Raise your hand if you have experienced any sense of anxiety, fear or stress as a result of all the COVID-19 news we are dealing with during this unique moment in time.
With information coming at you 24/7, it’s hard to believe you can steer a positive course for your practice and patients. But you can and you must. The key is to keep everyone moving in a positive direction by creating a sense of urgency to move and act now.
Your job as a heath care provider is to be a port in the storm for your patients and your community. At Spear we’ve got your back, so let’s tackle this challenge together!
One of my favorite authorities on change management is John Kotter. One of his many books, “A Sense of Urgency,” is perfect for creating a foundation of success, especially during times of community emergency. Kotter said the first step in creating a “true sense of urgency” is to fully understand the opposites: complacency and false urgency.
SPEAR PRACTICE SOLUTIONS: As the public health crisis unfolds, Practice Solutions clients are receiving customized action plans, advice from their dedicated remote consultants and real-time analytics. Speak with our practice growth experts to learn how your team can navigate this challenging time.
Let’s start with understanding what “false urgency” is, because at Spear Practice Solutions this is what we observe and deal with in most of our client practices. False urgency is created through intense pressure, threats or feelings of failure (both present and future) being applied to a situation. Boy, are we experiencing that right now with the impact of the coronavirus crisis on dental practices. And since dentistry has a raging problem with perfectionism, our community is particularly vulnerable to these feelings.
Let’s say you are a general practitioner in the Midwest and your average monthly production is $70,000-$80,000. Normally, the practice attracts 10-12 new patients a month (referral only) and production has steadily increased 3-5% per year — pretty much in alignment with fee increases. But you watch the news every night and based on the closures and concerns about the virus spread, you’re sure your patients are going to start feeling the pinch.
So, you walk in on the first day of the new week and discover your schedule is wide open and hygiene has more holes than usual. You panic, call a team meeting and threaten job cuts if the problem persists. But no one looks at the platform and does an analysis of the situation or tries to come up with a specific plan to address the problem. Instead, you are happy the team is now just as stressed as you are!
This scenario creates a tremendous amount of false urgency — your team is running around, calling anybody they can, blaming different departments for mistakes and failures and working themselves up to a frenzy of defensiveness, blame and frustration.
Compare this to a “complacent” team. Kotter defines complacency as “a feeling of contentment or self satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger or trouble.”
Complacency also derives from how you perceive yourself as it relates to your own behavior. Even if your team members acknowledge problems in the practice, they don’t necessarily see the connection between changes in their own actions and the challenges in the practice and will inevitably maintain the status quo. The scary thing is, complacent teams very rarely know they are complacent, because they think they are doing what is right to be successful.
For example, let’s highlight a periodontal practice in the South. This particular practice team prides itself on being an effective and they have many referring general practices because of their long-term relationship building. They also have had very specific marketing plans including their Spear Study Club, lunch-and-learns, CE opportunities and going the extra mile to acknowledge their top referring practices.
As a result of marketing strategies, this practice did more implants last year than any prior year and were goaled to do even more in 2020 prior to the sweeping announcements to curb the spread of COVID-19. Their top referring practices are now panicking as schools and airports close, patients cancel their appointments, and local and national dental authorities make recommendations on emergency patient care. As a result, they have already heard some rumblings from other specialists indicating that general practices may be referring less because of the potential economic downturn. The team has noticed less implant consults but is not worried because of all the marketing tactics they have in place. They blame the slow down on the national emergency and console themselves with the belief that eventually things will pick up.
Neither the false urgency nor the complacency will lead our two example practices to better success in a very challenging environment. The only solution is to create a true sense of urgency — where there is not only buy in to the logic that “there seem to be real problems and we need to pro-actively confront the present and future strategies to fix them,” but also a set of feelings that creates “a compulsive determination to move and win, now.”
4 key strategies to create true urgency to address COVID-19 dental practice challenges
1. Give your team the important facts
In the first example, the doctor had his “facts” wrong. Based on just one day’s worth of production, without using the Practice Solutions platform for more perspective, he immediately concluded the practice was in its initial death spiral and called a “reign of terror” team meeting. Managing by judgment is never the right answer. What is needed before reacting are facts that unemotionally identify strengths and challenges.
If our panicked doctor had reviewed his statistics with his team, he may have discovered a different story. He may have started the new month scheduled below production goal, but what’s the big picture?
Where is the practice year-to-date (production and collections)? Where is the practice in terms of last year’s successes? Are new patient numbers increasing or decreasing in the long term? And are the new patients the target profile that fits the vision values and goals of the practice? Are most patients of record still saying “yes” to significant treatment and if not, what’s the primary objection? Are all expense percentages above or below the goal percentages for profitability? These are the facts that can lead to focused proactive strategies that will stop a downtrend with no blame, shame or regret.
2. Win the hearts and minds of your team
The doctor in our second example needs to engage her self-directed team to want to improve their own processes. To start, she needs the team to agree the facts are pointing towards a problem.
This involves analyzing and acknowledging what is truly working in the practice here and now, how to adapt with immediate impact to the short term, as well as challenging the team to grow beyond their prior success once the emergency has passed. To engage the heart, a leader cannot use threats or strictly negative consequences like, “We won’t have raises this year if we keep losing implant consults.” It needs to sound more like, “As the best team of individuals that I have ever worked with, how can we help our struggling community so that we can take our relationships to an even higher level of loyalty and succeed in any economy?” This demonstrates the doctor trusts and believes in their team. By focusing on involving the team and fully utilizing their skills and talents, they become engaged in addressing the challenges of the present and future.
3. Commit to solving one problem at a time
Once both of our dentists have analyzed the right facts and engaged their teams, it’s time to do something different to get a different result. The biggest issue we see when practices attempt to solve problems is the impulse to fix everything at once.
For example, focusing on the messaging needed to keep patients focused on their dental care, while planning for making up any current damage done is what everyone should be focusing on now! For the long term, once the COVID-19 virus is contained, if the number one problem is making dentistry affordable for the patient, then the action plan must be focused on that.
Will you offer deeper courtesy adjustments for patients still willing to pay in full? Will you investigate more external financing options to support your patients? Will you provide internal financing for patients of record — for longer periods of time? And if so, how will you make sure patients remain accountable to their financial arrangement? The last thing that should be added to the action plan are marketing steps, treatment presentation tweaks and scheduling upgrades.
4. Celebrate success along the way
Let’s face the truth: dentists tend toward negativity, even in the best of times.
The desire for perfection in a full-mouth reconstruction contributes toward the same desire for perfection in running a dental practice. If you wait for the end of a perfect year to celebrate your team’s commitment and achievement of all the benchmarks that contributed to that year, you will have a very under-acknowledged and underappreciated team. People must feel that they are moving in a positive direction, especially when the goals are daunting and out of reach (for the moment).
The best leaders praise progress. By praise I don’t mean, “Hey we didn’t screw up too badly today, here’s a candy bar.” I mean that it is the number one priority of every dentist to catch his or her team doing something right (or almost right) and to analyze and acknowledge that achievement, especially now! If our doctor in the first example works with his team and adds an additional $10,000 to the schedule in the first week after the difficult month, he had better call a meeting to praise the team and discuss how it was accomplished, identify what skills need to be reinforced, and — most importantly — emphasize how the highlighted, new behaviors will contribute to continued success.
Make no mistake, creating true urgency takes time, thought and effort. It requires collaboration, purposeful communication, great analysis and strategic thinking. To a dentist struggling to stay afloat, this may sound like “fiddling while Rome is burning.” The bottom line is, if you want patients and team to positively move forward with you during challenging times, this is the answer.
Now, go out there and create some true urgency! We got this!
Amy Morgan is Vice President of Consulting Strategy, a member of Spear Resident Faculty and former CEO of Pride Institute.