Somewhere in a dental practice near you, a nervous patient has just arrived in a dental reception, to be eventually greeted with a smile that is obscured by a telephone handset.
A pointed index finger directs to a seating area. In the surgery next door a patient is struggling to understand the complexities of the various treatment options available. The nurse is reluctant to speak up and help and has to rush to clean the surgery surfaces down in order to justify the boxes that had been ticked earlier in the day. Upstairs and behind closed doors, the practice manager is struggling to keep on top of the CQC policies and has a list of reports to produce for the principal, reports that she doesn’t understand or care that much about. At last months practice meeting, the unspoken frustration was that nothing ever really changes but somehow there was still time to discuss the minutia of the numerous colour options for the new nurses uniforms…again! Some of the team sit vacantly looking at their phones, oblivious to the the irony that above them there is a framed mission statement that refers to ‘striving for excellence’ and ‘the highest levels of patient care’ along with a 5 year old certificate for being highly recommended in the area of patient service at a dental award ceremony.
Close by there is a dental practice that reports to the same professional bodies and provides the same fundamental service. The people that work there have similar qualifications, report to the same regulators and are paid similar amounts. Patients are treated with kindness, instinctively hands are sometimes held, smiles seem natural and genuine. There are no grand statements on the wall, in fact the reception area is quite plain but there is a sense of welcoming and warmth that everybody senses. The nursing assistants enjoy contributing to conversations with patients, in the surgery, in the corridors and sometimes in the local supermarket and the manager has conversations with all of the people that work there, conversations about how they are getting on, how they are, how they are performing and how she can help.The manager has conversations with the principal and has designed a suite of information that she understands and it helps her contribute towards the direction, planning and strategy of the practice. At the last team meeting, everybody arrived early, phones were switched off, everybody contributed and provided updates on how they have been getting on with the ideas that they have sponsored and given the autonomy to get on with. There is a sense of shared purpose that everybody understands and yet isn’t framed or on display.
This might seem like I am being an idealist, creating a picture of a dental utopia. Well perhaps, but doesn’t it seem unlikely that people would want to work somewhere that isn’t created in the image of this?
Although I cannot be absolutely certain of this, it seems to me that it is unlikely that we are not created to be kind to each other, the kindness that has to exist for teams to operate and for patients to be cared for. To be the nurse that you would want to work with, the boss that you would want to have and the dental practice that you would want to attend requires us to recognise that there is an intelligence behind our instincts and abilities to deliver this kindness.
The falsehood is not whether to challenge if this kindness is anything more than an ideal, the falsehood is to believe that it won’t be suppressed by layers of reports, regulation and fear.
I cringe when I think of any business where service standards are constructed and distributed by email, where interactions are scripted and the team have no real reason to go to work other than to get paid, and managers are so bogged down in regulatory paperwork that the only way they can see to improve things is produce even more regulation and reports, reports that suppress creativity and deny the intelligence behind our need to be kind to each other.
Some people fear that small businesses cannot compete in an interconnected global world dominated by big brands. Some people fear that an independent dental practice won’t be able to compete with the corporates or even with the rival practice down the road. Successful dental business leaders subscribe to something different. They are recognising right now that there will always be demand to work in a practice that recognises that by default people have a need to be kind to each other, and that they have the intelligence to deliver that kindness to each other and the patients that they serve.