6.15.12 Issue #536 info@mckenziemgmt.com 1-877-777-6151 Forward This Newsletter

The True Cost of "Culture"
By Sally McKenzie, CEO

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There’s a lot of talk about workplace “culture” these days. Are you creating a culture in which your team can effectively problem solve and advance the goals of the practice? Or do you even have goals? Is your culture conducive to creating a superior experience for your patients? Or do you figure they must be satisfied enough because as far as you know, you have probably 1500-2000 patient records. Not that you know how many of those are actually active patients, but the records are there. Perhaps most importantly, is the culture of your practice one that is energizing and enjoyable? Or do you find that you dread Monday mornings - the drama, backbiting, and whining is bleeding your emotional energy dry?

I recently had a conversation with a young dentist. He’s about seven years into his career. He loves dentistry. He hates dealing with staff. In his words, “Keeping them all happy is impossible. There’s always some problem, some issue that I get dragged into.” He loves his profession, but he despises the “culture” of his practice.

This young doctor is settling into a pattern that will plague him for decades to come, unless he seeks help. At some point, he will wonder why there are fewer and fewer new patients. He will be frustrated by the appointment failures and cancellations. You see, the thing about culture is that it not only affects the team directly, it has an impact on the patients as well. Patients can feel the tension. And if you think going to the dentist is stressful for patients, walking into a practice where the air is filled with discontent and stress will have the patients heading for the exits faster than yelling “FIRE!”

Doctors commonly blame staff for a negative culture, and staff commonly blame the doctor. Invariably, it is the practice systems - usually a lack thereof - that dictate practice culture. For example, the business employee can't get insurance claims filed because she's frantically trying to fill cancellations and putting patients in the wrong time slots in an effort to save a sliver of the month's production goal. The hygienist is irritated because s/he is either too busy or too slow. The assistants are plotting their revenge on the doctor because s/he just wants to pretend everything is fine. This too shall pass. Oh don't worry it's just a phase. The patients are giving sideways glances to each other because though staff try to hide it, the tempers among the team are hotter than the asphalt parking lot on a summer day.

Yet, time and again, issues are ignored until they become critical and the practice experiences the serious financial impact of a negative practice culture. The dollar amount lost is likely on par with the local Fourth of July fireworks budget. The obvious difference, however, is that your practice profits are going up in smoke without the collective “oohs and aahhs” of an appreciative crowd. An ineffective team, which is the result of poor practice systems, creates a negative practice culture and is very expensive. It costs time, money, patients, staff, and stress - five pretty important components of an effective practice, wouldn’t you say?

The irony is that oftentimes practices have employees who as individuals are dedicated, hard working, and knowledgeable, but they simply don't know how to function effectively as a group. Consequently, they become mired in conflict, turf wars, and pettiness.

The doctor wants to focus on what s/he does best and enjoys the most - the dentistry, not the drama. Sadly, most dentists have neither the understanding nor the skills to deal with the troubles facing the team. They don't know how to establish team goals and identify the strategies to achieve those goals. They don't have the time to dissect the systems and dig into the reports, the numbers, and the procedures to determine where the breakdowns are occurring. So it's easier to simply ignore it, until it can no longer be ignored. Interestingly, when doctors finally contact McKenzie Management seeking to improve their practices, typically their call is precipitated by the realization that the practice is in serious financial trouble or the doctor is so unhappy that s/he is ready to hand the keys over to someone, anyone else.

Ask yourself if your practice culture is one that you, your team, and your patients enjoy and appreciate. If not, contact me today at 877-777-6151 or sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com

For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.

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

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