Creating a powerful culture, 1 person at a time


A powerful culture in the dental practice can withstand the onslaught of cancellations, chaotic schedules, difficult patients, miscommunications, and insurance issues.

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santypan /

A powerful culture is built 1 person at a time. However, it takes buy-in from each person to become a reality.

“Everything is fine,” I hear the dental assistant say as I look around the room during a team meeting. The response was after asking the group, “How have things been going?”

“Uh oh,” I think. “Everything is fine,” are the 3 most telling words indicating I’m dealing with a dysfunctional team and a weak culture.

I ask, “What makes this place a great place to work?” Arms are crossed and no one makes eye contact. One person blurts out, “The patients. We love our patients.” Then, “Yes, the patients are great,” and others add in similar comments.

No mention of being part of a great team or excellent teamwork. No mention of the love coming to work or this being the best place ever to work.

“OK, that’s good. Something to work with,” I say to myself.

From this short exchange, the pent-up frustrations leak out.

What a powerful culture can do for you

The most high-performing teams exist in powerful cultures. Around the country, they experience 30% growth and stronger profits, regardless of the state of the economy or the market. Good or poor economic conditions, they get growth from more patients, more per patient visit, and more overall visits.

Doctors with powerful cultures tend not to be overly involved in daily business administrative activities, freeing them to focus on what’s most important to them. How can this be?

Team members take charge of the various operational activities. They source scheduling, billing and collection, insurance, enrollment, reactivation, patient outreach, patient experience, and more…all with doctor oversight.

Each person on the team has a sense of ownership in the success of the practice. They no longer view their work as a J-O-B. Rather, they become part of a team making a difference.

The practice starts to generate more money whether the doctor is present or not. This is the point of a business: to build wealth even when the doctor is not producing directly. Otherwise, it’s only a good job for the doctor.

And the best part is that the doctor feels a newfound confidence that the practice is being well cared for by the team.

The hidden costs of a weak culture

If there’s no articulated clear plan nor clear lines of execution, the hidden costs start to become not so hidden and take their toll on the practice’s business results and the team.

The cost of a weak culture pervades every business engine. It shows up as less-than-excellent communication within the team and with patients, during enrollment, and in collection. It can lead to patient no-shows and cancellations, as well as patients leaving the practice with no feedback. It also leads to a lack of recommendations to family and friends.

Imagine 1 paid service a week lost because of communication hiccups! The hidden costs germinate as poor communication exchanges in scheduling, enrollment, a patient visit, a handoff, or any of 20-plus touchpoints that happen during the patient’s experience. The hidden costs then come to fruition in lost treatments and lower recare effectiveness rates.

Next, teamwork suffers. It often leads to people keeping their heads down, out of the doctor’s way.

It progresses to grumbling and subgrouping. It then moves into showing up late for work, leaving early, and longer lunches and breaks. The final stage is leaving the practice to look for something better.

HR groups estimate that the cost of an employee turnover is 1.5 to 3 times the annualized salary of the person who quits.

The No. 1 obstacle to create a powerful culture

The No. 1 obstacle to create a powerful culture is leadership skills, not management skills. Leadership is all about developing people. Leadership brings out the best in each person, 1 person at a time.

It turns out leaders are developed. Anyone can learn these skills.

Every person on the team (the doctor, the front desk, and the clinical staff) all must learn leadership skills to create a powerful culture. The issue is not personality type. Rather, it is a willingness to improve oneself.

5 Steps to create a powerful culture, 1 person at a time

There is no silver bullet, no magic wand, no “do this 1 thing and everything will be peachy.” Rather, follow these 5 steps and you will be on your way to creating a powerful culture!

  1. Clinicians must acknowledge their own strengths, weaknesses, talents, and blind spots. Understanding these comes in the form of an objective evaluation, then accepting the truths found during the process, which is a foundation of leadership.
  2. Understand deeply held values. These values must pass muster under duress and not change. They have guided and will guide your life and practice. Get them accurate, articulated, and written.
  3. Create a clear written vision of where you want to take your practice. Then cocreate, with the team, a shared vision for the practice.
  4. Enroll a key person in the practice. You need a wingman or wingwoman who wants the same outcomes as you. They want to get there in the same way by which you want it to happen. This person becomes an influencer, a “keeper of the culture.” Choose wisely.
  5. Expand the alignment of values and direction 1 person at a time. Invest the time in developing your people. Enable your “keeper of the culture” to develop other keepers of the culture. Stay firm in your commitment to developing your team.

This leads to a powerful culture that can withstand the onslaught of cancellations, chaotic schedules, difficult patients, miscommunications, and insurance issues. It leads to constant and never-ending improvements. People step up in surprising ways.

A powerful culture is never a “1 and done” type activity. There are too many daily pressures tugging at it from different directions. It takes constant reinforcement, reminders, training, encouragement, and realignment.

We are talking about leadership to create a powerful culture. Be relentless in this pursuit. It will pay huge dividends.

Phil Bride, MBA, is deeply experienced in building successful teams and organizations. With more than 30 years of business growth and development experience, he guides teams through the next stages of their business journey.

Bride earned his master of business administration and bachelor of science degrees from the University of Portland. He was previously the president of the international business intelligence company JRI, and has developed teams around the world. He is certified in professional assessments (DISC, AI). Bride’s experience and approach to coaching teams have created environments of growth in his clients. He focuses on the continued growth and improvements of business engines in a practice. He can be reached at 503-753-9971 or

This article was reprinted from Dental Products Report®, a sister publication.

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