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Invisible War

Leading your practice when dentistry is under fire

May 13, 2020
Heather Colicchio says that as practice leaders, most office managers are having to base their decisions on everything but experience during this strange time. When has that ever been the case?

We’re living in unprecedented times and seeing things we never thought possible. Dental offices closed?! When in your wildest dreams could you have ever thought that the dental industry in America would be ordered to a screeching halt? But that’s exactly where we are. It’s hard to compare the effects that COVID-19 have had on dental professionals and their patients to anything else because none of us have ever experienced something like this.

Right now, we’re fighting what some say is an “invisible war” because we can’t see what we’re combatting. But, oh, how we do feel the effects of all of this!

As practice leaders, most of us are having to base our decisions on everything but experience at this point. When has that ever been the case? Our intuition, advice, moral obligations, legal requirements, local jurisdictions, and financial recommendations must all be weighed and somehow result in one right decision after another.

But what if it isn’t that easy? According to experts, here is some important advice that leaders and managers need to keep in mind during this unique time.

Be prepared for things to change on a daily basis

Forbes tells leaders to be flexible, adaptive, and “willing to make difficult choices.” There isn’t a rule book to follow but being aware of what the day’s regulations are and how they differ from last week’s regulations will help you better plan for what comes next. Having a tribe such as the members of the American Association of Dental Office Managers (AADOM) has never been more helpful as office managers navigate through new rules, regulations, and rumors.

Remind your team that they’re safe

Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? The basis of it is that certain self needs must be met before you can move on to other things that motivate or fulfill you. The base of Maslow’s triangle is “physiological needs,” which include basic things such as health, safety, shelter, and more. You and your team can’t move on to adapt to other priorities until everyone knows that they’re safe. By reminding your team that you’re putting safety first through sheltering at home or limiting patient care, they will, at least on a psychological level, be able to establish some sense of safety.

Provide a path forward

Gallup says that what employees really need from their team leaders is a path forward. Having the confidence to provide a goal and plan of action gives your team the peace of mind that you’re looking to the future once this is over, so that fear doesn’t take root.

Another thing that Gallup points out is that confidence is built on four foundational principles: trust, compassion, stability, and hope. As office leaders, we may not feel equipped to guide our staff through these uncharted waters. But staying level-headed and constantly communicating with team members can help them realize that every decision we make is with their best interests in mind.

Practice social distancing

Social distancing does not go away when you’re with people you work closely with. If you have to be at work, keep space between you and others. Being careless about social distancing in front of your team speaks volumes about your attention to detail, commitment to the business, and the safety of yourself and others. Now is not the time to bend the rules.

Create a list of priorities

Gartner recommends that business leaders start by creating “a central and clear list of priorities.” Rank them from high to low and target the biggest issues first. Make a note of what can wait or be omitted altogether. Having trouble getting started? What was on your to-do list before all of this started that you’ve not had the time to tackle? That is where you need to start.

Practice self-care

There’s something besides economic fallout happening due to business closures—stress and anxiety. These may have never been an issue for you. But more people are experiencing the fatigue, sleepless nights, and other physical and emotional effects of the pandemic.

I suggest you try to get outside at least once a day to soak up some Vitamin D and get your blood flowing. Make it a point each morning to get up, get dressed (in real clothes), and fix yourself up as if you’re going to head to the office; psychologically this helps you be more productive.

If it helps, take advantage of talking to a counselor to work through your feelings. Just as dentists have turned to teledentistry lately, more therapists are using teletherapy and virtual counseling to help people work through the emotional fatigue of this trying time.

Through it all, remember that together we will get through this!

Heather Colicchio is the founder and president of the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM), the nation’s largest professional organization for dental office managers and practice administrators. AADOM teaches business management skills for the dental practice. Heather is passionate about small businesses and entrepreneurship. She is excited by vision and building and seeing ideas come to life, especially when these ideas empower others. One of her strengths is connecting people to achieve their goals. She appreciates quality collaboration and thrives working with a talented team of professionals in her organization and within the dental industry. Learn more about AADOM and Heather’s efforts and advocacy for dental management professionals at dentalmanagers.com.

Editor's note: To view DentistryIQ's full coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, including original news articles and video interviews with dental thought leaders, visit the DentistryIQ COVID-19 Resource Center.