A Voice in the Arena: A Warm Home by Dr. Chad Foster

A Voice in the Arena: A Warm Home  

by Chad Foster, DDS, MS, editorial director

For most of us, our practices truly are our home away from home during the main years of our lives. Not just the hours but also the blood, sweat and tears have made them very personal spaces. Considering how much time we invest in them, what type of spaces should we make them? And how does what we make affect those we wish to attract?

My first six years of practice out of residency were spent in corporate orthodontic offices. During those years moving from one opportunity to another, I was the primary orthodontist in 10 different offices (that I can remember). The full scope of my thoughts on the “learning experiences,” to put it nicely, from those years won’t squeeze into the word count for a single column, but I will share one takeaway here: Each office—even ones that operated identically within the same parent company—seemed to emit its own distinct and very tangible character as far as feel/vibe/energy goes. And this was unconsciously communicated to every guest who entered the space more clearly than any singular scripted process or personal interaction within. This character is primarily a composite of the personalities, attitudes and relationships of the people who regularly fill the space—and whether those people feel secure enough in their own person to feel at home there.

The power of authenticity

Leading and motivating a team of unique individuals with the aim of making them feel at home in our shared space is no small task. In my opinion, however, the success of the practice also very largely depends on this being done well.

One of the more regular topics that makes its way into our morning huddle discussions is the idea of making our office feel like our home. Creating our office as a home, specifically for our team, is my No. 1 priority, because I believe the highest level of hospitality for our patients can only flow secondarily from there. Within the structure of necessary office training and structure—and with the acknowledgment that not every personality is a great fit—team members who are secure and comfortable enough to be their authentic selves are able to shine that energy to the guests in our home.

People are strongly attracted to authenticity; it’s a fascinating, disarming and highly enviable trait. When team members believe the office is a place that encourages and actually depends on the expression of their own unique best selves, they’re able to let their guards down and be authentic and genuine with the patients and guests they interact with.

If our team does not emit the collective and authentic heart that we have for one another and our space, no patient will feel it. There’s no faking it. No systems, scripting or high-dollar consulting firm can sell it. Give me a team member who is comfortable shining their own unique personality through their service over a team member reciting the best scripting/programming that money can buy. In my experience, I’ve seen this delivered in a no-frills Medicaid-type clinic better than a polished, well-funded and systematized corporate office. It wholly depends on the people within the space.

Brightness alone isn’t enough

Where can you start if the goal is to make the office feel like home for your team, so you can draw out their most genuine and best selves? For me, it starts simply with openly expressing this as a priority to the team. Discussing and reflecting on how we each blend our individual strengths into our service to each other and our patients is a wonderful way to define our culture.

My second recommendation would be to read Setting the Table by acclaimed restaurateur Danny Meyer. In the book, Meyer offers a parable that likens every business to a light bulb that has a goal of attracting the most moths—he writes that the function of the light bulb is to produce light, which primarily attracts the moths. However, some light bulbs serving the equivalent function with a comparable amount of light seem to attract exponentially more moths to them. Why?

Meyer explains that the difference is that some light bulbs give off a greater amount of warmth. As it turns out, the warmth, secondary to the light, is also attractive to the moths; it makes them return again and again. While all light bulbs serve their primary function of providing light, some are also able to emit greater warmth.

In your practice, I wish you to be the office that serves its purpose but also emits that warmth. As it relates to what we do, I believe it starts with us as owners/orthodontists being fearless and vulnerable enough to shine our light, whatever that might look like. It might take some serious introspection to find.

From there, and only from there, we can encourage our team members to each shine their own light. Collectively, then, we can transform our space into a warm home. Your patients will feel it—and beyond straight teeth and a beautiful smile, they will likely feel more motivated to shine their own lights as well.

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