Cook Up a Successful Practice
By Nancy Haller, Ph.D.
After enjoying your Thanksgiving dinner, give some thought to the planning, coordinating, preparing and serving efforts that were involved. Try adding up how many person-hours were involved before, during and after the holiday feast. Do you invest as much in your practice and in your dental team? Perhaps it's time to put on the apron and get into your “kitchen” for a little work!
Be a Leader
You don’t need to watch a lot of Food Network before you’ll notice a universal constant - every restaurant in trouble has a leadership problem. The owner might be too busy trying to be everyone’s friend in the front of the restaurant to actually run the business, or the chef might be an incompetent bully. Being in the kitchen as well as in dentistry requires someone to be in charge and lead the way. Do some self-assessment. When and how are you most effective? What will you do in the future to use those qualities more often?
Start with a Plan and Follow It Through
Preparation is key. You need to plan everything beforehand to have any chance of success. This includes analysis of the recipes that you plan to prepare and making sure you have all of the necessary kitchen equipment, ingredients and spices. A key element is planning the timing backwards, from when you plan to actually serve the food to your guests to when you will need to start the initial preparations. This need for close planning is also true for your practice endeavors. Make sure you have the right people, and that they have the skills necessary to do the job. Think about the end result you want, and establish regular checkpoints to ensure everyone is tracking according to plan.
One of the biggest challenges in preparing a meal is timing. Not all elements of your dinner require the same amount of cooking time. Certainly there is a need to run an operation profitably, and that in itself can be a monumental task. However, before profit comes a focused, well-run kitchen. When it operates efficiently, watching a kitchen in the heat of service can be very similar to the smooth flow of a productive dental team. By having an effective scheduling system, the doctor and staff are in charge of managing the patient flow. This enables the team to manage the schedule so it becomes efficient and predictable, and creates increased revenues quickly.
Learn How to Mix Complex Ingredients
Having the right ingredients is a great start, but it takes far more to make a great meal. Not all ingredients mix well, nor do they suit all tastes. Furthermore, ingredients will not jump into a pot and cook on their own. A great meal requires special effort and attention. You need the right amount of seasoning and the proper method of combining those ingredients. Your stove and altitude can alter the outcome as can many other factors. The same is true with people. Not all personalities mix easily. Some flavors dominate, others complement, and still others effectively contrast. It takes skill and patience to blend diverse employees into a high functioning dental team. It’s also easy to “curdle” people if you do not treat them with respect or if you “heat” them inappropriately.
A lot of information is exchanged in a busy kitchen. Meeting deadlines with limited resources requires everyone to be a good communicator, passing information to one another. Be a keen observer and listen carefully to the people in your office. This helps you to understand what they need from you to execute well. Morning huddles are important and so are monthly staff meetings. It is also wise to hold individual performance reviews with each team member. These should happen quarterly, or more often if employees are learning new “recipes”.
Expect Messes and Clean Up As You Go Along
You can’t have a culinary feast without using a lot of pots and pans. There will always be messes and it certainly is the least fun part of the job. Anticipate and prepare for conflicts and unexpected incidents that need your attention. Learn how to give behavioral feedback and hold employees accountable to your practice values. Clean up as you go along to avoid a sink full of dirty dishes that keep accumulating.
Assume the role of “master chef” in your office. Leadership is a skill, just like cooking. It takes practice, discipline, creativity and adaptability. It's also not all about the end result. The process is how you get there. Just as a simple recipe becomes a delicious experience in the hands of a good cook, in the hands of a good leader a group of people becomes a high performing team. Bon Appétit!
Wishing you, your personal and professional families a very Happy Thanksgiving.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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