5 doctors around a table looking at a laptop

This article first appeared in Dental Economics. Reprinted with permission of Endeavor Business Media. All rights reserved.

The beginning of the year can be busy for many dental teams, so squeezing in planning for next year can be challenging. But if you knew that taking just a few hours before you close the practice for the holidays to do just five things that would prepare you, your team and your practice up for sweet success in 2020, would you do it?

Would you do it, especially if you knew it was a recipe to reduce stress, increase efficiency and make it a better experience for your patients, your team and you? Hopefully, your answer is a loud and enthusiastic “Yes!”

So, where to start? Right now, without hesitation, go set aside some uninterrupted time on the schedule where you can gather as a team to think about the future. Make sure you assign a facilitator to keep the brainstorming and action planning on track. Remember, a facilitator is not necessarily the doctor, office manager or leader. The role of a facilitator is to make sure everyone contributes, and desired actions are agreed upon and can be executed. A facilitator is someone who can manage time, distractions, and the focus of the discussion.

And one last tip, before we hop into our five ingredients: always implement the two-minute rule. If the problem is not the meeting’s primary focus and can’t be solved in two minutes, it gets placed in the “parking lot” for future discussion. This can be one session or multiple shorter sessions, depending on your schedule. Be sure to capture all the great thinking and ideas, and at the end, have a written plan that everyone has agreed on. Are you ready for the five-step recipe to future success? Great! Let’s get cooking!

No. 1 – Identify and document what you ‘baked’

Always start with the positives: your systems’ strengths. Teams seem to have an amazingly short-term memory when it comes to what went right, and they tend to focus and plan strategy based on the challenges they faced, not the successes they “baked.” Yet, it’s so very important to identify what worked, because what gets acknowledged gets repeated.

The end of the year is the perfect time to identify what you did right and capture that recipe for success. Look at any and all systems. Did you see a remarkable increase in patient referrals? Did the hygiene department enjoy a higher recall rate? Did marketing bring in more new patients than ever before, and were those patients a great fit for the practice? As a team, identify what went right. Then, more importantly, determine why. There could be one big reason or many small reasons. List the reasons “why” that thing went right and build on them. In other words, what did you successful bake and why?

No. 2 – Have a recipe

A recipe is merely a plan on how to cook a specific dish. And when it comes to practice success, you need a recipe. In fact, you need many recipes – one for every system in your practice! As I mentioned, you have to have a written plan that everyone agrees on. If you do brainstorming and generate great ideas, but have no plan to implement them, you’ve wasted time. If your team is given goals without a plan or any accountability, they may not be able to see the path and will become confused and cynical. This is not the way to get things done.

Don’t be afraid of the plan. You can’t kill a practice by one misstep in an overall strategic plan based on key performance indicator (KPI) statistics. Be sure not to develop analysis paralysis and be afraid to make a decision because it’s not a sure thing. You delay the excellence you can achieve today by focusing on tomorrow’s perfection. A great plan has built-in flexibility, allowing you to shift as necessary.

So, when you apply this to strategic planning, goal-setting, and plan implementation in the dental practice, you measure daily, and analyze and adjust your KPI's weekly, quarterly and yearly. When you do, your systems will get better and so will each of the individuals on your team. Congratulations! You have a pastry case filled with delicious options!

No. 3 – Look at what got burned

Yesterday’s challenges are merely tomorrow’s opportunities. (Now that’s a Hallmark card, if I do say so myself.) When analyzing the challenges/opportunities or the areas where you went up in flames, it’s important that there is no blame, shame, or regret. It takes a team to succeed, which means when something falls short, everyone plays a role in it, too.

By listing and analyzing what went “less than right” (also known as, ahem, “wrong”) it will give you a pathway to what you need to do differently for better results. When you have the plan, you’ll enjoy security, control and predictable outcomes. By critically looking at success and failure, you will start the new year with best practices to protect you. If your system’s cake fell flat, change the recipe!

No. 4 – Measuring matters!

In this step, you identify the temperature for baking success and how to determine when your cake is done. Strategize first by statistics. Every system that impacts the success of the practice can be measured, usually in multiple ways.

For example, the following statistics are critical to determine if your practice website is working hard to attract, capture, and retain patients: click rate, bounce rate, the time visitors spend on each page, and the percent of new patient conversions. Another system to examine statistically is treatment planning. Statistics include percent of patients who scheduled treatment, what treatment was scheduled (by treatment type, cost, and doctor), and what percent of recommended treatment was declined or delayed. Only then can you determine what’s working (and why) and what’s not working (and why).

Once statistics act as flags that point to successes and challenges in your systems, you can follow the path and create a strategy for improvement. For example, let’s say your statistics show that successful treatment planning and case acceptance is strong when the cost of care is less than $100. But you see acceptance decrease as cost increases.

You and your team can have a productive conversation on (1) when and how payment responsibilities and options have been presented to patients and (2) what guidelines/ options the team can introduce differently in order to improve treatment value and commitment for more costly and complex care. Your practice KPIs would include scheduling, financial, treatment planning, re-care, new-patient acquisition, marketing, online presence, retention, referrals, and more. To bake your cake, know your measurements of the ingredients and the oven temperature first!

No. 5 – Try new recipes for even greater success

When it comes to setting goals, be a possibility thinker, not a probability thinker. When you set goals, you can’t plan on “doing the same thing” because nothing stays the same; it either gets better or it gets worse.

As the team leader, it’s your job to compel your team forward by setting goals that are realistic, reasonable and just a little bit out of reach. People like to strive for better. No one is, or at least they shouldn’t be, enthusiastically committed to average. Many dentists are afraid to stretch goals because anything less is perceived as failure. The truth is if you don’t go for the gold, then you may not get a silver or bronze.

Dreamers celebrate the small wins on the journey to the big win. So, dare to dream a little. Your cake may not win the baking competition but go for it anyway!

Amy Morgan is Vice President of Consulting Strategy, a member of Spear Resident Faculty and former CEO of Pride Institute.