Dental practices that are at the top constantly look for ways to grow and develop. They don’t sit still! And, in today’s economy, you’ll get left behind if you don’t keep your focus and pay attention. No, it doesn’t mean jumping out and purchasing the latest dental gadgetry. In fact, it’s a different kind of focus … one that many practices never attempt! Here are fundamental truths about building practices of excellence:
- Your success personally and professionally is largely determined by your attitudes. These are the attitudes you hold about yourself, your practice, your present clients, your prospective clients, and your team. What you focus on is what you get! Changing your attitude isn’t just as simple as saying you will do it: it takes effort, introspection, communication, a willingness to listen, to learn, to be compassionate. For many teams, most have “good” attitudes, but what about the underlying attitudes, the ones that don’t surface easily? For example, the grumble that’s heard at a morning huddle when ‘Ms. Complainer’ is on the schedule. Or, the dread that’s never expressed about ‘Mr. Never-Can-Please’ has another appointment. What about the little gossiping in the office when one team member isn’t upholding her part of team effort? Or the doctor’s attitudes about a team member who’s only working hard enough “just to get by”? Or even the doctor’s attitude about coming to work each day, facing the myriad of decisions, challenges, and requests that can make one ‘schizo’ by the end of each day? Examine these attitudes, and talk about them at a team meeting – specifically how they are affecting team performance and job satisfaction. Then, come up with pro-active solutions to rid yourself and your team of these self-defeating attitudes. You’ll be amazed at the difference.
- Focusing on your “competition” leads to mediocrity. Don’t try to compete. Instead, thoroughly examine yourself and ensure you are playing to your strengths. When you play to your strengths, and you do work which personally rewards you, extraordinary things happen, and you are naturally able to accomplish the extraordinary. With your team, make a list of your strengths as a team and individually. How are you not using team members’ abilities? Are you doing procedures which you don’t enjoy or even want to do? What are you best at? Despite what you were told in dental school or may have learned elsewhere, you can’t be everything to everybody, so give it up. Focus on your strengths and who you want to serve – and not on the dentist down the street or the one with all the image ads. Your ego will get in the way of making good decisions that keeps your practice on track when your focus is on being “better” than someone else.
- Work that develops you develops your business. When your work is tied to your strengths, is challenging, and enables you to express your authentic self, the result is a powerful business identity. Without a doubt, your practice is a direct reflection of you. If you’re growing, your practice is growing; if you’re not growing, your practice is lucky to be treading water. Consider retreats and workshops out of the normal “dental” CE that will develop you as a person. Anything that you’re willing to do to develop yourself will affect your business, your clients, your team, and everyone else you come in contact with. Consider mixing in personal growth for your team, too – not just technical, “how-to” courses that will develop one aspect of their worth to your practice. Set aside several team meetings throughout the year that address the concerns and issues you see for your team’s “soft skills”, such as communication, listening, and relationship skills. Make the effort to spend time on these and watch your practice grow!
- You become a commodity by not differentiating your practice. You must invest in creating an individual, unique identity for your practice if you want your clients to invest in you and your practice. What are you known for? If I were to ask your clients, what would they say about you and your business? Are you selling services at the same level and quality they can get anywhere, or are you selling something different? If you don’t know, neither do your clients! Your unique identity is called your “brand”. In dentistry, your brand is YOU. Read through the first few points again. Then, ask yourself these same questions. If your “brand” is one-day dentures, then great. If your brand is ultimate esthetic solutions with Ritz-Carlton service, then great. If your brand is emergency dentistry, or comprehensive care, or whatever else, then great. It’s not the brand that matters: it’s the differentiation of your business so that clients who are attracted to you know they are in the right place – your place! The branding process is important not only because it attracts the right patients for your practice, but it also is the cornerstone for ALL marketing activities. If your team is unclear what differentiates your practice from others, how can they have anything to communicate to potential new clients who may be looking for a new dental “home”? Furthermore, how can your existing clients refer new clients to you if they don’t know either?
- Your clients grow in direct relationship to your growth. Supporting them well means having a diverse array of tools, models, and approaches which you continually evolve as a function of developing your practice as a practice of excellence. Can’t see it? Let me give you a personal example. When I evolved personally, all of sudden I had clients coming to me and “spilling their guts” – they had never done that before! What had changed? Was it them? No, it was me. When I became emotionally safe for new clients to see that I had no agenda for their care, that I was there to listen, to understand them, to support them, you’d be surprised how clients would respond. For example, a new client came to my office one day for a comprehensive exam. In my office, this starts with a one-on-one “interview” in my consultation room. After asking the client one single question of “How can I help you?” she proceeded to talk for the next 25 minutes, at the end of which she said I was the “best dentist” she had ever been to. How can that be when I hadn’t even provided a single service? Quite simply, I cared enough to listen. But before I could ever get to that point, I had to grow and change myself. Prior to that, I was much the way most of us come out of dental school: ready to see what dental treatment we can do for our patients so we could pay our loans and our overhead, and make enough money to have all the material trappings we had delayed gratification in receiving.
- Grow your practice for the long term by focusing on growing your expertise, experience and practice identity. Don’t focus on the wrong measurements of your practice performance. For example, “collections” is the wrong measurement if it is focused on to the exclusion of the above areas. Yes, “collections” ARE important, but what should you really be measuring if you’re focusing on long term growth? It will be slightly different for each practice, based on their identity, so let me give you an example. For a “comprehensive care” type practice, what CE courses are you taking that focus on your – and your team’s – expertise in this area. Are you taking courses that are currently “en vogue” because you think they’ll bring you riches, are do you take the courses that will develop your expertise in your practice’s identity? Avoid falling prey to marketing ploys to get you to spend a small fortune to attend a course at a fancy Las Vegas hotel that promises increased revenues – especially if it’s not a part of your practice identity. Clients and team members both get confused when your approach to developing your expertise and practice identity is all over the map. Measure those items that focus on your expertise and identity. Map out a course for your practice, then keep tabs monthly on your progress, and make an annual plan of growth for your practice in further development of your expertise and that of your team members.
- Be willing to over-promise … and then deliver. You may have heard just the opposite somewhere before: under-promise and over-deliver. That’s OK if you like to occasionally surprise a client or team member, but it won’t grow you! There’s no focus and extra effort which grows you or your team member. Instead, stretch yourself to do the nearly impossible because when you do that, you know you are playing on the leading edge, and the edge is where practices of excellence thrive. Practices of excellence don’t try to protect themselves, and they don’t yield to fear of the unknown. To quote a common saying, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re not really living.” It’s true: if you’re not willing to be on the edge, very little will change. Practices of excellence include stretching into areas of being uncomfortable and being uncertain. True growth and maturity happens when we can become comfortable with that which we cannot see around the corner, and having the resources, experience, and knowledge to navigate whatever comes our way.
- Developing raving fans is overwhelmingly a function of the relationships you create. Quality and consistency are important, but are secondary to the power of relationships. What are your relationships like with your clients? Or, are they just patients who need your dentistry? Our clients generally cannot evaluate us on our technical expertise – unless what we did for them looks awful and hurts – but they can tell us if they like us, trust us, and know us. The cornerstone to referrals and retention is developing raving fans. What are you doing to develop your clients into raving fans? If you’re answering, “we provide them with warm towels after each appointment,” then you’re missing the mark. Sure, amenities – and there are certainly lots to choose from – are nice, and clients appreciate them, but they won’t be the reason they refer new clients to you or actively remain as your client. Focus on what matters most: the relationship. We are in the caring profession, and to care for someone means having a relationship with them, first and foremost. Make it your utmost priority to seek to understand them and their concerns, goals, and wishes, and make whatever it is that you want to explain to them about their condition secondary. People want to be heard and understood, not understand.
- Be willing to invest in creating your practice as a brand. Brands perform in a superior fashion over non-brands in every area of business, period. The branding process for a practice doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes thoughtful, dedicated effort to create your brand. Do you think clients want generic dentistry? Some do, and if that’s your practice’s focus, that’s fine. However, practices of excellence brand themselves. For example, when you think of Folgers coffee, what do you think? Now, what do you think when you think of Starbuck’s coffee? Folgers is fine if you want coffee, but if you want coffee with subtleties you appreciate, you won’t buy Folgers. What about transportation? When you think of a BMW Z4, what comes to mind? What about a Ford Escape? Yes, both will get you from Point A to Point B, but the manner and personal experience in which they will do it is entirely different. Not every practice wants or needs to be “BMW practices”, nor does every doctor have the same strengths and goals. Focus on all of the above points, then invest yourself and your practice in becoming a brand, whatever that may be.
- Success can kill your business. You must continue to grow the depth and breadth of your business even as you are enjoying your success. Buyers of your services want what’s new, fresh, and different. That doesn’t mean taking the courses “en vogue” I mentioned earlier, unless it’s part of your identity. It does mean investing in those technologies, materials, and training that tells your clients you are always improving on what has already been excellent and consistent about your practice. Moreover, you can’t allow yourself to become complacent about developing your business simply because there is a lot of business in the present. Many practices just hum along doing fine for quite a while, until things taper off. They stay “off” a while, and pretty soon the doctor and team are scratching their heads with “What happened?” Just because you have experienced success doesn’t mean you’ll keep experiencing success. Practices of excellence constantly monitor what’s happening in their practice, routinely survey and ask questions of their clients, develop the “soft skills’ of the doctor and team members, have a written marketing plan consistent with their practice brand that they follow each month, all of the above points and more. Don’t rest on your laurels!
Practices of excellence include many factors, some of which we’ve not even touched in this article, and it takes time, dedication, perseverance, leadership, and vision to make YOUR practice a “practice of excellence”. The rewards are many – and not just monetarily.