Known as “The Tony Robbins of Teeth:” Holly is the Founder and Chief Empathy Officer of the LeadWell Network, a certified hypnotist, keynote speaker, master practitioner in Neurolinguistic Programming, life and business coach in the dental industry. Holly trains dentists and their teams on hypnotic sales, compassionate leadership, stress management, and culture transformation to double their revenue and cut their stress in half.

Be Your Own Consultant


This article might put me out of a job and single me out amongst my colleagues as a dental practice management consultant. But if my goal is to help as many dentists and teams as possible, I feel it’s important for me to pull back the curtain on the how-to of consulting. The process is simple, albeit not easy, but if you’re on a budget, you can get results quickly by following a six-step formula that’s going to feel very familiar to you. Hint: if you can fix a broken tooth, you can fix a broken system.

Before we begin…

Treating the System Rather Than the Symptom

When your practice is experiencing a problem (low new patient volume, high rates of cancellation or inability to meet production/ collection goals for example), it’s important to recognize that the presenting symptom is one piece of an entire system. It’s just like a broken tooth may be one symptom of a host of interconnected problems: poor occlusion, clenching and grinding, carries risk, oral hygiene, and diet, etc. The same is true for the symptoms that present in the form of a struggling metric, such as a low new patient number. It may be tempting to do a quick fix (large composite style) to alleviate the symptom — i.e. spend more money on marketing — but if we can look at the symptom as part of a system, what are the other contributing factors to the problem?

How does our capacity contribute to the problem? Is it our phones, our digital presence, our brand, our new patient experience, our attractability and payor mix in relation to the patient population we serve? Who is responsible for this number and are they the right person for that role? Do they have the skills, time, budget, data, technology and resources to meet the expectation? What habits and behaviors exist to support the desired outcome? What processes need to be repaired or designed? Is solving this problem the most important problem to solve right now? Is there a specialist with whom we can consult to speed our results?

To think like a consultant is to think like a general dentist and examine all the factors that may be contributing to the practice’s pain. If we can alleviate the symptom and solve the root causes (performance, resources, process, process management, culture and vision/strategy), we’ll be able to solve not only the current problem but prevent future ones from happening. Now that’s good dentistry.

Let’s Begin with a Comprehensive Exam

Put your loupes on, you can’t see it yet.

If I were to give you one task that would transform your practice, it would be to do a silent meditation walking through your practice. I know this might sound strange, but the first time I did this, I experienced a total transformation in my life and my work.

I was 29 years old and beyond burned out; I was ashes. I should have been on top of the world. I was running a successful group practice in New York City and flying around the country on my days off to coach dentists and their teams how to scale. Though I was making a lot of money, underneath my smiles and vibrant personality, I had a secret: I suffered from anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, and my body was racked with symptoms of chronic stress and fatigue. A friend of mine invited me to a weekend digital detox retreat at a summer camp for adults. Having had fond memories of my camp experiences as a kid in North Florida, I agreed to take some much needed time off and surrendered to a protocol of no technology and absolutely no talking about work. It took about 24 hours for my nervous system to remember what it was like to be a kid again, and my heart exploded with joy. I remembered who I was, who I used to be and who I wanted to be, and I understood that other people would like me for something other than my career accomplishments and relentless busy-ness. And then it happened: a moment in the woods of upstate New York that would change my life forever.

It was the first time I ever meditated. I always thought that meditating was for hippies, or Buddhists, or yoga people, but definitely not for me. I didn’t sit still to eat, let alone indulge an hour completely void of productivity. But I was here, surrendering to this human experiment of deep presence and childlike wonder, and so I went. The challenge was simple: spend an hour alone in silence walking in the woods carrying an envelope. Open the envelope when the time is right.

I am sitting on a mossy rock in the cool of the late afternoon, and a few social fireflies are already blinking their buggy-morse-code, updating their relationship status and sending calendar invites for the dusk’s most happening party. A rustle in the brush reminds me that I’m not alone, even as I’m companioned by a gentle gnaw of loneliness, and I feel like an intruder in a sacred space that belongs to ancient trees who will still be here long after I’ve gone. The sound of a brook is all around me as it bounces from tree to tree, deceiving me in its bubbly misdirection, and I can’t help but notice the rock that supports me, beckoning me to become it, to disappear inside stony stillness, where maybe I can remember the parts of me that I’d forgotten. “It’s time,” the wind whispers, and I open the envelope. “What do you need to let go of?” the tiny slip of paper says, like a fortune cookie if a fortune cookie could punch you in the stomach. And as I cough instead of breathe I see my life flash before my eyes, a future life, 5 years, 10 years down the road where nothing changes, and the soft parts of me, the joyful, the loving, the curious, harden and break under the weight of my own oppression. I knew in that moment, if I didn’t change everything right now and choose to be happy and healthy above anything else, that the childlike camper in me would die, and be replaced by someone I didn’t know or want to hang out with. Two days later I went back to New York, broke up with my boyfriend after 8 and a half years, became a vegan, got a life coach, started doing yoga, moved out of my apartment and took three weeks off of work to enroll in an NLP course that changed my brain, changed my life and changed my impact.

Stop, look, listen. To your life, to your business, to your relationships. When you’re in it, you can’t see it and all the parts that require care and restoration. This is your exam: a four-hour walkthrough of your practice in silence, observing first as a patient, as a team member and as the leader of your business and notice the patterns that exist. What will happen if nothing changes? What do you need to let go of?

How to do a silent meditation in your business:

Tell your team to imagine you’re invisible for half a day, allowing you to walk through and observe without acknowledgment or eye contact so that you can be available to receive information through all your senses. Listen to the conversations, to the phone calls, to every patient and employee interaction. Pull charts, pull reports. Make a list of symptoms. Observe the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, non-verbals, tone, vibe, flow, pace, transitions, language and data, and take notes while you do. Observe how you feel in your own body observing them, and stay detached and curious, as if you’ve never been here before.

Now, It’s Time for a Full Set of X-Rays

A consultant’s best tool is their ability to ask great questions. Once you’ve identified the system you’d like to solve, ask as many diagnostic questions as you can to see what’s going on inside and around the problem. Who can you interview to better understand the system, both patients and staff? Ask journalistic questions: who, what, where, when, how and sometimes why. Here are some prompts to get you started…

X-ray Questions

  • How can I …
  • How can we …
  • How does this work …
  • How do we replicate and scale …
  • Why do we …
  • Why is it that …
  • Why don’t we …
  • What’s successful here …
  • What could we change in order to …
  • What’s important here ….
  • What’s missing …
  • Who is responsible for …
  • Who benefits from …
  • Who could help with …
  • Where are we with …
  • Where can we improve the …
  • Where can we speed up the …
  • Where are we wasting …
  • When should we …
  • When did we stop …
  • When can we start …
  • When will we …

Diagnosis: The Real Challenge Here Is …

Now that you’ve identified the problem, you’ve observed and asked questions, it’s time to diagnose what’s really going on. If the symptom is low new patient volume, what systemic and environmental conditions exist at the level of people and process which are contributing to the problem? Most problems are process-related rather than people related. Good people who lack processes, resources, training and management will struggle to maintain performance as patient flow increases and will eventually become poor performers or leave.

Diagnose the issue across all levels

Performance issue (wrong person, wrong seat, training issue)

Resource issue (time, capacity, supplies, budget, people, technology)

Process issue (complicated process, no process documented, wrong process)

Management issue (process not followed, no measurables, no oversight/accountability, no buy-in, misaligned incentives)

Culture issue (communication breakdowns, defiance and power plays, different values/standards, lack of transparent and consistent leadership)

Vision/strategy issue (problem is misaligned or irrelevant to the values and vision, problem is misaligned or irrelevant to current strategic goals of the company)

Treatment Plan: How Do You Plan to Fix It and Make Sure It Stays Fixed?

A great solution without a change management plan is like beautiful bonding without a night guard. You’re going to spend more time repairing it later, and you might end up throwing in the towel or undermining others’ trust in your ability to implement change effectively. Here are the elements of an effective change management plan …

Designing an effective change management plan

What: Define the proposed solution and the desired outcomes of the solution

Where: Illustrate the destination of where we’re going and the measurable milestones of success

Why: Gain buy-in from the team by designing a communication plan. Include how this change will impact them positively and negatively, and why this is in alignment with our vision, values, and strategy.

How: Design an action plan that includes training, resource gathering and allocation, and make sure incentives are aligned appropriately (monetary and non-monetary).

Who/What/by When: Ask individuals for their support, approach people 1-on-1 if you anticipate a great deal of friction, assign a task force or person to implement the changes, schedule project meetings and checkpoint follow-ups for project updates.

Prep/Temp/Impression: Doing the Work

Now it’s time to implement the plan! Anticipate bumps along the journey; this is why you have scheduled project meetings and updates. Use a project management tool or a simple spreadsheet to keep track of each step and each person’s responsibilities and progress.

Insert/Delivery: Does It Fit?

At your checkpoint meetings, follow up, measure progress and see how well you’ve done! If the problem has not been repaired, modify the treatment plan/solution, re-impress/re-implement and follow up again to test that you’ve arrived at your desired outcome.

High Friction, High Value

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. But it’s worth it when you choose the right problems to solve. Practice owners who are able to effectively delegate items of low value and low friction (meaning changes that are relatively easy to implement) will free themselves up to focus on items of high friction, and high value to the growth of the business. Just as certain procedures take priority over others like gum disease to veneers, choosing which areas of your business to focus on to get the biggest return on investment of your time and energy, is just as important as deciding what areas are not a priority to fix right now. Once you’ve generated a positive return from your efforts, you may want to consider bringing on a coach who can help you identify other areas of potential, and assist you in developing and executing an effective practice treatment plan. The best consultants will design an alignment plan that benefits the practice, the team and the patient and deliver the healthiest outcome for all.