The most important thing that any of us have as it pertains to our work life is our time. The more time we have, the more money we can make. The more time we can dedicate toward productive and money-making areas, the better financial return we will have based on our time. With this theory in mind, do you ever ask yourself, "Where does all of my time go?"
I asked myself that question just about every day when I first started my company and was trying to personally take on all the work. As small-business owners, we are constantly worrying about keeping our overhead low. After all, that is what the big-time consultants tell us to do, right? Low overhead equals more profits. Oddly enough, most people think the answer to solving this issue is "I'll do more of the grunt work myself." My response: Wrong! The answer is to maintain a good, strong support staff and empower the team.
Dentists make their money by being in their operatories. Their hygienists should mirror this idea. In a business, you have producers (who generate revenues) and the support team (who support the producers). If you are a producer but spend time on the support team, revenues are lost and, in essence, power and responsibilities are removed from your staff.
Generally speaking, it is inefficient to have a staff that's bored or not being challenged. These team members need to be given the opportunity to excel and feel like they are an integral part of the office and team. If the producers are pinch-hitting for the support staff regarding their responsibilities and duties, they are setting the wrong example.
On the other hand, if your support staff members "can't" do the assigned responsibilities or "don't want to," the solution is simple: Train them or fire them. When I say this to dentists, the most common response I receive is "But she has been part of my staff for eight years and everyone likes her, but I know she cannot handle the role we are discussing."
This isn't a healthy response. You have a business to run and your business cannot revolve around employees. If your business model, ideals, philosophy, and objectives can be pushed around and modified by your staff's weaknesses, then what does your office really stand for? Your staff needs to set a clear impression of your practice. You have to match the quality of work you perform with the quality of people you have supporting you.
A great dentist with a C-league support staff isn't going to help your practice grow and succeed. I worked with a dentist in the Midwest who wanted to sell his practice. The first thing he told me was "My front desk lady has worked for me for 23 years, and I should have fired her 22 years ago. The new buyer won't want to rehire her."
My jaw dropped to the floor. The only question I could muster was "Why didn't you fire her?" He went on to tell me that he lost well over 300 patients directly or indirectly because of her during the course of the first two years, but he couldn't bring himself to release her, so he accepted her shortfalls as an employee.
Let's do the math: The average patient generated this dentist $650 per year in revenues. So $650 x 150 = $97,5000 per year in revenue lost. So over the course of 22 years, a total loss of more than $2 million was incurred. This is a perfect example of why we need our support staff to fit into our practice philosophy that we, as business owners, work hard to create, and if they are not capable, then replace the staff member.
It comes down to either using the "crutch" or the getting the "surgery." The crutch could be anyone from the support staff member, hygienist, associate dentist, accountant, marketing expert, consultant, etc. who is not helping you become the producer you are meant to be. The crutch helps you limp around and do an OK job, but you aren't anywhere close to the dentist you are supposed to be, nor is your office living up to its full potential.
I do not believe that individuals go into any profession hoping to be just OK at their job. The surgery consists of properly repairing a damaged area of your practice. In this example, it would be ultimately empowering, training, and holding your support team accountable to support you and the other producers and bein aligned with the practice vision.
Now to get to the Michael Jordan reference, I once worked with a dentist who had an average office. Nothing was the way he wanted it to run, and the office's standard overall was "Good is good enough." This dentist told me that he "felt like Michael Jordan in a swimming pool" in his office.
Just try and picture that in your head for a second. Michael Jordan in a swimming pool still probably beats most of the other swimmers in a race, but Michael Jordan on the basketball court is in a league of his own. This dentist could not get his support team to really support him and the office the way he needed them to. Ultimately, instead of firing the staff or retraining them to his standards and expectations, he sold his office and took a job as an associate employee dentist.
My parting words: Take action, and be sure to protect your time as the producer. Do something to make sure you and your support team are on your own individual basketball courts where you are great versus in the swimming pool where you are each just OK.
Andy Lemhkuhl is a principal at dental practice consulting firm Edge Advisors in West Allis, WI.
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