15-Year Reflections

Dentistry has a trust issue. This is evidenced for example, by the number of registrants that are leaving the profession because they are disengaged*, the frantic and constant need for many practices to attract more and more patients just to stand still and the lure of cheap dentistry being delivered overseas, despite the warnings.

It is natural for things to ebb and flow, and yet very similar looking dental businesses can each have very different outcomes.

So what is it that the best are doing differently to remain consistently successful? We’ve summarised what we have been observing and learning about since 2009, to just five things and one simple acronym, TRUST.

Team and Recruitment

The success of any dental business is a reflection of the opinions of those who work within it and those opinions will change. As a leader, you get to shape those opinions through your behaviours, but you cannot control them, people are too independent to want to be told exactly what to do all of the time.

The answer to this problem does of course start with recruiting the right people. The right people will demonstrate to you that they have recurring patterns of behaviour that will complement the direction in which you want to head your business.

Get recruitment right, and you will have the foundations for a successful team of people who want to give, want to fit in, want to feel valued and want to grow with you throughout any stage of an economic cycle.

You won’t always get it right though. Accept that sometimes you will get it wrong, just like sometimes people will leave. But remember that it is always better for your business to be a ‘launchpad’ rather than a ‘nursing home.’

Real Values

This is  the difference between your gut feeling being comfortable or not with the behaviours of others, and because businesses are made up of people, and their unique opinions and behaviours too, it explains why we feel comfortable or not with businesses.

This  explains why sometimes businesses get boycotted or conversely attract hype, not so much because of what they do but because of the purpose or cause that they are perceived to be associated with.

This helps us understand why businesses that remain consistently successful do so because they resonate within the hearts and minds of the people that they serve, not just because of how they fancifully package and offer what they do. Consistent success takes more than just clever marketing talk, weekend sales courses, features and benefit analysis and special offers.

Thankfully no amount of clever packaging will ever really hide the real intentions of a business. We all have the ability to find those that are congruent in their behaviour, and we are attracted to them. We all know when a marketing strapline is credible or not. A business that remains consistently successful over time remains so because the behaviours that we all judge it by are constant and not diverted by quick fixes, short term self-gain and chasing more and more at the expense of everybody and everything else.

But, remember that some people will still buy your short-term intentions because it matches theirs. A sustainable dental business however recognises that stability comes from having more longer-term customer relationships than its rivals. This is important in dental healthcare. By definition, there cannot be new ways to fast-track experiences or meaningful relationships, however, convincing the social media headlines of others will try and lead you to believe.

Unique Insights

You may think that those who see more somehow do more with their businesses and that the adage about measuring and managing must be entirely true. We challenge that assumption.

Instead recognise that those who see furthest achieve the most because of the unique insights they gain.

This does not mean that you need to try and measure something that nobody else has yet thought of, after all the basics of making a profit don’t change. However it does mean that your unique insights about your business come from understanding your business, not somebody else’s. Your business is made up of people and it is those people that create your business results, not the reports and spreadsheets you might be tempted to manage them with.

This might sound counterintuitive or uncomfortable and it certainly requires more effort at first, particularly when it is easy to press a button and look at the same old measures of profit and success. Then all of you have to do, according to some traditional thinking is pay, bribe, threaten or otherwise someone to hit a number or a target that might only matter to you, but it’s hardly motivational to anybody else is it?

Try it, the next time you spend your money on anything, think about what matters to you, what you value as a customer and how you define your measures of success.  This will give you a fresh perspective on what matters to your patients or referring dentists, and then encourage the behaviours in your team that are needed to give your customers what they want.

No business has ever or will ever fail purely because it understood its customers too much. There is no exception to this in dentistry.

Systems Independent of People

Of course, you already have systems in your dental business, so you may not think that anything needs to change, but take a moment to think about what the best might be doing differently.

Think of the ideal system as being the default shape or structure that you, your team and to an extent your customers rely upon and can easily fall back into, not just when things are going well but also when things are going wrong.

If you are growing your dental business, or trying to make it less dependent upon key people, then you need to have systems that exist and are proven to work independently of the people that use or apply them.

Systems matter less when there are a few of you, because we all learn to muddle through together, but that just does not work at some point.

When any business grows emotionally it doesn’t just do more and have more, it also does better than others because it is not held back by hanging on to the past, resisting change, or has become heavily reliant upon the knowledge of its earliest team members.

Listen out for the language that will hold your dental business back, evidence that things could and will grind to a halt, not because of a lack of systems but because of a lack of understanding of them.

“We have always done it like that”
“That’s how I was told to do it.”
“I don’t know if there is a better way.’
“You’ll have to ask somebody else about that.”

What would happen if nobody turned up tomorrow, it may not ever happen but a sustainable business will have thought this through and made changes accordingly.

Thinking Culture

Your patients want it and yet many practice owners don’t know how to provide it. It’s not easy, particularly in a regulated profession and where it is simpler in the short term just to tell people what to do.

Think about the proudest moments involving others that you have had as a dental business owner. Were they guided, directed, planned, scripted and self-serving or were they spontaneous, detached from vested personal interest, creative and kind? We know what your answer to this will be, so what does it mean for your dental business?

Some of this starts with thinking about the useful and recurring patterns of behaviour you have in your team and finding them in the people that you recruit, but if you are not quite there yet, don’t give up and wait for the perfect team to arrive, because it may never happen.

Even with all of the most desirable talents that you wish to have in your team, if anybody is doing anything with a patient that feels routine for them, then it will also most likely feel routine for your patients too. This is not good for anybody and it is not sustainable unless your business relies upon churning out identical widgets in an identical way and has access to an endless pool of people who want to work there too, providing a mundane service to an endless pool of forgiving customers!

If the computer will not allow that, your patients think that the person they are speaking to cannot act upon what they are seeing or hearing, it is bad service in most people’s eyes.

A thinking culture starts with what you think about when it goes wrong. If you are first and foremost thinking who to blame other than yourself, then you will go backwards and stifle the environment that the best leaders have learned to nurture.

A sustainable dental business leader wraps everything in a culture that focuses on getting it right rather than how to avoid getting it wrong. The people, team members and customers that you want to take with you on your journey want this too.

*The Dental Nurse Retention Survey 2023

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