Q & A


1. How do you know if your dental practice is killing you?

Have you ever experienced any of these warning signs? Check off those that reverberate with you.

  • You find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep because you are worrying about the business
  • Your attention is on home when you are at work and on work when you are at home
  • You tell your spouse they are number one in your life when silently you are more focused on the success of your business. After all, it’s who you are!
  • Your energy level begins to fade, and you make excuses when you know you have not been taking care of yourself
  • You are too busy to play games with your kids, who are so hungry for your attention
  • On a weeklong vacation, it takes three to four days to unwind. You feel like a new person for one or two days, then the tension builds again, tightening every muscle. Sunday nights are the worst.
  • If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. It takes too much time to explain and delegate a task to another person.
  • You hear this voice in your head: “I don’t need anyone else. I’m smart and can do it all on my own.”

If you checked off a single one consider this a “red flag”. Don’t pass it off as inconsequential. The accumulation of these signs slowly and insidiously over time can be deadly.

2. Why are developing personal core values so important to the success of a dental practice? How do they translate into working with patients and your office team? In other words, Why would they care?

I found myself defining my sense of worth based on the success of my business. It fueled my ego that I was creating an economic future of choice for my family. That, of course, included a beautiful home, vacations, parochial school, saving for college, and planning for retirement. Does that sound familiar? Big numbers, big production was the name of the game . . . or so I thought. I was working to be the biggest, baddest, fastest, coolest, wealthiest, and most respected dentist in town. I was unaware at the time that a manager cannot lead the band and play all the instruments. After my heart attack, I shifted in many ways: my outlook, my attitude. I affirmed my new direction by codifying my values in writing. My Core Values serve as the litmus test against which I identify what is right and honest. I set aside quiet-time, so I could work on identifying my core values. As a basis for this process, I used the following elements:

  • My core values are ideas that I want to publicly affirm;
  • My core values are ideas that I greatly prize and have a positive influence on my life;
  • My core values are ideas that I am willing to act on;
  • My core values are ideas that I would repeat if given the circumstances again and again; and,
  • My core values are ideas that I choose freely and with a clear understanding and recognition of the consequences of my choice.

Why would patients care or even know? Simple, patients want to know that you operate from a set of values that honors and respects them. 

3. What was the significance of firing – and then re-hiring – employees? How did that help you define leadership?

It was a dramatic message that the old way of doing business was over. I was not leading my team successfully and the dental team was lulled into a mindset of entitlement…a deadly combination. I killed the practice and then offered up a solution for the way I wanted my practice to operate. This was an all-or-nothing approach that was necessary to get everyone’s attention. The choice was up to each employee if they wanted to re-apply for openings in my new practice. After Killing the Practice I spent the next several hours detailing how I was going to run the practice. I introduced them to my core values, dissecting every word. I gave them the opportunity to ask questions. I did the same for my vision, again reminding them that they didn’t have to buy into what I was explaining. But if they didn’t, they no longer had the opportunity to work with me. For the first time, I became the real leader. 

4. How can a dental practice raise their fees and not upset the patients?

I made the decision that I was going to be paid what I was worth. I expected to connect my compensation with the value, the love, care, and extra attention I brought to my patients. No more of wondering if the insurance will cover it. Or, worrying if that’s over “Usual, Customary, and Reasonable.” That old thinking had to go. My practice was not usual and customary; we were extraordinary. My expectation was to offer  financial options for our patients that were written, fair and easy to understand. Certainly, there would be a small percentage of price shoppers that would be upset, yet they were not our ideal patients. No matter what our fees, patients will view them as “a little pricey.” I validated that with a study I did. I learned if we deliver excellence, combined with true patient care and outrageous service, our patients will perceive the value and not only continue to visit us, they will refer us to others. This is not about gouging people, it is about being compensated for delivering remarkable service. 

5. How does cutting some benefits completely, but increasing others dramatically work?

I broke typical dental management thinking of “give everything and anything” to retain employees.. In the real world, great performance dictates greater compensation. In dentistry, this statement is more enigmatic: “Dr., I have been here for another year and I am entitled to a raise.”  My new view was: no more entitlements. I explained clearly that the new wages would be no less than what each currently made, however, future raises would be as a result of increased output-performance-revenues. I made major adjustments to my benefits package, because it was being abused. I was now going to track expenses like a real businessman, compare them to industry averages and make better decisions.  I did expand the education credit because it encouraged their growth, enhanced their value and better served our patients. I introduced my new incentive program: a Win-Win, Pay-4-Performance arrangement. It was team-centered and fair. Did it work? You bet it did. My final 5 years in practice were my most profitable and my team members made more money than they had ever done.

7. What does practicing “meat and potato” dentistry mean? Why does it work?

Meat and potato dentistry is my name for the routine, common procedure mix of services the typical patient wants. My practice was not a high-end cosmetic or full-mouth rehab business. That was not what the majority of my wonderful blue-collar patients requested. We were a “family practice” and as such served moms and dads and their kids along with their grandparents and neighbors. Nothing fancy, yet extremely personalized relationship-based care.

8. What is one tip that you would give to someone starting out their own private practice?

Start with the end in mind….a Steven Covey mindset. I’m coaching a young pediatric dentist. My first bit of coaching was to get him to dream and envision what he wants! What will make the biggest difference is to identify who you are via your own Core Values. Armed with Core Values and their Vision Statement, the strategic plan magically begins to unfold. Anytime they get stuck, they refer to their core values and vision. Above all things, this is what I want for new dentists.