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6.20.08 Issue #328 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Dr. Nancy Haller
Dentist Coach
McKenzie Management
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Smart Leadership in Turbulent Times

Like many business leaders, you’re probably feeling the pinch of a tough economy. The nation’s unemployment rate is over 5% and expected to climb higher in the months ahead. Gasoline and food prices are at record levels, too. Perhaps patients are postponing treatment or downgrading to cheaper alternatives. What do you do?

Well, if you want to advance in your practice, you absolutely have to bridge the gap between where you want to be and where you are right now. The only way to improve your practice is to get into ACTION, especially in these turbulent times.

Practices that survive are those that capitalize on savvy leadership—leadership that understands patients’ needs and employees’ engagement. Leaders who build on these tenets are best positioned for future growth.

The first and perhaps most important investment you can make is to take an honest look at your leadership. To your staff and to your patients, you are the practice. Your employees view the practice through the relationship they have with you. So how do you improve those relationships?

Spend more time—and more time talking—with the people who work in your practice. In conversations, show that you are concerned about them. Seek their ideas. Encourage risk-taking.

One of the main challenges in a down economy can be a depressing office environment. Strive to create an upbeat atmosphere. Solicit ideas for a low-cost, morale-boosting lunch from your staff. Schedule a brown-bag staff meeting during which time everyone shares humorous stories. Find other ways to lighten spirits and reward your team for their hard work without increasing overhead.

As for patients… During economic downturns, they will be more careful about spending. Factors such as price and value take on greater significance. However, people's underlying needs do not change and dental leaders who continue to meet those needs will prevail. Here are some basics about what patients look for:

  • Making a positive emotional connection with the dental team.

Imagine what it’s like being a patient walking in the front door of your office. Would you be greeted with a warm “Hello!” and a friendly smile? Would you feel special, valued and appreciated? Would you be asked about how your work is going, or if your college student had come home for the summer?

Those are qualities that ensure patient loyalty even if a patient decides to postpone a crown replacement for a while.

  • Feeling that their needs are understood.

How do you react when patients object to treatment recommendations? It’s tempting to assume they need convincing, and then talk up the hi-tech “proof” or try to motivate them with warnings about how bad things will get if they don’t follow through with the dental plan. But until you really listen, you won’t understand their objections or gain compliance.

Listening enables you to find out about your patients’ reality—what is important to them, what motivates them, what issues prevent them from moving forward. Once you understand those things, you are in a better position to educate, clarify and gain trust with your patients.

  • Perceiving that the dentist is authentic and has integrity.

Your financials may not be where you want them to be, but nothing will send your P&L statement into the ground faster than pushing services that patients don’t need. Furthermore, patients watch and hear how you treat your staff. Be sure that you’re showing examples of respect and kindness as well as sound ethics.

  • Feeling treated like an individual, not like just another patient.

Be careful to see each patient as unique. Avoid clichés and generalizations. Statements such as “I see this all the time” may be intended to connote experience but the impact of those words can convey “You’re no different from the hundreds of other people I see” instead.

  • Feeling that their time is respected and finding it easy to schedule appointments.

Have you considered expanding your office hours or adjusting them to meet high-demand time slots? Even if you’re not a morning person, offering 7:00 AM, before-work appointments show patients that you want to make life easier for them. Even consider offering late or evening appointments. Use the shifts in your availability as opportunities to market your practice. Be aggressive in keeping your name in the public eye.
Stop blaming the insurance companies, the economy and the "season.” Focus on the thing you DO have control over: yourself. Stop bringing your emotional baggage to work. Move out of the “just enough” syndrome and raise your monetary bar. Visualize the future with more financial freedom, whether for recreational activities, travel or simply more work satisfaction and joy. Pay attention to the emotions that accompany these inspiring images. Repeat this exercise several times per day.
This long-term view will lead to big payoffs, not only as your practice navigates these difficult times but even more when the economy picks up. Set yourself up for a significant competitive advantage. Engage your staff. Engage your patients. Become a more resilient leader. Start today!
The potential to become a better leader is well within your capability!

Dr. Haller is available for team building and dental leadership coaching. She can be reached at

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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