Author's note: I wrote this article a couple of months ago, but of course, with the way things are now, a couple of months ago seems like a different era – because it was. I'm posting it now in the interest of looking back and looking forward.
Looking back to a time when we were traveling, socializing and putting our arms around new friends, the memory brings a smile to my face, and I hope reading the story brings a smile to yours. But this article is also about looking forward, and about creating a culture that uplifts and inspires those who come in contact with it – an important focus for you as you re-establishing relationships with patients.
As different as things are now, we know we will be getting back to the world we knew. And when we do, I know a place I want to visit again.
Earlier this year, as part of a memorable vacation, I spent some time in Fiji at a spectacular island resort. One of the things I enjoy most about an experience like this, apart from the incredible scenery, is the personalized attention you get from the resort staff. When you think about it, the “luxury” part of “luxury resort” really depends a lot on that attention. The quality of the suites and the terrific food plays a part for sure, but what really make the experience special is how committed everyone is to ensuring your comfort.
From the pick-up at the airport, to the welcome on the island, and through every interaction thereafter, every member of the resort staff has a way of making you feel like you are the most important person in the world to them. Because, at that moment, you are.
Naturally, in environment like that, it doesn't take long to start to feel a special connection with the people who are devoting themselves to your well-being. One person in particular stood out for us. She always seemed to be there when we needed her. It's not that she was hovering around us constantly; it was just that she had a way of anticipating when we might need something and made sure to take care of things before they could become an issue. And she had an irresistible personality – always smiling, always genuinely warm and caring, always positive and energetic.
When it came time for us to head home, I knew it was going to be an adjustment to leave such a comforting environment. But there was still one surprise left.
As we got out of the car at the airport, I was making my way toward the luggage carts when I heard a familiar voice behind me.
“Do you need a cart, Mr. Manji?”
I turned around to see our friend from the resort. Once again, she had anticipated our needs. But the thing was, she had not accompanied us to the airport from the island. We were startled to see her and we asked what she was doing there. She explained that it was her day off, but she wouldn't feel complete if she wasn't there to see us off. So she came out to the airport on her own. She took two buses to get there. At night.
Needless to say, we were overwhelmed by this simple, yet profound, gesture of goodwill. We hugged and laughed and got to say our goodbyes. It was an especially memorable end to a memorable trip.
I keep thinking about this experience lately as I have been working on material about developing a culture of success in the practice, and how important it is for independent practices to differentiate themselves by creating an environment that gives patients a comforting sense of belonging.
Many people will say that the kind of team member I have described in this story is an exception, an outlier, the kind of top performer that is very hard to find. And I acknowledge that travelling on your day off to say goodbye to a client is exceptionally extraordinary behavior. But that kind of exceptional behavior is ingrained in the staff of that resort. In fact, each team member there is encouraged to ask themselves: “What is something I did today that went above and beyond expectations?”
And it isn't necessarily a matter of finding one exceptional person. I have had the privilege over the years of visiting many elite, high-performing dental practices. And in each of those practices I get the same feeling that I got when I was in that resort in Fiji – the feeling that I was the most important person in the world, no matter which team member I was speaking with.
This kind of culture is attainable in any practice. You don't necessarily have to find new people, or pay the team above and beyond market rates to achieve it. But you may have to go above and beyond what you usually do in developing team alignment strategies. You may have to get the team committed to a curriculum of online courses – including courses on team meetings and developing a culture. You may have to invest more time in those meetings, as that is where team alignment really occurs.
The bottom line is, our “star performer” in Fiji was not just an exceptional person – she was also the product of a culture of success. Many people have that ability within them to be exceptional. You just need to give them the context in which to shine.
I hope you all are using some of the time you have available now to think about how to build a culture like this in your practice. What online courses can you take? What new ideas can you implement when you get the full team back in the practice?
In the meantime, here's a tip for a fun way to keep up team spirit during these times when staff members are apart. It comes from my friend, Dr. Lou Berman, a Spear Resident Faculty member and endodontist in Maryland. He and his partner continue to hold team meetings online and they have recently introduced the idea of a having a “virtual scavenger hunt.”
It occurs during a 7 p.m. happy hour and it involves announcing items from a list of common household objects, which the participants have to run off and find. The first one to return and show the object to the camera wins an Amazon gift card. I think that is a great example of a creative way to inspire engagement and maintain camaraderie in a time when things are so unsettled. I encourage you to borrow this idea and dream up some of your own. It's little things like this that go a long way toward shaping the culture of your practice.