R. Buckminster Fuller was quoted saying, “If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking”. Following the logic of the statement, when you give someone a tool, the assumption is that we need to communicate and teach people about the tool, how to use it and why to use it. Many of you reading this have been frustrated by results or lack thereof somewhere in your business. This frustration could be attributed to your schedule, inventory, procedure goals, accounts receivable, etc. The tools that are discussed below will be critical to your ability to work with your team to pull out of a decline, sustain a benchmark or move into a new era of your business.
The Thought Behind Using A Tool
The people receiving this publication are considered some of the most intelligent and educated people in the world. Oral surgeons graduated at the top of their class, residency was rigorous and then, once in practice, there is the annual investment in continuing education courses which spans dentistry, medicine and anesthesia. While these areas overlap, they also are distinct areas of concentration. With the amassed knowledgebase and intelligence in mind, once many of you have decided to articulate the need for improvement or a change in your practice, you likely have put a lot of thought into the idea. Oral surgeons are quick on their feet which is a great asset for a surgeon and business owner. However, that quick mindedness can become a problem.
A good friend and colleague, who I worked with in a previous life, was blessed with the ability to be quick in her decision making. Very quick. On her own, Jen was phenomenal. She would take seconds to come to a conclusion that would take others hours. However, that blessing also proved to be a curse at times. The issue arose when she had to work with others. Jen is a great person, a genuine person with a good heart. However, when it came to working with others, everyone involved had a tendency to get frustrated because they were not as quick as Jen. On the other hand, Jen would get frustrated because she felt as if others were holding her back. This may paint a familiar picture of the struggle of working with groups within your practice and with referral sources. With that struggle in mind, we want to create a deliberate plan using tools which will guide your team to your objectives.
Leading the Team
If you don’t find yourself holding routine team meetings, you may have a similar affliction as Jen. You may have personally arrived at a solution, but pulling the team along with you may seem like an impossible task at times. You are not alone. Every business owner, manager and team leader experiences this. As a matter of fact, this is a common leader and manager struggle. To demonstrate this point on a large scale, we will use Amazon which has approximately 600,000 employees. One of Jeff Bezos’s main priorities is to instill values and objectives within his management layers and the front-line employees to ensure Amazon continues to grow. Your focus here will help you scale your practice as well.
Following a few logical steps will put you on the same path as a business giant like Jeff Bezos.
- Identification of the problem – This could be a deficiency or a gap between where you are now and the next level of your practice. The latter is not a problem but more of a continuation of your excellence.
- Diagnosis of the solution – Just like a treatment plan, once we know the problem, we devise the solution with the best possible outcome.
- Identify the key people involved in the changes – Leaders and managers are effective when they achieve their goals through others. The oral surgeon is the key technician and entrepreneur in the practice. To support the technician and entrepreneur, many, if not most, daily operations are conducted by team members. Identifying the key team members who will assume the responsibility for the change is paramount to the desired change.
- Measuring the change – Sports teams use scoreboards to measure their personal progress as well as their progress against the competitors. Your only competitor should be yourself – from yesterday. Measuring change over time demonstrates results, keeps a focus on improvement for the team and maintains communication.
- Communication of the new or revised system – This is where great ideas come to flourish or die, and could literally be the most important part of implementing change. If the team does not understand how they should individually change daily routines, the routines will not change and you will not see results. This communication should create clarity, provide logical steps and answer questions. Confused people don’t buy (your idea).
- Communicating the desired result – This is also a very important step. One of my favorite examples of this is the age old, “fill the schedule”. Someone could technically follow a directive step by step yet fail because they filled the entire day with post-ops, emergencies, torque tests, etc. Your team will usher many patients through the practice, however the production (leading to collections) would barely pay the power bill. We need to communicate the outcome that we are aiming for daily. As an example, we would aim for 10 scheduled sedation patients on a Friday.
- Communication of the ongoing result – Because everyone gets so busy with patient care, we can easily lose sight of the objectives. Frankly, most team members really have no idea whether they are on track until someone tells them they’ve done something wrong. Communicating the ongoing result also creates an opportunity to keep the team focused and motivated when they are on the right track.
Motivating your team to follow your lead could be as simple as following these seven steps. If you feel the changes are not being implemented appropriately, you can go back to the seven steps to reassess where it broke down.
I’m From Missouri…Show Me
Modifying a schedule is quite impactful to the practice. Fundamental changes to the schedule will affect the flow of patients, staffing, how team members prioritize their day, productivity, and most importantly patient care. Patient care will not be compromised, however, other outcomes such as patient experiences, referral satisfaction and team morale will be adversely affected. A daily schedule that leaves a surgeon feeling stressed, double booked and overworked does not facilitate excellent patient experiences like a schedule that has been logically prepared for the best possible business outcome.
Many practitioners start their practice with the Bob Barker method of practice building…”Come on down!”. That’s a great reputation to have as you will be viewed as a problem solver for the referring doctor and for the patient. Who doesn’t like a problem solver? However, that approach to creating and maintaining a great reputation will backfire if the team doesn’t manage it. If you decided to implement a new schedule template which would manage patient flow, productivity, staffing schedules, etc. – paint the picture. Show them the new template. Show them how the day will flow differently. Show them how their daily activities and responsibilities may need to change. Do you remember that phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words”? Save your breath. Get them over the goal line faster by showing them the desired changes. You will appreciate better understanding and brevity…and so will your team.
Role Playing is Where Action Talks and Complacent Head Nods Walk
As part of any organized, planned change and training, a leader and manager will need to ensure that the team has thought through the process as much as we have. We’ve all had situations personally and professionally where something is explained and you get head nods with the obligatory “sure…” or “ok…” Personally, I have to question when teams don’t have a dialog about proposed changes. Is it possible for a leader or manager to answer every conceivable question to leave the listener(s) satiated and speechless? Or is it possible that we need to peel the onion together and envision implementing the new system tomorrow? Consider how this same concept is applied with CPR training! We learn the concepts and then practice the right technique. We should do the same for our business systems.
With this CPR analogy, our only objective is to save the patient. That’s it. With a business system, we want to save and stabilize the schedule. Your team will have many curveballs thrown at them between today and the day on your schedule. They will need to visualize preparing the schedule, dealing with attempted cancellations, working referral emergencies into the schedule and more. Role playing is the perfect training tool as the team visualizes changes. We get to see where there are gaps in knowledge, incorrect perceptions, gaps in training and where some may have not thought this through. Role playing is the safest place to practice. Period. Yet, when we mention the topic of roleplaying, people tend to shy away because it is “perceived” as uncomfortable. A great visualization of uncomfortable is thinking you know the job while staring a patient in the eyes only to realize you are not as prepared as you thought. That discomfort marks the starting line of learning. If the team hasn’t crossed that line, the learning has not started.
Theory vs. Application
Let’s consider that you want to place an additional 100 implants annually. That goal alone will affect the schedule, ordering, marketing, team member responsibilities, and your focus. Let’s break down the tools the team will need to accomplish the desired outcome of placing 100 additional implant units over 12 months.
- A conspicuous goal
- Marketing strategies to draw more implant candidates
- Staffing appropriately
- Defined team member responsibilities
- A schedule that supports 100 additional implant patients
- A defined new patient intake process and scripting
- A defined consult process and scripting
- Monthly tracking
- Ongoing training
- Consistent team updates
Should You Issue a Challenge?
It is interesting to observe a group that has a job vs. a team that has a challenge. Teams that have a challenge will do what is necessary to win. Groups with a job…well…they do their job. A challenge checks many boxes for a leader and manager. It communicates the outcome. A challenge has the ability to remain a priority through routine updates. A challenge is a way to allow the team to see progress or lack thereof just like a scoreboard, and it gives the team a purpose instead of a job. This can be seen in our previous example where the team’s purpose is to grow the practice by 100 units. Let’s face it, a challenge is nothing more than a goal. And with every goal there is some payoff or reward. That incentive is what motivates some individuals to prioritize their days and stay focused.
Your success should be deliberate and not a surprise. By following the steps above, your team will have clarity, purpose and a potential reward for the practice objective. That objective may be to grow your implant practice, add an associate, or anything else the entrepreneur in you desires. The process is simple as long as you follow the steps and remain consistent and persistent. A practitioner needs a team that gets behind a purpose no matter whether there are six employees or 140. The power of the team is getting to the destination faster and with less stress than if you went on the journey alone. Give your team the necessary tool and start the journey for the next phase of your practice.
Posted with permission from the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (AAOMS) © 2020. Copying any portion of this material is not permitted without the express written permission of AAOMS.