I was taking questions at recent conference when the topic of dental consultants, and this question in particular, came up:

“What does a consultant know that I don't know? After all, I have been a dentist and practice owner for many years.”

It's a fair question. And as someone who has been a practice consultant, and was at one time the CEO of the largest dental consulting firm in North America, I think I have some insight to offer.

The “broad strokes” answer is to say that a good consultant provides an invaluable outside perspective. Even the best world-class athletes get important coaching from people who have never played the game at the same level but who have a talent for spotting flaws in execution and offering strategies to drive improvement in someone's game. Similarly, practice consultants are trained to find weak spots, outline a vision, set tangible goals and give you the tools to implement and stick to your strategies.

That's the big picture. Now I'll let you in on three specific things a dental consultant knows:

  1. The first thing a consultant knows is that everyone has gaps in their practice between what they know and what they do. We know this is generally true of anyone. It's part of the human condition to be imperfect. What the consultant does is hold a mirror up to you, shine the light on those gaps, quantify them, amplify anxiety around them, help you see your pain that's caused by them, highlight advantages that come from solving them, and create desire to close those gaps. This is the essence of a consultant's sales pitch. Look at what you are losing. Look at how it is holding you back. Look at what it could be like.
  2. The second thing a consultant knows is that most people won't take action unless there is something at stake. The consultant knows, by the very nature of the fees that they charge you, that once you have skin in the game and you have an expectation of results, it sets up the framework for the consultant to do their job. And that job is to come into the practice, to change mindsets, to coach, to implement new strategies, and to drive energy and focus around the things that will close all those gaps. That whole process is enabled by the doctor's commitment because “this is costing me money.” (That's why any smart consultant would never offer their services on a free trial basis without a really strong personal commitment from the doctor. Free advice is easy to not act on, because there is no skin in the game.)
  3. The third thing a consultant knows is that the consulting process must be high-energy at the beginning to overcome inertia. The biggest effort always comes at the start, when you try to get people to change and become open to new ideas. Eventually, when the first new results occur, momentum takes hold and then you can apply that energy to the next area of focus.

The reason I am telling you this is because, as I've written, you now have the opportunity in many ways to become your own consultant. The purpose of this very website is largely about taking the best knowledge that is out there and making it more broadly and easily available. The wealth of clinical, practice management and value creation education currently at your fingertips is astounding.

But, as in any case when you have an abundance of choices, it makes sense to have a plan of attack. So as you venture into this world of limitless education, keep those three secrets of the consultant in mind: Know your gaps and prioritize your strategies. Invest the right time and resources so you have some skin in the game. And be prepared to go big at the beginning to beat gravity.

(Read more dentistry articles by Imtiaz Manji.)