Who has the buying power?

Sept. 16, 2010

By Dr. William Balanoff

I think dentists are missing an incredible opportunity to create value for their patients and profit for their practice.

Most dentists are the CEOs of their business and do not have a board of directors to help craft decisions about business trends, customer wants and needs, and potential profit centers. In fact, most dentists rely on their dental colleagues — their competition — to decide their business and professional fate. At the very least, dentists should have a “mastermind group” to provide business advice. This group should consist of nondentist professionals and businesspeople that will offer objective direction and advice. Most dentists have neither a board of directors or a mastermind group. Where does this leave dentists? It leaves them at a great disadvantage managing their business alone!

It has been my experience that the people who work for you know more about individual aspects of your business and customers than you do. Even though you are the “doctor,” most employees and patients/customers will not tell you the truth about your business. This includes advice about what the patient/customer really wants. This also includes advice about the equipment and supplies used in your business/practice.

Why is this? Most employees are afraid of repercussions if they are wrong and make a bad decision or a bad recommendation. Obviously, if a decision by an employee is malicious or purposely misguided, that employee should be fired, but most of the time employees offer advice because they want to make things better. Unfortunately, no one has asked them or empowered them.

“It’s Your Ship”

The practice of the “boss” not understanding the business at a grassroots level transcends dentistry and is commonplace throughout all businesses. Captain D. Michael Abrashoff, former Commander of the USS Benfold, will take you on his personal journey of discovery. As Captain of his crew, he wants to make his ship — his business — better. Captain Abrashoff has outlined and highlighted his journey in a wonderful book called “It’s Your Ship.” It should be required reading by anyone running a business, including all dental students (potential future CEOs), and every dentist who is responsible for patients, the team, and the profit of the practice.

Captain Abrashoff tells how the advice of enlisted personnel (for dentists, dental assistants, and administrative assistants) or junior officers (dental hygienists) saved the Navy millions of dollars, saved time, and made the personnel on board perform their jobs with a readiness rating unheard of in the Navy. What did he do on his ship that was so much different than other Navy ships? Basically one thing changed on his ship and ultimately changed the way the Navy did business. He empowered the people who worked with him! He did not give up the chain of command, he did not allow people to make decisions without checks and balances, and he did not forfeit his command.

• See the ship through the eyes of the crew
• Communicate, communicate, communicate
• Create discipline by focusing on purpose
• Listen aggressively

So how do the management techniques from “The Best Damn Ship in the Navy” translate into our everyday practice?

Dental conventions and meetings

I have had the privilege to work the booth for different dental manufacturing companies at dental conventions throughout the world for many years. Although I still practice full time, I have taken advantage of the opportunity to see the dental profession through different eyes. What I am going to tell you, the dentist, is going to blow your mind!

Chairside dental assistants, dental hygienists, administrative assistants, and lab technicians that work with a dentist or a group of dentists take their responsibilities as employees at trade shows very seriously.

I have repeatedly witnessed dedicated employees come to the booth to become educated on products, procedures, and trends. They take meticulous notes, prepare an ROI analysis, do a cost/benefit analysis of competing products, and if they’re lucky, bring the doctor back to the booth for a possible purchase, only to be told “NO!”

A death has occurred

At that juncture, a tragedy has occurred. The hardworking, dedicated employee feels deflated and has little interest in going forward to improve the business for his or her employer. In fact, if the dentist had foresight, the team would be empowered with restricted buying power.

How do you make your dental office the “Best Damn Office in the Country”?

Before attending a dental convention, have a preshow meeting that is outlined in the following manner:

• Who is taking CEU and for what purpose?
• What time and where are the CEU classes?
• What time and where does the staff meet to be briefed on the day and debriefed from the previous day?
• During the attendance of the exhibit hall, what is the staff’s focus?
• What do we need to order?
• Are we looking for show specials?
• If we find something new that looks like it can benefit the practice, what is the purchase limitation of the employees?

Do you give your employees carte blanche? I don’t believe that would be prudent. I believe you have to crawl before you walk and walk before you run. After awhile, you will realize that giving your dental assistant the ability to spend $500 without your consent on things needed to make you a more profitable and happy dentist will be the best thing you’ve every done. When your dental hygienist has the ability to purchase hygiene supplies costing $2,000 that could be given out after SRP or sold to patients to compliment hygiene recommendations, you will soon realize that your hygiene department has become more profitable without increased overhead, not to mention better care for your patients.

Finally, when your administrative assistant has the ability to streamline the tedious task of insurance, collections, and paperwork by purchasing a better scanner or insurance processing company, or moves the office toward being paperless and your accounts receivables go down, don’t forget to thank the front desk for a job well done. Is this worth $1,000 of buying power? I believe the answer is YES!

When you empower your team to help you grow your business with their grassroots knowledge of what is going on in your practice, you will begin to develop a team that is responsible, takes pride in their work, and brings an attitude to work that matches the clinical dentistry you want to provide — EXCELLENCE!

Editor's Note: Dr. Balanoff received his DDS degree from Northwestern University's Dental School. He is currently in private practice in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].