. He longed to sail in the ocean, and was especially looking forward to retirement when he could buy a sailboat of his dreams and sail anywhere he wanted with his wife by his side. It was something he dreamed about daily.
However, Bill felt that in order to be able to do that, he was going to have to work harder than ever, so he bought some very expensive pieces of technology, consulted with someone about building a new and bigger office, adding more employees, and put his dream off for quite a while. He wasn’t happy about that; in fact, Bill did nothing but complain about the “worthless” team members, how he couldn’t get them to “do anything right”, how the expensive technology he bought wasn’t even being used, and how “no one could do anything right to help him.” Bill was angry, feeling stuck, resented everyone who worked for him, and saw no end in sight. He dreamed of just quitting, but couldn’t.
Traditional “practice management” might approach his situation by assessing facts about his practice, interviewing employees, looking over his facility, and making suggestions on how to do little things – such as taking more X-rays on patients – to big things, such as firing certain employees, instituting monitors, and changing the way patients were presented treatment plans. Yes, everyone would be busy going through all the motions, although I would ask you this: Is Bill moving toward his goal? If your answer is not a resounding “Yes!” then it’s a “No.”
Bill is now sailing around the world with his wife. It took less than a year to make it happen. He bought that sailboat he had his eyes on for so many years. He sold his practice for a nice profit, even though when the time came to sell the practice, it was a bittersweet move, as Bill was now enjoying dentistry – and even the people he was working with and providing care for – more than he ever had his entire career. He was actually having second thoughts about retiring, although the adventure of sailing was too great and he wanted to experience every moment as fully as possible from that point forward in his life.
What changed? How did this happen? Do you believe that somehow his team members – whom he loathed at one time – magically became incredible employees? Did a new marketing campaign bring in new patients all eager to spend lots of money on dentistry all of a sudden start showing up in his office? Was there some sort of new bonus program that invigorated and excited his team member so much that they couldn’t wait to come to work? What would you say happened?
Yes, I knew Bill because I was his coach. But it wasn’t ME that made it all happen; it was Bill. Bill wanted change, he was willing to take action, and he was ready to take a close look at himself. And the rest was – well – just plain fun.