One thing that I’ve noted over the years is how many large and small businesses capture the orthodontic market as their own. For one reason or another, many of us are impressed with companies claiming to be orthodontic-specific.
Occasionally I come across a book or title that interests me (and perhaps other Townie readers) that addresses this issue. In fact, more than once I’ve mentioned or featured a title in this column that highlights the fact that general business readings or books apply not only to big corporations but also to small dental practices and groups as well.
Take, for instance, e-Myth Mastery by Michael Gerber. The main point he makes is that when building or working in a business of your own, you need to be working on the business, rather than in it. To achieve this, you need lists, procedures and scripts to scale the business or, in the simplest term to understand, to franchise. Orthotown and Dentaltown founder Dr. Howard Farran uses these principles in his guidebook Uncomplicate Business: He says people, time and money are the three ingredients that are required for one to grow, maintain and ultimately sell one’s practice or business.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that when it comes to business and financial principles, there’s nothing particularly special about orthodontics or dentistry. We tend to get to focused on our specialty and techniques, and are so used to purchasing and learning within our fields, that we fail to realize that general, not specific, principles guide the way things are done.
This fact can be validated by the various consultants and marketers who sell and offer their services to us. If you peel behind the skin, most of them are business coaches who have decided to focus on our specialty, while the lists, procedures and prescriptions are usually variations of ideas that permeate the business community and can be utilized in any industry that focuses on customer service.
Another example of the universal application of business principles is the widespread practice of DSOs purchasing private and group practices. These organizations evaluate businesses, run the numbers, and make a decision based on the underlying strength and health of the practice. It doesn’t matter if the business in question is a brake shop, a doughnut stand or a dental practice.
Business is business. If you investigate the private equity companies that ultimately buy practices, you’d see that they hold a portfolio of varying or diversified companies and enterprises. We know that some of these private equity firms do more due diligence than others, and some are successful while some are not, but again, business is business.
A few months back, I reviewed the seven deadly sins and tried to relate them to the practice of orthodontics. Because seven is often a lucky number, and I received many positive comments on that column, I decided to share some summaries of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.
The three main ideas are summarized by the Quick MBA Management group and available online. The first involves the differences among a personality ethic and principles and values, which combine to make a character ethic. The three phases of personal growth, the second idea, are defined and described, and the seven famous habits round out the list of ideas.
Covey argues against the personality ethic, which is what most business books preach in their texts. Personality traits contributing to this ethic would be things such as “work harder, get up early and beat the other contenders.” Kind of the typical nudge you’d get from an inspirational book or lecture. Principles and values, meanwhile, are universal traits that underlie most people’s behavior. Principles are rules or laws that govern one’s performance, while values are subjective to the individual and will ultimately decide the outcome of the endeavor. Character ethic, the result, is a collection of habits we have learned. Some of those habits include:
• Knowledge, which is what we have learned and perfected.
• Skill, which allows us to perform based on the knowledge.
• Desire, which will ultimately decide how motivated we are to get it done.
Before he identifies the seven habits, Covey explains the three phases of performance that we pass through as we work toward success in our various endeavors: dependence, independence and interdependence.
Dependence is the period of time while we are learning and have things done for us. The seven habits are really not in play during that time.
Independence is achieved gradually, by applying the first three habits:
• Being proactive instead of reacting. Work on things you can actually do something about, rather than reacting.
• Beginning with the end in mind and having a clear picture of the ultimate goal. Being principles-focused and attacking or performing first things first.
The ability to strike a balance between just production and production capacity is a strong trait that needs to be kept in mind. The key turning point we realize is when we see the advantage of leaving the period of independence and becoming interdependent. This transformation is the benefit of the seven habits.
Here are the next steps:
• Think win-win. When negotiating with others, find a division that’s acceptable to all parties.
• Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
• Synergize. Understand and value differences in another person’s perspective.
• Sharpen the saw. For growth, focus on renewal.
Now for the takeaway that we as orthodontists and dentists need to absorb: We need to strike a balance between immediate production versus the learned and practiced ability, so we can learn to increase or improve production. In orthodontic terminology, that means sometimes placing a patient on recall for treatment in the future can benefit the business and practice in the long run more than reaching the immediate monthly goal.
So as you wander and explore the various business options that may help you or your enterprise, don’t be limited to those that claim to be only for orthodontists! You may find that many other businesses grounded in solid principles may fit your bill.