Cultivating a strong dental office culture is one of the best investments you can make for your practice
by Jay Geier
If you have a long-term vision for your practice, you
undoubtedly have given it a lot of thought. At the very least, you
have an annual business plan where you established revenue and
profit goals and defined some action plans.
Your organizational culture is a make-or-break component
of your financial plan, and yet many business owners fail to
recognize the connection between culture and their bottom lines.
A great culture is characterized by a high-performing team that is
engaged and motivated, capable and committed to delivering an
excellent patient experience, and shares in your growth goals for
the practice. Clearly, these are all directly linked to your financial
Culture is not expensive—it’s an investment with a guaranteed
return. But just like an effective marketing plan, it does take
some thought. You’ll need to invest focused time, energy and
funds to instill and nurture a winning culture.
Invest in time to think about and define your desired culture.
It’s up to you to define “your way of doing business”—the values, expected behaviors and ways of
working that you want to exist by and between team
members, and for your patients. Think about how
you want your patients to feel when they come to your
practice. What would you like them to say about you
and your team when referring others? How do you want
your team to feel about their jobs, their teammates and
working for you?
In addition to performance characteristics, a great
culture fosters high morale by employees who love coming
to work, are appreciated, respect their teammates and
feel part of something bigger than themselves in an
organization with a meaningful purpose.
Invest in engaging the team in the process.
With that as your filter, honestly assess your existing
culture. This can be hard to do, because you will see
it through rose-colored glasses and your team may be
reluctant to tell you the truth. But this is a critical step
so you know what you can build on and what needs to
be dramatically changed.
Engage your people in the process of designing
your new culture:
- Demonstrate that you want and value their
views. Use an anonymous survey, if necessary,
and meet with your best people individually to
get their input. Don’t overcomplicate it—just
start to get something down on paper. This will
enhance your own thought process and give your
team something to react to and help you refine.
- Discuss your findings as a group. Ideally, hold
an off-site retreat in a neutral, less distracting
environment that allows you to focus. A retreat
also signals that you’re serious about making
changes and are willing to invest the time into
having an open, honest discussion about what the
new culture should look and feel like. You’re also
willing to understand the fails you need to learn
from and the wins you can build on.
- Engaging your people also shows that you
recognize you can’t do this without them. Each
person must own a piece of the culture and bring
it to life. Involving everyone in the discussions
will help them understand why goals that are
good for the practice are also good for them.
Invest in training the team to deliver on new expectations.
We coach clients to define a culture that is high-performing,
patient-centric and growth-oriented.
Your exact words may differ, but those three concepts
should be represented. Engaging your team members in
planning new expectations but then not training them
to deliver on those expectations is setting them—and
you—up for failure. You have to follow through on
what will give you the results you want, not just what
looks good on paper.
- To meet high performance expectations as
individuals and as teams, people need to improve
their skills and change some behaviors, which
they can’t do without effective training. Training
also helps engage and motivate people to commit
to goals because they better understand the
importance of key results and feel capable of
achieving goals they’ve been involved in setting.
- You may think your practice is patient-centric,
but there’s probably more you could be doing
to distinguish yourself from the competition.
Consider getting training and coaching for you
and the team on how to keep patients top of
mind in all decisions, actions and behaviors in
ways you may never have thought about.
- No matter how high-performing the team is and
how happy your patients are, if the practice isn’t
growing with new patients, you will eventually
plateau and inevitably decline. That’s why your
culture must also be growth-oriented and attach
financial accountability to individual and team
goals. You’re in business to help people, and the
more you grow, the more people you can help;
that’s the heart of a growth culture.
Training, in combination with coaching and
mentoring, is an investment that helps people reach
their full potential as higher-performing individuals
and team members. By doing what’s right for them,
you get the best from them and in turn your practice
can reach its full potential. Benchmark this status at
least every six months—preferably quarterly—to stay
factual and truthful about how you’re doing against
what you intend, and regularly reinforce with training
to prevent backslide.
Invest in reward, recognition and fun!
Don’t underestimate the impact of reward and
recognition. Your team may be highly engaged and
motivated at the start of the culture-building process,
but if they begin to feel unnoticed or unappreciated for
their improved performance and commitment, they
won’t stay that way for long.
Effective reward and recognition isn’t about across the-
board raises or bonuses; it’s about a culture of
gratitude and appreciation for living up to the desired
actions, behaviors, attitudes and ways of working that
lead to desired results.
- Motivate performance with incentives and
bonuses that are tied to specific measurable
goals that have been met or exceeded. Structure
payout so they are win-wins—the employee wins
only when the business wins. Inexpensive but
thoughtful gifts can be equally impactful.
- Recognize progress along the way as positive
reinforcement for what’s working. Celebrating
small wins creates momentum toward the bigger end goal. These can be planned or random.
- Show gratitude to your patients by holding
appreciation events. Have patient gift days and
recognize those who have been special to your
practice over the years (e.g., longest tenure, most
referrals, most visits, highest value, etc.) This
further demonstrates that you are grateful to
those helping you and your practice succeed.
- Allocate funds for “fun”—literally! Empower
and enable the team to plan activities they (not
necessarily you) deem as fun and memorable
in recognition for all they do. Even if you don’t
participate, the team will continue to talk about
these events long afterward. They also create
bonding experiences that carry over to better
teamwork and communication in the workplace.
Investments in reward, recognition and fun bring
you a positive business return while bringing personal
joy into the lives of your team members and patients.
Once you start living a culture of gratitude, it becomes
Invest in execution.
A plan that’s not executed is pointless. Just
as you have a marketing plan with the details
and timing of individual campaigns for the
year, you’ll need a similar culture plan with
activities mapped out well in advance. Use a
large, color-coded calendar to keep everyone
easily informed and to reveal where you have
gaps. At the very least, your culture calendar
- Training dates, scheduled and published
well in advance.
- Regular recognition
events and fun activities.
Don’t wait until
the details are decided. Go
ahead and schedule “Recognition TBD”
and “Fun TBD” so you can plan around
- Benchmark meetings or retreats (at least
every six months).
- Monthly and quarterly goals (which keep
culture tied to performance).
Building a winning culture is a process. It
won’t happen overnight, so don’t set yourself up for
disappointment with unrealistic expectations—or,
worse, quickly decide that “culture doesn’t work”
and abandon the process.
Culture always works as a component of
your financial plan—the question is, does your
current culture work for you or against you?
The investments you put into designing and
building a winning culture that works for you
will provide a highly positive return over the life
of your practice.
Jay Geier is an authority on growing independent practices. His passion is in turning
practices into businesses, doctors into CEOs and employees into high-performing
individuals and teams. He is the founder and CEO of Scheduling Institute, a firm
that specializes in training and development, and coaching doctors on how to
create a performance-based culture that drives business results.
For a limited
time, SI is giving Townies a free Blind Spot Analysis—for more information, visit
schedulinginstitute.com/townie. For information on Geier’s live events, visit