Culture Attracts Quality

Dentists often ask me how they can build a great dental team, and my answer always is this: make your practice a great place to work. Not just how well you pay, but what the environment is like. That means creating an exceptional business culture. A culture is defined by how you treat each other, how you treat customers, and more importantly, what you will and you won’t do for money.  But it starts with knowing the purpose of your business.Dental team pair

There are two wrong ways to go with regard to purpose: one, not having one, and two, having your purpose be about making money.  If you don’t have a purpose, then no one really knows why they are there, so they just fulfill their basic functions and go home.  And making money should be a by-product of running your business well and fulfilling your purpose, not the purpose itself. If it’s all about the Benjamins, then patients will know, and your team will project that as well.

I think your purpose should be clearly defined for everyone, and presumably be about helping people understand and accept treatment in order to be healthier.  You can define it specifically for yourself, but do define it and make sure everyone knows it. And then work on your culture, which is everyone’s responsibility.

A culture that attracts great employees has some key elements:

  1. People are encouraged to learn and grow
  2. People are supportive of each other
  3. People are honest with each other, including management
  4. People hold each other accountable
  5. Appreciation is expressed often, in many forms
  6. People have a sense of accomplishment (the purpose is being fulfilled)
  7. It’s fun to be there

This doesn’t mean people don’t work hard. Part of a great culture is having people who really want to accomplish something every day, and leave satisfied.

The right culture attracts top performers, and keeps them.  The best employees don’t just care about money (just like the best businesses), they care about where they work, what they achieve, and who they achieve it with. Dentistry is a clean, purposeful industry.  Capitalize on it. Why have an office where everyone is moaning and complaining like they work at the DMV? Culture is the gravitational pull of great employees. And it is has that same effect on patients. And of course, this is what patients are going to talk about online. (For more on what people write about, read this previous blog.)

I’ve noticed something very unusual about dentistry: no one ever has buyer’s remorse.  People have it all the time with many of the things they spend money on: clothes, cars, electronic equipment, even houses, but when it comes to dentistry, they never say, “Man, I wish I hadn’t spent that money on my teeth.”  So what does that tell you? It clearly shows that we have something very unusual that we do.  We get people to do something that they are often very reluctant to do, but are always glad that they did in the end.

So in the dental field there is a bonus for everyone, which is you’re making people’s lives better.  What a wonderful thing to get to do every day!  Why not do it for as many people as possible? Which means you have to be selective in hiring.  Not just someone who has a good skill set, but is also fits your culture.

Another reason why culture is important is that there isn’t a lot of room for advancement in a dental practice, unlike most other businesses. When you take promotions out of the equation, it makes a strong culture all the more critical to attract and keep the best employees.

Oh, and one last thing. A great culture is not afraid to fire people.  The CEO of Zappos, the online clothing business, is a friend of mine. His company has a phenomenal culture–one of the best I’ve ever seen. And I asked him once what he would have done differently on his way to $2 billion in annual revenue. And he said, “I would have fired people more quickly and hired people more slowly.”  This from a man who has averaged over $100 million dollars of growth every year he’s been in business.  (For more thoughts on letting people go, check out my blog on why firing someone is actually an act of kindness and generosity.)

The cornerstone of your practice success–and your practice marketing–is the quality of your team. Another quote, from HubSpot, another company with a phenomenal corporate culture, is “compromising on culture is mortgaging your future. The interest on culture debt is crushingly high.”

Words of warning, best heeded in the age of online reviews, increased competition, and dental insurance uncertainty.


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4 thoughts on “Culture Attracts Quality

  1. This is the first time I’ve seen someone mention a lack of buyer’s remorse in dentistry. Great observation! When you factor out the clinical failures – and we all occasionally have them – patients are nearly always happy with the treatment they received. You just summarized this phenomenon perfectly.

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