How to create a positive culture during and after COVID-19

By James Anderson, DMD, DrBicuspid contributing writer

July 17, 2020 -- Does a dental practice need a robust culture to survive in today's upside-down world? The answer is a resounding yes.

As businesses are opening (depending on the state's decisions), many are not returning, which includes some dental practices. According to Forbes financial magazine, a recent list of companies on the verge of collapse continues to grow. At this point, we may never truly be post-COVID-19, so we must incorporate the new threat into our practice's culture.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to update its guidance for dental practices. Across the country, we are heeding the call and practicing according to ADA, CDC, and local guidelines. We are weaving new protocols into the fabric of our everyday dental life and adjusting to the changes.

James Anderson, DMD
James Anderson, DMD.

With all the looming precautions mixed with fear and confusion, whether patients enjoy our customer service seems a bit obscure. We used to boast of warm and friendly staff and an assortment of gourmet coffees and teas in our reception room, and we now boast of hand sanitizer locations, free masks, wipes, and temperature-taking upon arrival. The vibe is "the unknown" rather than the excellent feeling, aromatherapy-scented air that used to welcome our patients. It is as if our culture is now one of sanitation and survival.

Before the pandemic, did you have a practice mission statement or a set of core values that guided the vision of your dental care? Have you thought of it lately? Do you have the same team as before the pandemic forced you to lay off all or most of your staff? It is time to reconnect to your vision, mission, and values.

The values of a caring and kind dental practice dedicated to communication and excellent customer service are still what patients want and need, especially now.

When culture is not clearly defined and lived, every team member will have a different definition of how he or she is supposed to perform his or her job in the dental practice. New paradigms require new accountability and new direction as to what is expected of team members in their positions and support of the practice core values.

Take the time to write down and define the new culture that includes values, goals, and extra measures to feel safe. Create transparent and nonsubjective ways to bring the team together to build an influential culture of values.

Implementing a clearly defined practice culture benefits the dentist's/management's leadership qualities in the eyes of the team. Having a framework of core values opens the door to coaching the team members to be the best they can be. Allowing all members an opportunity to be problem-solvers and to move into leadership positions will give them a feeling of empowerment and purpose.

To create a positive culture for your dental practice, include the following values:

  • Open the conversation about what the practice does to make employees feel valued.
  • Define and discuss what is promised to employees to support them in completing their work to meet best practices.
  • Record a statement into the policy of what you do to ensure employees have a safe place to express their concerns about their working conditions and systems.
  • Create a core value of the promise to give employees honest feedback and opportunities for coaching or training to improve skills.
  • Confirm that employees are encouraged to speak the truth to the dentist/management and what management will do to create "win-win" situations for all employees.
  • Design the practice environment to represent how you want people to feel when they walk through the door. Is it a place of quiet and peaceful serenity, or is it a fast-paced, high-energy practice with lots of motion and activity? Is it a "green" practice that promotes saving the earth? Is it a practice that thrives on the latest and newest products and services? Are you serious and professional, or are you laid back, open, friendly, and engaging?

Creating a positive practice culture will attract and keep patients who share your values and feel safe in your care. Your team will feel less anxious and more confident when they see and feel that the practice culture also supports their needs and concerns.

James Anderson, DMD, is a practicing dentist in Syracuse, UT, and is the CEO and founder of eAssist Dental Solutions. He can be reached via email.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.


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