The resilient dental practice
The pressures of running a successful business can take a toll on a practice and its people. A robust strategy is required to cope with the daily challenges
Dentistry is tough. Treating conscious patients by carrying out procedures to a technically high standard in a sensitive area is never going to be easy. Practicing professionally with an overarching atmosphere of fear of potential litigation and the need for compliance with sometimes abstract rules makes for a challenging life.
Little wonder then, that problems with stress and burnout are growing, and I have had many painful conversations with individuals following my presentation, “Is dentistry making you sick?”
There is clearly a need for an improvement in individual resilience, but that will be wasted if the organisation where you work does not take its own resilience seriously.
In this article I want to discuss the “Resilient Dental Practice”, what it means, why it is important, how to build one and most important, how to maintain it.
“All things should be kept as simple as possible, but no simpler.” These wise words from Albert Einstein reflect my views on building the resilient practice which I define as “The ability of a dental organisation to quickly absorb and adapt to the impact of an external or internal stressor or disruptor without a noticeable drop in its level of patient care and service.”
We live in a world often described by the acronym “VUCA”. It’s Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. The rate of change both within and outside dental practices is increasing; the pressures of running a successful dental business grow higher with every passing day. In order to succeed there is a need not only to be able to cope with the daily challenges that life and business are going to throw at us but also be ready for whatever the future will bring.
The four facets of resilience have been defined as preparedness, protection, response and recovery; I will reflect these in the following eight characteristics of a resilient dental business.
1) They have standard operating procedures. These can be defined as a set of step-by-step instructions for each process within the business. These individual sets build one on the other to produce a manual of “how we do things”. From decontamination to marketing and answering the telephone to giving a perfect local anaesthetic, all processes are examined and described. Building these small steps into larger blocks means they can be regularly examined and amended in the light of experience, new knowledge or business demands.
2) They understand that change will happen, they do not resent it, but rather, they embrace it. They understand that change is the only constant and that any (dental) business that wants to be and remain successful must be ready for changes and the challenges they bring. A resilient business has a competitive edge in the marketplace.
3) The people are trained and ready. From owner to apprentice, there is an emphasis on constant training. That can be in clinical procedures, where they are always seeking to look round the next corner for coming advances in procedures, materials or equipment, or business ideas and practice.
4) There is a clear “Purpose of the Practice”. Often overlooked or allowed to lapse, it is important everyone understands that in addition to “what we do and how we do it” all can embrace, “why we do it”. Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why is a great source of inspiration.
5) There are clear plans for action in the event of necessary change. I should point out that too often change is viewed as a negative, and certainly, we must be aware of threats to the smooth flow, success and profitability of the business but change can be a power for good.
6) The people talk to each other. There are routine and regular meetings and conversations between all team members. These are not “top down” sets of instructions, or monthly moans rather they are opportunities to look, listen and learn from each other.
7) They are proactive rather than reactive. Most of the changes in the business happen because they have seen the need ahead of time rather than waiting for the worst to happen. Even when the unseen or unexpected occurs there is a discipline within the organisation that understands what is most important and what has to be prioritised. In dentistry, this, of course, is patient care so that, no matter how trying or testing the challenge, the patient will not be inconvenienced or any disruption will be kept to a minimum.
8) Finally, the leaders lead effectively. In his excellent book about his life as a restaurant entrepreneur, Danny Meyer wrote, “The hallmarks of effective leadership are to provide a clear vision for your business so that your employees know where you’re taking them; to hold people accountable for consistent standards of excellence; and to communicate a well-defined set of cultural priorities and non-negotiable values. Perhaps most important, leaders hold themselves accountable for conducting business in the same manner in which they have asked their team to perform.”
In an ideal world, all change would be incremental with as few shocks as possible. The practice that works on and builds its resilience is prepared for change, it operates in a state of constant “Flow” and, instead of an atmosphere of crisis, always keeps its calm. No matter what the threat – or opportunity.
Alun K Rees BDS is The Dental Business Coach. An experienced dental practice owner who changed career he now works as a coach, consultant, trouble-shooter, analyst, writer and broadcaster. He brings the wisdom gained from his and others’ successes to help his clients achieve the rewards their work and dedication deserve.