Create a winning culture in the new year

Jan. 6, 2011
The most effective practice cultures keep conflict among team members in check. Sally McKenzie gives you 10 workable conflict-management strategies to help make your office a better place in 2011.

By Sally McKenzie, CEO

What will 2011 bring to your practice? Most dentists hope for steady patient flow, strong treatment acceptance, and minimal staffing problems. While your skills as CEO affect each of these areas, the manner in which you manage your team has the greatest impact on your overall practice success. A key aspect of that management is the culture you create as leader.

Generally, culture refers to the practice’s beliefs, values, and behaviors. It has a powerful impact on attracting and keeping quality team members, and a domino effect on attracting and keeping quality patients. Ultimately, it has a profound influence on the practice’s overall ability to achieve goals and objectives. The workplace culture can be one in which team building is encouraged or discouraged. As the leader/CEO of your practice, you can choose to create an environment in which you manage your employees through fear and control, where conflict and backbiting are part of the daily routine. Or you can guide them through empowerment, trust, and team-wide problem solving.

In working with dental offices around the country, we see a variety of practice cultures. Some are effective, others are debilitating. For example:

Every day brings a five-alarm fire

In this dental practice, the leader is continually sounding the fire alarm because he or she enjoys putting out fires. The team is in a perpetual panic because it seems the leader is always creating and/or finding problems. The doctor has a powerful need to “solve” these problems; thus, he or she cannot delegate effectively. Consequently, most practice systems are struggling, if not crippled. The leader says he or she desires organization and effectiveness, but instead creates a culture of perpetual crisis. Team members are powerless and cannot take action to avoid the crises because the leader/CEO/dentist insists on calling the shots — all the shots — and is largely responsible for creating the problems.

Here comes the feudal lord

Also known as the fiefdom practice, this practice is similar to a fire alarm practice. These leaders are highly controlling and dominant, but they take it up a notch. They enjoy competition and pitting employees against each other in a game to win the leader’s favor. Fiefdom leaders despise the idea of delegation, but will often have someone on staff who is their “trusted advisor.” This person is the leader’s “eyes and ears.” The fiefdom leader typically places unrealistic expectations on the staff and has a laundry list of rules that everyone is expected to follow. Staff and patient turnover are high in these offices.

Creating community

Community leaders see their role as building quality dental practices rooted firmly in community, both internally and externally. They create an environment and culture for success by establishing clear, challenging, realistic goals and specific expectations for members of their team. They set employees up to succeed by investing in training to maximize employee potential. They are eager to share information and explain the “why” behind the “what.” In other words, they don’t just tell employees what to do; they clarify why their responsibilities are important to the overall success of the practice. They encourage an open exchange of ideas, and listening is a key part of this management strategy.

Additionally, the most effective practice cultures keep conflict among team members in check. Certainly disagreements arise, but they are dealt with according to a clear set of conflict-management strategies, including the 10 below:

  1. Establish clear standards for professional office behavior.
  2. Do not tolerate destructive personal attacks among team members.
  3. Establish clear office policies and follow them.
  4. Set aside time to address matters that are causing conflict. Talk to people, not about them.
  5. Identify the conflict triggers and address them.
  6. Do not react emotionally, judge, criticize, or attack.
  7. Do not make excuses for not confronting conflict. She’s too nice. He’s too argumentative. They’ve been doing it that way forever. They’ll never change.
  8. Focus on addressing the issue rather than proving who is right or wrong.
  9. Admit it when you are wrong.
  10. Choose to be a problem solver. Walk calmly toward the issue and work toward addressing it before it grows out of control.

Consciously working to shape the culture of your practice will not only profoundly impact the team that you work with day in and day out, it will impact patient relations more than you could ever imagine.

Author bio
Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service consulting/coaching dental management company providing proven management solutions since 1980. Sally is also publisher of The New Dentistmagazine, dedicated to dentists in the first 10 years of practice. She is a contributing editor to Dentistry Today and the publisher of The Dentist's Network. She can be reached at (877) 777-6151 or [email protected].