As a new practice owner, you need to build a strong foundation to ensure your practice’s future success. Providing excellent dental care is a given, as always. But it must now share the spotlight with other subjects not emphasized in dental schools. In addition to choosing the ideal location, purchasing the right equipment and recruiting and hiring the best people, you’ll also need to cultivate your leadership skills. You may not have learned how to lead a team, but that’s exactly what you will be doing as the owner of a practice. To prepare, focus on honing your ability to perform the following seven activities:
1. Inspire Others with a Vision
Whether you see yourself as a leader or not, your staff members do, and they will look to you for guidance. First, decide where you want your practice to be in three years. Do you want to be the premier choice for quality dentistry in the area? Do you want to sponsor a number of community events each year? How much profit do you want the practice to make? Next, write a statement (a few sentences or paragraphs) describing this vision. Finally, share the vision with your team to provide them with a common future they can all work toward together—discuss it, post it where staff will see it often and refer to it during staff meetings.
2. Set Goals
Once you’ve created a vision statement, your team will need to take action to realize that vision. While the vision describes where you want the practice to be in three years, goals make up the road map to achieving it. CEOs often use goal setting to drive performance and attain greater success. The first step is to document measurable goals that will move your practice in the right direction. Set a deadline by which the team should reach each goal. Then, assign each goal to the appropriate team members for accountability.
3. Communicate with Staff Members
It is extremely important that you learn how to communicate effectively with your team. You should word your requests in a way that the team understands what you want and is motivated to act. Clearly articulating the practice vision, identifying measurable and specific goals, and asking the team for comments and feedback are simple steps that can greatly clarify expectations and produce excellent results.
The goals you create should also become part of the written job descriptions you establish for each position at the practice. For example, if the front desk coordinator makes confirmation phone calls, she may be responsible for reaching a certain number of patients per day to ensure that the practice attains a no-show/cancellation rate of less than 1 percent. Convey goals in writing and in person so that the entire team is clear about their responsibilities, both individually and collectively. Assigning accountability empowers team members to achieve their full potential. When they understand clearly what is expected and that they are accountable to the entire team for meeting that expectation, motivation is increased and performance is improved in almost every case.
4. Review Team Performance
Performance reviews go hand-in-hand with job descriptions and assigned goals. Every year, conduct reviews with each member of your team to verify that the whole practice is working in concert to reach the vision. These one-to-one meetings provide a valuable opportunity for you to address any shortcomings that might hinder progress. Keep in mind, however, that these discussions are meant to be positive, growth-oriented and informational. Reviews also give you a chance to listen to employees — encourage them to do 80 percent of the talking. Don’t wait until a review to compliment staff members who are doing well — a quick affirmation or thank you goes a long way toward building morale and boosting confidence.
Team members have firsthand knowledge of how the practice functions on a daily basis. As one person, you cannot be everywhere at all times, and in fact you should delegate 98 percent of administrative duties to others so that you can spend the majority of your time chairside. Let staff members know that you welcome their feedback on non-clinical matters and ask periodically how things are faring on the “front lines.” Then, be prepared to hear and act on what they tell you.
6. Provide Your Team with Systems and Scripts
You wouldn’t expect your team to perform without the proper tools (such as computers for the front-desk team), and neither should you expect them to function without pertinent management systems and scripting for patient interactions. Implementing documented systems enables you to spend more time on direct patient care while the team effectively runs the administrative side of the practice. From scheduling to collections, case presentation to customer service, step-by-step systems establish how team members should carry out non-clinical tasks of every description. Each system should be thoroughly documented so that if a team member is absent or leaves the practice, she doesn’t take that knowledge with her. New team members can then be trained much faster and easier, as well.
Systems involve patient-doctor or patient-staff interactions at every turn. Excellent scripts prepare staff members with influential ways of speaking that don’t always come naturally in the moment. With role-playing, scripts will become second-nature and will build team members’ confidence, not to mention help the practice get the desired results from patients. The right scripts will boost patient loyalty, increase case acceptance and encourage referrals to the practice.
7. Exhibit a Positive Attitude As
the practice owner, you need to show the team how they are expected to behave at the office. Displaying a positive attitude even when things go wrong, maintaining a calm demeanor no matter how difficult the situation and leaving personal problems at home are just a few of the characteristics dentists can model for their staff. A positive outlook, no matter what’s happening, goes a long way toward building morale in a small practice where staff members work closely together.
As John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” The fact is that perfect teams are made, not hired. You can motivate your team members to achieve success with a three-year vision, corresponding goals and an upbeat attitude. Providing them with specific job descriptions, annual performance reviews, management systems and scripts will train them to go above and beyond when completing their daily tasks. Hear their suggestions and feedback, and together you will be able to achieve more and more as you create the best possible practice.
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