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Pivoting your dental practice for success during COVID-19

July 28, 2020
Don't think of "culture" as just the latest buzzword for dental practices. It's a very important piece to the success of your practice. If you don't create an excellent culture, it will create itself, and that's usually not a good thing.

By Kyle Bogan, DDS

One word that has become synonymous with the COVID-19 pandemic is change. An examination of every business sector and facet of life reveals that the days of “business as usual” are gone.

Dentistry is no different. We have all had to embrace new standard operating procedures (SOPs) in our practices. The clinical changes have been applied across the dental industry, but it is important to understand those changes by themselves will not position your practice to thrive during the pandemic. Success depends on a pivot away from traditional pre-COVID business focuses. Dentists who do this will emerge on the other side of this economic crisis stronger than they entered.

During an economic downturn, business owners fall back on the principles that they have been taught and that every practice consultant promotes. This “safe zone” is the belief that the success and growth of the business is governed solely by its numbers. This belief says that all they need to do to be a success is to keep revenue up and expenses down.

This usually means scaling back and shrinking staff and benefits. I disagree with this belief and I urge all dental practices to pivot away from this single-minded thinking for the betterment of their businesses. The most important variable in creating a successful and scalable business, especially during times of economic uncertainty, is the intentional creation of a thriving team-first culture. In short, your success or failure lies with your team and your working environment.

Culture is everything

Culture has become quite the buzzword lately, and I don’t want you to misunderstand what I mean when I say “culture.” Culture is not a foosball table in the breakroom and unlimited paid time off. Actually, the culture of an organization can be hard to define. Webster’s dictionary defines culture as, “The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an institution or organization.” In the simplest form, our culture is created by everything in our businesses. It consists of leadership, onboarding, communication, benefits, people, policies, mission, vision, core values, environment, hiring and firing principles, delegating, and more.

The good and bad news is that, whether you know it or not, your business already has a culture. If you haven’t been leading the formation of that culture, it has formed on its own. This is why it’s important for you to intentionally foster the creation of a team-first culture and surround yourself with people who protect that culture—that they helped create—with passion. When you become a creator of culture, your team becomes your competitive advantage.

Are you still wondering why culture is so important?

First, leaders who have an owner-first mentality and who send orders from above do not lead a team; they manage a group of people. There is a huge difference between the two, and disengaged teams do not help grow businesses. If you want to ignite a fire in your team, give them permission to own their roles in your organization. Ownership breeds passion and passion sparks growth. Let your culture fuel the growth of your business.

One of the most surprising and unexpected benefits of intentionally creating a team-first culture is patient (client) retention. Your patients are not as oblivious as you may think. They choose to interact with your business based largely on how that interaction makes them feel. You could be the best dentist in the world, but if you have a terrible culture you will never reach your full potential. Patients and clients want to spend their time and money with a business that makes them feel appreciated and valued, much like employees want to feel that from the organization where they work.

I worked at an office shortly after I graduated from dental school that had a culture problem. It was rooted in divided staff members who were constantly bickering. The infighting was a poison to not only the staff but also to the patients. There was palpable negativity when patients entered the office.

Everyone did their jobs, but only their jobs. The patients came and went like numbers, and the services they received were adequate. The practice was losing patients, and revenue was decreasing. The patients could feel the negativity in the practice and, although the services were adequate, they chose to take their business to an establishment that did not have a culture problem, a place where they didn’t feel uncomfortable tension.

Patients in my office can feel a difference. The difference isn’t bold or striking; it isn’t something that is advertised or displayed. It is a perception. Consumers who feel our team-first culture have better experiences and are more likely to spend their time and money with my business as a result. In fact, one study found that 92% of consumers reported that an employee’s perceived happiness had a direct impact on their customer experience with the brand. Happy employees equate to happy customers, which leads to sustained business growth.

The bottom line is that culture is important because it exists. The question is, do you want to be intentional about creating a culture that represents you and your business, a culture that is team-focused, or do you want it to create itself without a clear vision? If you want to experience accelerated growth and completely differentiate your practice, creating a team-first culture is the path you must take.

The way forward through COVID-19 is to convert your employees into team members who are all in the same boat, rowing in the same direction, together. 

For more informative articles from industry experts related to COVID-19, visit DentistryIQ.com/COVID-19.

After completing his dental training, Kyle Bogan, DDS, entered the profession ready to light a fire and change the way patients experience oral health care. While he wanted financial success, he also wanted to measure success by the culture that exists for the team members who join him to serve patients. As an author, speaker, and practice consultant, Dr. Bogan shares the principles and strategies that transformed his practice culture while generating happy patients and practice growth.