Inside Dentistry
Jul/Aug 2010
Volume 6, Issue 7

The Clarity Imperative

Angie Skinner

Why getting everyone on the same page matters.

Lee looked across his desk at me with a facial expression that defied easy analysis. In my mind, it was a mixture of disgust, hopelessness, and resignation. His next comment, which I have certainly heard before, was accurate in his mind…but actually it was not true at all.

He said, “I feel more like I work for my staff than the other way around. They’re resistant to any change I request. When I do get them to do something, they stop as soon as they think I won’t notice. I don’t have any power over them. I feel like I can’t win. In fact, based on what’s been going on for the past 3 years, I can’t win!”

You might wonder why I say Lee’s statement was not true, when it most definitely seemed true to him at the time; Lee had not yet instituted some desperately needed clarifiers in his practice. Let me explain.

If employees are crystal clear about their roles or responsibilities, then they have the freedom and leverage to achieve their goals in a variety of ways. It is when employees are not sure of their roles that their ability to act (or respond, or preemptively strike) is compromised. In an effort to make changes, we had to communicate more with the team, set goals, and change the way everyone worked together.

Now, that may sound like a pretty tall order, but it was easier than you might imagine. Lee’s team was smart; they might have needed more direction from him, but their greatest need was for Lee to act like a boss—not a friend. Here is how we changed the dynamic in his practice, in a nutshell. You can use these strategies to market, plan for, and grow your business—and to rally your team around the best cause of the coming months, increasing profit.

Strategy 1

Know what you do well, and be able to say it in one short sentence. Do not think of your sentence as a tag line. It is simply a clarifier. If you say to me, “I am a general dentist, but I specialize in restoring chewing ability in my patients,” then I know what you do. If your sentence says, “Our team restores excessively compromised teeth into dazzling smiles,” then your audience “gets it.” It is really about your prospective audience, is it not?

Sit down with your team today and craft a new sentence that says exactly what you are famous for. Use it in your marketing, in referral conversations, in everything you do. But here’s the rub: it has to be true. It has to be short. And it must be compelling. That one sentence should, and will, drive your future and all your decisions.

Strategy 2

Set real goals. Lee’s team worked backward to do this. When I asked them what monthly bonus payout would excite them, as a reward for helping the practice become more profitable, they settled on $500 each. We set their collections goals with the individual bonus built in. Notice I said “collections goals.” Using production as a benchmark is a profit-buster. If it is not in the bank, you cannot pay it out.

Strategy 3

Get transparent.If you think your practice’s financial health is only your business, think again. Lee’s next step was to share more financial information with this team, so they could assist him in growing his practice. The first thing he shared was a spreadsheet of practice expenses. Everything was there for the staff to see—dental supply costs, laboratory fees, salaries (lumped together, of course), and fixed costs, like equipment and mortgage payments. The team got much more in tune with expenses and actually helped Lee figure out innovative ways to reduce his overhead. At the end of the day, their collective power in managing the business was more powerful than Lee’s alone. The team also realized that excess expenses cut into their bonus, so their proactive support created more awareness, which leads to profit.

Strategy 4

Create leadership roles—and expect leadership from your people. Leadership is a tricky proposition. Lee is, at the center of things, a benevolent dictator. He calls the shots. Yet his team works better when people step up and take accountability for certain aspects of the practice. We installed team leaders for each department; those individuals partner with the other employees (and Lee) to be sure each patient’s experience is exceptional. Leaders point out anything that is not world-class; it is their job.

Through this process, the entire team became more focused on the patient’s experience; and they can now highlight and eliminate minor imperfections in protocol or customer service quickly. It is the speed at getting better that makes Lee’s team winners—and leaders. The self-fulfillment of a leadership model that works from day one has kept them on track and excited, instead of sullen and dispirited.

Strategy 5

Talk about what matters. I recently read a great quote by Robert Heinlein: “In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.” You have every opportunity to not let this happen in your practice.

Meetings are, and should be, a constant self-evaluation by a team striving for improvement. Every nuance of a practice is examined, and the spirit of those conversations is laid-back and certain. The question is constantly asked, “If we are to be the best, what must we change?” Those meetings, instead of name-calling gripe sessions, are insightful, introspective—and patient-centered.


Clarity has a price. It demands a change in anything that does not drive business forward. Every practice is at a different level and every dentist’s experience is different, but Lee’s initial feeling is a common one. Until you, as an owner, take control and empower your team to rise to their talents, you may continue to labor in mediocrity. A lack of staff contribution wears especially hard on dentists who are highly skilled, but remember that it also wears hard on your team. If this sounds like you, discuss and instill these clarifiers with your team today. You will be glad you did.

About the Author

Angie Skinner
The CEO of Performance Dental Coaching, Ms. Skinner is a coach, trainer, author, and lecturer who specializes in teaching all dental practice team members to improve their level of excellence. Sign up for her e-newsletter at http://www.performancedentalcoaching.com, or call 888-400-0569 for more information.

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