Is Your Practice in Neutral, Forward or Reverse Gear?

Jonathan Wood is a Dentist of nearly thirty years experience. Currently he is a partner in a six room private practice in Jersey in the Channel Islands. His varied career has taken him from owning and running an all NHS Practice, which became fully private in the late 1980’s, to becoming a professional Director of Denplan Ltd and later Operations Director of Dencare Ltd during the 1990’s. He has lectured Internationally and now enjoys utilising his experience and wide range of skills for business coaching and development for other dental practices through Breathe Business.

In this article, Jonathan shares his six strategies for ensuring that your practice is geared to moving forwards.

Sir John Harvey Jones, well known business leader, once pointed out to a dental audience that there is no neutral gear in business. You are either in forward or reverse.

Applying this statement to dental practice brings to mind how many practice owners I come across who are putting their full efforts behind making their practice as successful as they can. In the current financial climate, they may well celebrate uplift in turnover only to find that the net profit is no better than the year before or worse it is somewhat less. Sometimes their response is to accept that the turnover is the best that can be achieved and embark on an overhead cost cutting exercise. This generally reduces the likelihood of the turnover increasing and often lowers moral of the team that help create the earnings.

This is a common theme I hear of a practice carrying on business as usual in an enthusiastic and ethical way. However, a business like this is not fully engaged in forward gear and, in reality, the profits of the business are in reverse and in slow decline. So if you are not confident that you know exactly where you are taking your practice, or whether or not you are in forward gear, read on!

You may be thinking, what else can I do, especially as my practice is in this most unusual part of the country and I can’t see anything like that working around here? This is such a natural emotion and belief which I first experienced in relation to my first practice in Macclesfield back in the 1980’s. However, whilst each practice and each part of the country will need a different approach, the basic ingredients are the same and there are some very experienced coaches, accountants and trainers who tackle this problem all over the British Isles with success.

So what are the basic ingredients and how does one go about getting the car started and the gear engaged ready to take off down the motorway to your new destination?

1. Reviewing your leadership skills.

One of the key things that really successful businesses have in common is that they are run by people with excellent leadership skills.

You may naturally have these qualities or not. If you have, they need honing and developing to really get the best out of your team and maximise the growth of your business and hence your profits. If you are not a natural leader, you can learn the skills – one of which will be to grow the leadership skills within the key members of your team.

Without good leadership and direction, the team – at best- will operate in neutral, the receptionist will “recept” and nurses will nurse etc., but it is unlikely that a team in this mode can get you and your practice where you want it to go.

2. Understanding your practice values and the kind of practice you are or want to be

Your customers need to see, feel and recognise what your clinical and business values are and this is modelled in YOUR BRAND.

We are all subjected to how we feel and react to the brand and offerings of the businesses that we frequent and buy goods and services from. The ones we love and will always buy from feel good because the look of the place and the attitude we receive from the front line people all mirror the one set of values that that company and the product stand for.

Many principals exude what they stand for and what their customer offering should be, although in many practices the team as a whole do not know or understand this fully. The team also have to operate within the inherent values system of the different associates and hygienists all in the same practice. Getting agreement on these issues, especially clinical team agreement can be quite a rocky road to drive. However without a good degree of agreement on clinical protocols and attitudes to patients, you won’t have what you need for a really powerful BRAND.

This is not an easy thing to achieve for any business. My experience is that large and small businesses alike bring in professional expertise to develop the basis of their brand and get the whole team to understand it and what it means for customers and the running of the business.

3. Creating your vision and turning it into a plan

If you don’t know what your long term destination is, you can’t set your Sat Nav and have a defined route to getting there, and your team, bank and other stakeholders can’t support the journey correctly without full knowledge of what is needed and what to expect.

To get this process going, you need to ask yourself how the practice would run if you had a magic wand to create your ideals, not compromising because of the way things are at present , but how it could be if you had the right investment , building (if necessary), practice team and number and type of patients. Most people who sincerely do this exercise look back some years later and say they would have been more ambitious still if they had had the confidence at the time. A professional coach can guide and facilitate this exercise. Whenever I have been involved in this exercise, I usually pick up the same sentiment from many people “if only I had been helped to do this at the start of my career!”

The most effective way to do this, that I have observed, is to get together with your business and perhaps life partner and take time away from the business (ideally with a professional coach to guide you) to create a plan committed to paper of your vision, objectives, business plan and targets.

4. Pointing the whole team in one direction

To make a real success of any business, the whole team have to be “on the bus” towards its final destination, whichever route it is going to take.

Many practices find that, as they develop the planned way forward with the team, there are some individuals who can’t agree with the route or the plan. Time needs to be spent helping these people to understand the need for change and how this will benefit patients and themselves. However, at the end of the day, if they won’t get on the bus or are likely to get off at the first stop, you need to know this and have a plan in place to deal with it. In a small team, one strong person in opposition can hinder the journey for all, including the patients.

The whole team needs to have a clear understanding of what the values of your business and customer experience will be. What the 3 year vision for the development of your practice is. A clear set of objectives of what you want to achieve and what their roles will be. They need to know that the extra efforts they will have to put in will be rewarded and recognised if the practice achieves above and expected level of performance: such as a rewards scheme, or a ‘profit share’, or a bonus scheme.

All of this is achieved over a number of team meetings involving the team in the vision and the benefits for patients, what will be needed and the program to get them all there. You will need to hear their concerns for you to help them overcome there fears and objections until you get them to the point where they are prepared or want to ‘get on the bus’.

Whenever I have done this in my own practices, I have found outside help invaluable.

5. Putting the plan into action

By this stage, you and the team will have a clear vision of what is going to happen with easy steps to getting going, broken down into monthly, weekly and daily tasks and targets.

The daily morning huddle meeting, when the day’s activity is reviewed and how this will translate into the daily target, and the monthly review meeting are both times for:

Celebration of successes and achievements, hitting goals etc

Recognition of individuals or the team for their contribution and an opportunity for everyone to share in the enjoyment of the journey

A review of how to keep or get back on track and doing more of what words and stopping what doesn’t work

My own experience and those of others I know who have taken such steps is that a well motivated team make the journey and the rewards happen with great ease.

6. Getting started!

Many of you will have the drive and skill to achieve and execute a plan without help and may be on your ideal journey already. If not, the size of your challenge will depend on where you are now and how much bigger the journey you want to take is, compared to the one you are currently on. I would strongly recommend the value of calling in experts to help you build your vision, your plan and the team that will get you to your destination on time.

So, if you haven’t started yet, start dreaming about how you want your practice and your life to be, commit it to paper in detail and start to visualise how you can turn this into a reality. Call for help and make the next 5 years your most exciting yet!

If you would like some help to create your vision and your business plan, or to develop your brand, or assistance in making your plan actually happen, then please contact Ernie on 0845 299 7209 or to discuss and find out more about how we can help you. Please also see details of The Breathe Retreat in section 4 of this ezine What’s Happening at Breathe.

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