Dental practices are businesses, and the best businesses have cultures of extreme accountability. In Levin Group's 30-year ongoing study of the top 10% producing practices, we found that one of the reasons these practices consistently performed at high levels was the existence of a culture of accountability within the practice.
There's a remarkably simple definition of accountability: people doing exactly what they say they are going to do.
Many business functions are made far more complex than they need to be. Accountability is not one of those. It is simply people doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and how it should be done to achieve the expected result.
If you have a practice full of team members who are committed to doing exactly what they say they are going to do, then you have a highly efficient and smooth-running practice. You never have to follow up with people, nag, have anxiety about what is not getting done, or stress over the fact that it might not get done at all.
When you have a practice that gets things done, the only other concern is whether you are delegating everything that needs and can be delegated. Delegation is another one of those keys to successful, high-performing practices that allows doctors to do what they were trained to do: perform dentistry.
One of the missing factors in creating high levels of accountability is clear communication from the leader. There are many leaders who believe they communicate extremely well but discover that the recipient of the communication isn't clear at all on what has been said.
Leaders must be clear, easy to understand, and effective in explaining the expected results. They also need to ensure they are delegating to people who have the proper training to be accountable. You cannot be accountable if you are untrained in a job.
A culture of accountability dictates that every team member who accepts direction or a request from a doctor, office manager, or even another team member owns that specific action, and it will get done no matter what. When obstacles occur (and they will), the team member doesn't simply sit back and stop being accountable. They circle back to the individual who gave them the task, review the situation, and adjust.
6 ways to improve accountability in your office
1. Always give a deadline.
Nothing creates more breakdowns with accountability than the absence of a deadline. For example, if you ask a team member to complete a task without a deadline and you want it done today, the team member may think it's OK to wait a week. This can result in inefficiencies, breakdowns, and customer service issues.
When you provide a deadline, it gives the team member an opportunity to decide whether they can get the task done. If they don't think they can handle it, they can respond accordingly and ask what needs to be shifted to complete the task.
2. Understand how much time is involved.
When you make a request of another person and expect them to be accountable, you need to be realistic about how much time the action will take. We have seen many practices that make a request of a team member and think that the task will only take a few minutes when it might take far longer.
An excellent example is trying to contact a patient so that the doctor can speak to them. This can result in telephone and text messaging tag and take several days. Or in a more extreme example, if the patient is on vacation for 10 days, then they will be unavailable.
The key is to be realistic about how long something will take relative to the deadline that has been given. Many requests may take longer than expected. Be sure to build in the right amount of time and, in some cases, pad your time frame.
3. Let the team know that it's OK to negotiate a request or a deadline.
Team members should feel comfortable explaining when something may not be possible to complete by the deadline. This is a positive negotiation and not a reflection of a bad attitude. Doctors who understand that giving team members the power to negotiate the terms of a request are excellent leaders.
4. Be sure to allow feedback.
Any time a team member cannot complete a task for any reason, they should report back to the individual who assigned them the task as quickly as possible. This can lead to multiple levels of decision-making, including not performing the task at all, creating new strategies for completing the task, or renegotiating the deadline.
Renegotiating deadlines is a customary practice and is acceptable if there is clear communication between everyone involved. Challenges that come up when pursuing a task must be analyzed and decisions need to be made about the best way to manage them while pursuing true accountability.
5. Explain the desired result.
One of the No. 1 factors leading to failure of accountability is when the other person does not understand the desired result of the task. For example, simply leaving a message for a patient who is overdue for an appointment is not an acceptable result when the real accountability is scheduling the overdue patient. Many systems break down in practices because the desired result is not understood.
6. Always ask if there are any questions.
In any delegation of responsibility, it is essential to ask the other individual if they have questions. You always want to give permission for the individual to take a moment to understand the task and ask any questions.
Create an environment where team members are always comfortable asking doctors, office managers, or each other questions when accepting a task or as they are trying to complete a task. Good questions can save lots of time and energy, and the desired result is more likely to be achieved.
Another reason to ask for questions is that you may believe you are a clear communicator, but that may not be what is perceived by the other individual who is now accountable for completing the task. Allowing for questions empowers the team and goes a long way toward enhancing accountability and achieving excellent results.
Accountability is a key factor in the success of any practice or business. Practices with low accountability often experience breakdowns in the systems, lower practice production, and more stress.
The more accountable the team, the more efficient the practice, and the better the systems are followed. This all typically leads to higher production, profit, and income. It also leads to a happier and more satisfying career for everyone in the practice as well as building and maintaining an excellent team environment.
Dr. Roger P. Levin is CEO of Levin Group, a leading practice management and marketing consulting firm. To contact him or to join the 40,000 dental professionals who receive his Practice Production Tip of the Day, visit LevinGroup.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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