07.03.09 Issue #382 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Not My Problem Mentality Holding Your
Practice Back?

by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Major corporations tend to put an emphasis on team accountability.  An individual will have goals, but they will relate to the success of the business as a whole. In dental offices, dentists too often view their practices as minor operations. They don’t believe they need the structure and systems of a “business.” The common refrain is, “We’re just a small operation.” But it’s that “small” mentality that creates huge frustrations. Invariably, these doctors wind up plagued with employee issues, production problems, significant stress, and career dissatisfaction. It is common for these doctors to say things like, “Sure, I’d love to adopt some new technology, but my employees will never go for it.” Or “I know our customer service should be better, but I just can’t seem to hire anyone who understands that.”

Meanwhile, new patient numbers languish, production suffers, and the schedule is a mish-mash of inefficiency and frustration. And the doctor, rather than taking action and insisting on accountability, defined practice systems, and overall staff improvement, views him/herself as a victim of circumstances.

Why do some practices succeed at instilling accountability as a core element of their culture and others fall short?  What can practice owners do to create a culture of accountability? A recent study of high performing businesses found that five specific actions have the most powerful affect on the ability to establish accountability among the ranks and achieve results. All five of these can be applied in the dental practice. 

First, take the broad concepts/priorities and translate them into specific objectives that are individualized for each person. For example, define the priorities of the business team. Spell out how each person’s responsibilities and objectives help to achieve those priorities and how they fit into the larger practice goals.

Second, as a matter of routine, monitor the individual areas as a team. Those responsible for each practice system are required to report on their areas at the monthly staff meetings. This keeps the individuals focused on the priorities and actions necessary to achieve them, allowing little room for the pettiness and blame games that plague far too many dental teams. Moreover, in “monitoring” each other, staff better comprehend the impact of one system on another and on the success of the practice as a whole. They are then far less likely to sit back and watch problems continue, further strengthening the culture of accountability and minimizing the “it’s not my job” mentality.  

Third, keep lines of communication open. Feedback, celebrating progress, group problem solving and troubleshooting all involve ongoing constructive communication. But it is more than keeping everyone informed. A culture of accountability is built on a culture of open communication, in which the cornerstone is a culture of respect. This is particularly important for the dentist or those whose personalities tend to dominate in the practice. As the leader of your team you may think nothing of your “direct” approach. However, when you bark, “No, you’re wrong” or “No, that’s a bad idea,” or “No, that will never work,” I guarantee you are viewed as rude and disrespectful. As a result, employees are far less likely to offer suggestions, input, or insights that could prove very beneficial in moving the practice forward.

Fourth, check your actions daily to ensure they are consistent with practice objectives, values, and priorities. Do not expect your team to follow you if you are not willing to live by the same values and support the same priorities that you require of others. 

If you expect your team to be accountable, you must model this behavior and take swift action when results are falling short. When problems are percolating, don’t dismiss them. It doesn’t mean you publicly berate employees whose systems may be struggling.  What it does mean is that you need to create an environment in which the team can address concerns, and, when necessary, they can count on you to make the tough decisions.

Finally, keep in mind that accountability is not something you make people do – it has to be accepted by the members of your team. However, the systems you establish directly impact your ability to create a culture of accountability. Moreover, the natural byproduct of effective working systems is a staff that assumes responsibility and accepts accountability as a matter of routine.

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com.

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

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