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Moving Forward Is Hard To Do

Sept. 1, 2004
I have invested in the best training and tools to advance my staff and my practice.


I have invested in the best training and tools to advance my staff and my practice. In spite of this, my team is resistant to adopt new technology and systems. How can I get them to move forward?

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Kathy Larson, Leadership Expert: Leadership is moving people toward a common goal. A leader's prerogative is to create change. If you, as practice leader, have a vision that includes changing technology and systems, then you are entitled to move your team in that direction. There are two ways to do that.

The first and least recommended is coercion — the "big stick"/"do it or else" method. Coercion only works when the employee's motivation for employment (i.e., the paycheck) is greater than fulfilling her higher needs such as personal satisfaction. You may motivate such a team member for a while, but she will be looking down the road for another job very soon.

The second way to create change is to inspire. If your team member truly understands that this new technology or system is better for the practice, the team, and the patient, she should be eager to help fulfill this bigger purpose. Inspiration is a call to action. Move your team along with understanding and support while voicing the need for compliance. Keep your door open along the bumpy learning curve. Be ready to reassert your vision and let your team know you are relying on their perseverance and talent to master the new skills. Trust your research and intuition. You know what is best, and your team needs you to lead them to it!

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Mary O'Neill, Relationship Expert: Whenever I find myself or others resisting change, I try to make light of it. We're all creatures of habit, and many find it hard to embrace change. I find that having a sense of humor helps to lighten things up. People then tend to open up and talk more honestly about what's going on with them.

When I teach about change, I often use the following metaphor to describe what many of us experience: At first it can feel like we've been hit by a storm and thrown from the firm ground we take for granted. For a while, it can seem like we're adrift at sea, all alone in a boat without any oars, surrounded by a thick fog. This is usually the most uncomfortable stage — we often are unfamiliar with what's going on and feel rather ill-equipped to deal with our new reality. To get to the other side — to new "terra firma" — remaining calm and committed to learning new skills is crucial for survival. It's never back to normal, but forward to a new kind of normal.

At your next team-building session, why not address the resistance you're seeing? Use this comparison and ask team members if they feel like they're in their own kind of foggy middle with regard to the new technology and systems. Encourage everyone to describe her experience, and then brainstorm to discover what might help each person navigate this change more successfully.

You'll uncover more creative possibilities if you view resistance as a natural reaction to change. And you'll be more likely to get cooperation.

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Valerie Williams, Clinical Expert: You're not alone. This situation often happens because team members simply do not feel comfortable operating the new technology and/or they do not know how to incorporate it into an already hectic schedule.

As an example: Intraoral cameras are not being used. Solution: Have the camera live in the hygiene operatory. If you have multiple hygienists and only one camera, decide which days it will be in which room. During your morning meeting, let the hygienists choose two patients to use it on. Once they feel comfortable with two patients, increase the number of patients they see daily each week until all the hygiene patients who would benefit from the camera have had it used on them.

If your hygienists aren't comfortable with the mechanics of the camera, schedule time when the doctor, assistant, and hygienist can practice together, sharing their knowledge and newfound skills. If you notice any resistance to operating it, simply remind team members that, like everything else, it gets easier with practice. Like the Nike ad, encourage them to "Just do it!"

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Linda O'Grady, Front-Desk Expert: One big reason why they're not moving forward is that scary word — CHANGE! Change really is difficult for many of us. A comment I commonly hear is, "The way I've been doing it for years works really well." The only way to leap this hurdle is to justify the need for change.

When I change a continuing-care system, I have to justify the change by doing a system analysis. I ask, "What percentage of your patients should be coming in on a regular basis?" The answer is usually, "100 percent." I respond, "That would be ideal, but what about reality?" We usually settle on 80 percent. When the team finds out that their percentage is 30 percent, they're usually surprised and willing to consider changing. Using technology is another story. What I've observed is a lack of adequate training, and lack of availability of technology is also a big contributor to resistance.

Let's look at another example involving the use of an intraoral camera. When we talk to a team about using the camera, the doctor is often surprised to find out that the team isn't comfortable with the techniques. The fact that the camera has to be moved from room to room is also an issue. The best way to solve both problems is to keep the camera in one hygiene room for two weeks, during which time the hygienist can use it on every patient. At the end of two weeks, after the team has mastered the camera and is selling dentistry, it can be moved to another room. The doctor can then afford to buy another camera, so the roadblock of having to move it is removed.

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Meet our guest, Dr. Ann Marie Olson:Dr. Olson represented women dentists in Texas as the District XV Trustee to the AAWD from 1989 to 1999. She was the first president of the Texas Association of Women Dentists, and is a past president of the Capital Area Dental Society in Austin. A graduate of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Dental School, Dr. Olson has completed the Hornbrook Group Continuum on anterior esthetics and is enrolled in the Hornbrook Group Full-Mouth Synergy Continuum.

Dr. Olson: Make your team part of the decision-making process. When they realize you value their opinion and expertise, they will take ownership in the new technology you propose. For instance, when considering a new practice-management system, ask your scheduling coordinator to research and evaluate it. Set up an individual time to review her findings, which will define your expectation of her work and respect for her investment of time. Ask for her feedback as to how the system would affect her specific responsibilities — not whether she thinks you should follow through. Try to follow her line of reasoning without judgment. Thank her and explain that you value her research and will be making a decision soon.

Additionally, take your team to state or national meetings to give them an opportunity to meet with vendors and form their own opinions. Require that they each return with a suggestion for improving practice efficiency. Empower your team and develop support and harmony by pooling ideas. You will be pleasantly surprised!

"SheDentistry Speaks" is a monthly feature in Woman Dentist Journal to address your practice questions. If you have a question or concern you would like to address, please visit the What Does She Think? page of on the World Wide Web.