If you’re anything like me, the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of catching pee. Yes, you read that correctly — catching pee. We’re in the middle of potty-training boot camp over here. So, no, maybe you haven’t had an equivalent couple of weeks. Then again, you never know. Oh well. I have your attention now, don’t I?
My business partners and I also have been nose-deep into projects at work. Beyond the second mesiobuccal canals and socket preservation grafts, we’re systematizing our entire operation. It’s way overdue but much needed. We are in (getting ready for) expansion mode, and as we sit back and evaluate where we are and where it is we’re going, it is becoming clear that we have a ton of work to do. To expand to more locations, or even just to increase the size or profitability of our single practice, it is absolutely necessary to have mastered basic systems and a flagship model to replicate. Though we are a successful and mostly efficient operation, there’s so much more to get done before we’re there. It’s a fun experience but a humbling one. It reminds me so much of the days/weeks/months and even first few years out of dental school — you don’t know what you don’t know!
For every little spicule of your practice operation you nail down, you uncover something deeper. I have the sneaking suspicion this trend will continue until the day I put down that handpiece —obviously, it will be wireless, solar-powered and self-sterilizing by then — for the last time. Heck, I hope the trend keeps up! It’s what provides us with the internal driving force to continue bettering ourselves, our staff and the service we provide for our patients. Why stop learning or trying to be better at every aspect of what we do? I, for one, never want to, and I hope you’re in agreement. Our job is no fun without a challenge (says 32-year-old me)!
But with this increased observation, calculation and tinkering, we must remind ourselves of something rather important: Leadership is required in making such adjustments to our (and our staff and patients’) way of life. What’s needed to ensure success is a similar leadership quality to monitoring a potty-training toddler. The first few times (days — heck, who am I kidding?) he relieves himself on the carpet, couch or cabinets, it’s not his fault; it’s my fault for not providing him with the knowledge, confidence and environment to do as he’s supposed to. Then, over the course of the next few days/weeks/years — after which I have empowered him with such ability and he chooses willingly to pee on the cat — it becomes his fault. And only then can I rightly correct him. He’s now accountable for his own actions. (Though the cat probably deserved it.)
The same goes for your staff members. If you want them tracking proposed and accepted treatment plans on a daily basis but have failed to show them how and have not given them the time to do so, or have neglected to explain how exactly you want these plans to be tracked, you have no one to blame but yourself. Similarly, if you have an employee who has been on the job for 60 days and forgets to turn off your porcelain oven over the weekend (phew, I’m a lucky man on that one; that could have been bad), you better not come in Monday morning yelling at her. Instead, note the importance of turning off the oven and how to do this in your operations manual, schedule a five-minute workshop with your assistants to show all of them how to turn it off and assign the daily duty to a specific individual. Ask your staff members to sign off that they understand how to turn off the oven. Then, and only then, are they accountable for their actions and, as such, are now fair game to be coached appropriately.
I implore you (I am doubly speaking to myself) to look at yourself — and at your practice, per se — “in the mirror,” not “through a window.” In other words, make sure that you’re holding yourself accountable for the actions of others because you’re their leader.
First off, doing this hopefully will prevent the ever-present angry dentist moments that your staff dislikes. But also, it will give you a chance to reflect on yourself as a leader and how you’ve set your team up for success in everything it does. You can prep the prettiest crown, torque in an implant your oral surgeon would be proud of or straighten the worst set of chompers ever, but if you can’t lead effectively, you’re doomed.
Donald Murry III, DMD