Far too often, leader/managers of dental practices get trapped into thinking that if they focus on the day-to-day operation of the practice – the processes, procedures, and systems – they are in total control of management issues.

This is particularly true for group practices that, as a matter of efficiency, must utilize processes, procedures, and systems to manage the complexities of multiple offices and partners as well as large numbers of patients and staff. Efficiency, however, should not be confused with effectiveness.

Many times, leader/managers remain stuck on simply fine-tuning the systems until a recurrence of problems signals that management issues go beyond day-to-day operations. The symptoms can be as clear as a high level of stress, bickering among staff, and an increase in human resource costs; they can also be as oblique as decreased communication and erosion of the patient relationships.

How can a practice make the jump to effectiveness and prevention of these problems – the elimination of chaos?

The process begins when leader/managers of the practice begin to think through the seven key concepts critical to any organization, then answer the associated questions and communicate the answers to everyone associated with the practice – each member of the team and even the patients.

Because the seven concepts focus on basic needs of persons operating in organizations, they are questions everyone wants and needs answered. They are:

  1. Why are we here?

This question addresses the issue of “purpose”, what the practice is trying to accomplish and its long term goals. It represents and directly communicates the values of the organization, and it answers the question, “Why does this practice exist?”

  1. Where are we going?

This refers to the practice “vision”. It answers questions such as “Where are we headed?” and “When we’re finished doing all the work, what do we imagine the practice will look like?”

  1. What is expected of me?

This addresses the “accountability” issue. Whether posed by a doctor, hygienist, chairside assistant, or receptionist. It answers questions such as “What is my part in this? What are the expectations?”

  1. How am I doing?

Everyone wants to know if what they are doing is on target. This is the “feedback” mechanism.

  1. What’s in it for me?

After members of a practice “buy into” its purpose and vision and begin to do what is expected of them, they want to know what the rewards are – a challenging workplace, a chance to change people’s lives, adequate compensation, and so forth. This answer clarifies the “rewards” of association with a given practice.

  1. Where do I go for help?

“Where can I find support?” The answer may be different for each person associated with the group. For some, support comes from the administrator/office manager or the leader/managers. For others, it may come from the dentist him/her self.

  1. How do things work?

This refers to the “systems” of a practice – how we get things done, how we accomplish our purpose and vision. This is the are most practitioners attempt to manage at the exclusion of all others.

Simple as they seem, these seven questions provide an all-encompassing list of issues that many practices fail to consider. They are particularly critical for dentists in today’s challenging economy. It is no longer possible for staff members to learn the philosophy of the doctor(s) simply by observing their behavior. The entire team needs to spend some time considering the answers to these seven questions.