These days, I spend a lot of time presenting to groups of dentists and their teams. I know that these audiences really like two things:
- Tactics that have worked for others and
- Success and disaster stories from the world of dental practices.
It’s pretty lonely being a dentist and they want to know what the rest are up to; either to confirm that they are on the right track or to get hold of some new ideas to take back to the practice and try-out.
So far, so good, except most of the ideas never actually get tried out! They sit as notes on paper (or these days on an iPad) providing comfort for the owner who hopes that one day, he might find time to do something with them. They’ve dropped the ball (the ball being focus, commitment, even success).
Over the years, I’ve become increasingly curious about what separates the dentists who implement the ideas from those that don’t and even why some practice owners are still succeeding when, these days, most practice owners are slipping backwards.
So, I want to introduce you to three types of practice owner, examples of which I meet every week. Stereotypes of course, but hopefully a useful model to help you understand the characteristics of the best and those of the rest.
1 The Ostrich (Hope Strategist)
The Ostrich wants a quiet life. They may have fallen out of love with dentistry but remain in love with the lifestyle that it has created for them. Very often, they stumbled into practice ownership years ago, as some sort of ‘natural progression’ from being an associate and these days they often feel somewhat depressed and aggrieved by the increasing demands being made on them such as CQC, HTM01/05, Employment Law etc.
They seek out colleagues who confirm their view that all the fun has gone out of being a practice owner and that the rule-makers are out to get them.
They rarely have much hard data because for many years now, they have been running their practice by: monitoring the white space in their diaries, their bank statements and their annual meeting with their accountants.
They are often micro-managers and have a high staff turnover.
Their practice managers are usually low paid ex-receptionists or ex-nurses who have little experience or training to do the job they are now being asked to do. They often make a competent job of running the operations in the practice, but really struggle with managing the practice’s Marketing, Sales Processes and Financial controls, so they don’t!
The Ostrich know that they need to invest in their increasingly faded and outdated practices but they don’t really want to spend their falling profits.If they did decide to invest further, they would struggle to know what to invest in except perhaps a new surgery for themselves.
However, they tell themselves that although the patient list has got a bit smaller and new patient numbers are falling, the old patients still love them and one day – hopefully – it will all get back to the way it used to be. Essentially, The Ostrich would prefer not to implement any changes…
2 The Enthusiast (Information Gathering Strategy)
The Enthusiast loves dentistry and will often tell you that what they really want is to “ just do the dentistry”. They are great fun to be around because their passion for fixing teeth is infectious!
Naturally, they love clinical courses and in their office you will find piles of books, course hand-outs, magazine articles etc, waiting to be implemented. The Enthusiasts spends many hours of the week seeing patients and will fit in running the practice into the gaps during the day. They have made clinical dentistry their hobby and some even visit the practice at weekends in order to fix broken kit.
Often, they are sophisticated, highly skilled restorative dentists and they love clinical courses and trade shows, investing heavily in clinical skills and equipment.
They often achieve high gross fees, which quickly disappear in the (high) costs of their practices. They don’t know much about the numbers because in the past there has always been enough money, although these days the overdraft seems to be climbing.
Most Enthusiasts are naive leaders, trusting their teams to do what it says on their job descriptions. In return, their often-loyal teams appreciate their skill sets and will defend them to the last.
They talk a lot and change their mind often and so none of their team really understands where the practice is heading. They are keen to make decisions to advance their practices and essentially, they will implement such changes as soon as they have gathered some more information…
3 The Implementer (Driven by Objective Strategies)
The Implementers are ambitious and have created a clear set of short, medium and longer-term business objectives so as to develop their practices. In order to achieve these objectives, they have reduced the amount of time they spend treating patients and increased the amount of time they spend working on their practices.
They make a lot of decisions, knowing that some of them may not work out and that this gets things done. They do not get anxious about making decisions.
They are not nervous about investing in their practice and they do this willingly once they have quantified the return they can expect on their investment. This means that their practices are constantly evolving towards their objectives and their whole team is fully briefed on where their practice is heading. They have researched their options (or better still have their business manager help with this) and they have the right information from the best advisors.
They have hired a team that is skilful and that can be trusted to do the job on time, on budget and to the right standard. They achieve this by making very clear requests of their business managers.
Implementers are quiet and competent leaders who understand the value of time spent planning. They always prioritise their action lists highlighting the actions that will create the biggest differences and set time scales to have these actions completed. Their teams are motivated, well paid and willing to go the extra mile.
Essentially, The Implementers understand two things: that talk doesn’t count, only actions make a difference and secondly, that progress is more important than perfection.
What type of practice owner are you? No matter which category you fall into, I’d be willing to bet that you still want more patients, increased profits and the freedom and flexibility to enjoy your ideal lifestyle. Yet only only one kind of practice owner is achieving all this. It is self evident that information, tactics and ideas are of no use to you unless they get implemented!
I have highlighted the attitudes and behaviours that the most successful practice owners exhibit. Decide on what you want right now. If you want a quiet life, keep burying your head in the sand or continuing to gather information. But denial and inaction won’t build a solid business foundation.
Choosing the right attitudes and behaviours will be more important to your success than choosing the right tactics.
Simon Hocken Director of Coaching, Breathe Business