Beat the Competition: Reinvent Your Practice
To paraphrase Plato, necessity is the mother of reinvention. As it turns out, the last few years have prompted many small business owners to reinvent themselves. A recently released Citibank survey revealed that a majority of respondents, 53%, have reinvented their businesses to stay afloat during the challenging economy. In doing so, they focused their attention on expanding products and services as well as improving technology and personnel.
Nearly every respondent indicated that they took other steps to keep up with the competition. In fact, 88% reported that they increased their personal knowledge about their field of business, and 70% increased face time with customers. In the coming months, the majority of survey respondents plan to increase marketing efforts and introduce new products or services.
What does all of this mean to the small business owners in dentistry? Plenty. For those of you whose favorite mantra is “I just want to do the dentistry” - great. Seize the opportunity to reinvent your practice, starting with an expansion of your services. Virtually every recognized leader in the dental profession has long urged practitioners to become proficient in at least some of those areas that they have historically referred to specialists, including endo, ortho, perio and others.
As the survey also showed, knowledge is power. Small businesses that are succeeding are making the effort to better understand the business itself and their customers. It is here that dentists have huge potential for growth. Most doctors, regardless of where they are in their dental careers, find the business and personnel side of the dental practice to be extremely challenging. What is perhaps most frustrating is that the doctor may be a truly superior clinician, yet the practice is struggling because the business systems and staff are weak.
There are 20+ practice management systems that require ongoing attention in most dental offices. However, two areas in particular - employee accountability and staff training - are critically important. They both dictate the effectiveness of your customer/patient service and impact virtually every other practice system. But what does “employee accountability” mean? It means that staff members understand clearly their responsibilities and the doctor’s expectations. There’s no “Well, I thought that was her job” or “I didn’t know I was supposed to do THAT.” Thus, when issues, concerns, or questions come up with patients, coworkers, insurance companies or practice systems, staff know who’s responsible and how to respond effectively to address the situation. The problem: Many doctors think employee accountability automatically happens in their practices. It doesn’t.
Breakdowns in employee accountability commonly occur because time and again doctors mistakenly assume that staff intuitively know what to do and what the doctor expects. After all, the doctor reasons, “I know how to do my job. Staff should know how to do theirs.” It is an assumption that we see routinely in troubled practices and it spells disaster. Consider this very familiar example:
“Dr. Liz” hired a new business employee, “Emily.” Emily was brought onboard largely because of her previous experience, so Dr. Liz didn’t think she would require any training. Emily had worked for “Dr. Sam” who preferred to handle virtually all patient interactions from treatment presentations to treatment financing, which is a kind way of saying he was a micromanager. But Dr. Liz’s style is more hands off. She simply assumed Emily would know that her job requires treatment presentations as well as discussing financial arrangements with patients. During the interview, Dr. Liz asked Emily if she was comfortable talking to patients about treatment. It was a vague question, and Emily affirmed that she was. But the doctor never specified what “talking about treatment” meant. Both wanted the arrangement to work out and neither asked more specific questions.
Upon realizing that Emily wasn’t carrying out key responsibilities of the job, Dr. Liz made some general references to “taking care of patient education things,” and “making sure patients know their options.” Again, they were vague references to responsibilities that Emily was to be accountable for, but employee accountability doesn’t just happen and it can’t be assumed. Ensuring employee accountability requires specificity.
You cannot run your practice, let alone “reinvent” it, if employees do not know what you expect. Tell them in writing in the form of a job description. From there, establish performance measurement systems to enable you and the employee to determine their effectiveness. And finally, train them to succeed in your practice.
Next week - Cha-ching! Making sure that “face time” pays off.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
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