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The way we do things around here

The way we do things around here
Imagine if you asked any member of your team this question; “What does it mean to work here and what is this dental practice really about?” Now lets assume that you have an environment where that question can be answered honestly and without repercussion; what do you think that they would actually say and what would you hope that they would say?

In short, until those two things are close enough to each other and without their answer being some kind of meaningless verbatim then you have a problem. In your capacity as dental business leader, you still have work to do. When you think about it, if there is an incongruence between what you know your business is really about and what your team think it’s about then no amount of training, team building days, parties, telling, screaming, shouting or regulation is going to change anything.

In other words “the way we do things around here” should be valued, understood and applied every day and by every member of your team and without exception. “The way we do things around here” should be at the heart of how you recruit, retain and develop your team. And yet “The way we do things around here” cannot be forced upon anybody, it has to resonate with your team and your team need to understand that this is an intrinsic part of working for you, just as much as maintaining professional registration and professional standards are.

The irony of this, is that in a profession where more and more regulation is being applied by external bodies and with so many aspects of dentistry being highly regulated and governed (to the point that I know some dentists are actually getting scared of doing dentistry) that so much of a dental business is left to chance. The soft skills aren’t regulated because bedside manner cannot be taught, it has to come from within and needs to be identified as part of your recruitment and retention strategy. Add in the fact that you probably spend most of your day in your surgery with your door closed, and at best you are left to lead your business most of the time by remote control, not with a blunt stick. If you are leading your business by remote control then it highlights just how important “the way we do things around here” is.

The circumstances around dentistry are not unique but they are exceptional. Regulated professions rely not just on the regulator coming up with a suitable framework but also that history has proven that you cannot practically regulate every eventuality, so the regulators cannot rely upon a blunt stick for everything. Some professions are going through this right now. Being a responsible lender, financial planner or reseller of insurance products for example are nowadays so wrapped up in process and cooling off periods, that it’s hard sometimes to remember why these professions exist in the first place. What happened to just doing the very best that we can and helping our customers; was a blunt stick always required? I’ll suggest that what’s happened is that the purpose of these businesses have become eroded by amongst other things, regulation, targets, KPI’s, performance related pay and bonuses, fueled by a few protagonists with poor values who push the limits of what they can get away with. And the answer from the regulators; even more regulation! As the gap between what the regulators expect and how the profession applies common sense, good practice and honest values narrows, then watch the time honored fix of more regulation being applied in the short term, that is until the gap narrows again. This is a downward spiral and it can be seen elsewhere. The regulators might only have one instrument and it’s a fairly blunt stick. Leaders on the other hand know that a blunt stick is not the answer.

Refer to the “time bomb in dentistry” as I have on previous occasions and be bombarded with a “well it’s not me” retort and of course it probably isn’t you, but just as the honest players in other professions have had to fall into the regulatory line because of the actions of a few, the “well it’s not me” defense just won’t wash. That’s not just me saying it either. Dentistry front page 18th September sums it all up very well. “Earl Howe announcing ‘clear and consistent’ guidelines are being drawn up for dentists, in the wake of warnings that bone loss is a ‘time bomb’ set to cause growing misery.” The answer from the CDO is to examine how to provide better information for patients considering implants…well intended perhaps but can you see a pattern forming here? Get ready for even more regulation to govern how you speak to your patients and I’m already putting money on cooling off periods being introduced; “Please be advised that this conversation will be recorded for training and monitoring purposes” !

Now the answer from the regulators might well be even more stick waving but I think this is missing the point. If “the way we do things around here” is robust and built around the absolute core principles of caring for patients and doing the very best that you can, providing options and information (in other words the genuine values that I know most dentists believe in) then you will be doing your bit towards being one step ahead of the regulators. If you are proud of “the way we do things around here” and it is valued, understood and applied by all of your team then that is the best that you can do. Values based businesses and their leaders don’t need to resort to a blunt stick.

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