Does your practice have a mission statement? Many practices do. For that matter, so do many muffler shops and cafes and just about any other kind of business. That's because a mission statement can be easy to create – just write down some lofty ideals and you're done.

I know because I have spent a lot of time over the years teaching about mission, vision and values. Over that time, I found the exercise of creating a mission statement, or a statement of values, tends to lead to fantasy-thinking.

The problem then becomes that you end up with a document – one that is supposed to inform your patients and inspire your dental practice team – that is actually disconnected from the reality. It's what experts in organizational theory refer to as the difference between espoused values and values in action. When those two things don't match up, you are looking at an organization that is not systematizing what is really important to it.

Often the problems come down to language that is too broad. Take this sample line, which you could find in some form in many dental practice mission statements:

We provide quality care that patients need to maintain their oral health.

Sounds like a fine objective for a dental office, right? But is it really? First of all, who defines “quality care”? Who defines “need”? And is maintenance all you're really aiming for?

Here's one way to re-frame these thoughts into something that actually reflects what you are committed to in the practice:

We help our patients to accept the best care possible and to invest in dentistry that improves their lives.

“Best care possible” sets a much higher standard than “quality care” and the line makes it clear that great dentistry is an investment people make in personal growth. That's a message you want your patients to come away with, and it's one you can use to instill accountability within the team. It's a mission statement worthy of the “values in action” of an outstanding dental practice.

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