Culture Club: Why Top Dental Offices Take Office Culture Seriously

Young dentists

Culture can be a nebulous word that’s hard to pin down to a definition, but when we’re applying the concept to companies, teams and dental offices, there is actually a clear-cut definition. Culture is the set of established and accepted behaviours, attitudes and perceptions collectively established by a team. It is defined by the values and actions of the leader, and reinforced by the decisions that the leader and/or manager make about who joins and remains on the team.

Why is culture so important? By existing as a set of established and agreed behavioural norms, culture determines how team members conduct themselves in those thousands of moments that aren’t spelled out in the office manual – which are actually most moments. You can never write out a spec for every situation in the office manual. The topic of values and culture is enormous, so for the purposes of this article, I’m going to distill the key concepts down to their essences.

The culture of a team is born from the values of its leader, which are evident from how that leader conducts themselves and interacts with others. Typically, the leader of a dental office is the owner, but it can just as easily be the office manager.

So, who is the actual leader for your dental office? Inescapably, the leader of a dental office is the person who decides which team members join and remain on the dental team (i.e. the leader is the one who makes final individual hiring and firing decisions). The leader may not be the actual person/company who signs the cheques, but it is the person who decides who’s on the team.

Why does this matter? Everything starts with the leader, so it’s important to know who the leader actually is. If you’re reading this, and you make the hiring and firing decisions at your office, then you’re the leader of your dental office. And if you’re the leader, you owe it to yourself, your team, your patients and business to be a great one.
So here is how the concepts of values, culture and performance are connected and why they matter:

The Leader Defines the Values -> Those Values Define the Culture -> The Culture Determines How the Team Acts and Who is On The Team -> Who is On The Team and How The Team Acts Determines Your Team’s Performance -> Your Team’s Performance Determines Your Practice Success

So how do you build and keep a great culture at your office? Assuming you’re the leader, first you have to define your core values – it’s typically five to nine values that are authentically important to you. An essential part of being a good leader is authenticity. You can’t espouse or instill any values unless you believe in them and live them. Importantly, “I pay them to do what I tell them,” and “Do as I say, not as I do” simply aren’t going to work when you’re trying to build a great team with a healthy culture.

A few examples of values used by top dental offices are clinical excellence, patient-centred, delighting patients, integrity, embrace and drive learning, and respect. But remember; you can’t just copy these values for your own office and expect them to have any effect. As the leader, you must live the values and lead by example.

So how does all this drive up my monthly production, you’re asking? By having clearly defined authentic values that you care about, you build your culture. And your culture defines who is on the team, and how your team conducts themselves on a daily basis. The stronger and healthier your culture, the less management you need to do, because team members just naturally do the things that line up with your culture, which are derived from your values.

It’s important to note, that even the highest performing teams with a strong healthy culture still require coaching, management and feedback. But the individuals on that team don’t need micro-managing for every little situation that comes up – your strong values and healthy culture do that for you.

From a team management standpoint, culture and values are the anchor point for Performance Evaluations. Is a team member living the values? Do they fit the culture? If you’ve clarified and are living your values as the leader, then conversations look more like, “As you know, one of our office core values is clinical excellence, and you see how in these situations your performance fell short of this value. Let’s get you on a plan to improve your clinical skills so you’re able to perform up to the expectation of that value, because we can’t compromise on our office core values.”

So you see, your values and culture are a powerful anchoring concept for every phase of team management. From finding and hiring, to on-boarding, reviewing and exiting members of your team – the sooner and more consistently those conversations revolve around values and culture, the faster you’ll see your office team and culture transform into one that is strong, healthy and high-performing.

It’s also important to remember, that building a healthy team culture requires discipline. Meaning, you actually have to take the actions necessary to drive results, even when you don’t “feel like it.” So you have to take time to write out and refine your values. You have to make the effort to clarify your team culture. You have to take the initiative to consistently live your values.

And you have to make the time to provide your team with ongoing coaching and feedback as their performance relates to your values and culture. Keep in mind, when I say, “You’ll see your team transform…”, it doesn’t necessarily mean every person on your current team transforms. Some just won’t or can’t.

But the make-up of a team often changes when the leader starts making hiring and exiting decisions based on their values and culture. Good leaders make the difficult decision to exit those who just won’t/can’t perform and conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with the values and culture of the office. But it is through this discipline that good leaders see their team evolve and transform.

As if all this isn’t enough motivation to work on your values and culture, realize that people enjoy working at an office that has strong values and a healthy culture. When everyone shares these values and fits the culture, they feel like they’ve found their “work home” and are genuinely engaged. And this will naturally attract similar people to your team, because those on your team will likely have friends and colleagues who are similarly inclined.

Can you see why we don’t just see truly great leaders everywhere? Because it takes time, discipline, introspection and commitment – and it’s not always easy.
But I guarantee you, you will see your team transform, if you:

1) Make the time to codify your values
2) Use your values as a basis to build your culture
3) Use your values and culture to provide consistent coaching and feedback
4) Strengthen your leadership discipline
5) Commit to the journey

It will get easier as you go and you’ll enjoy the time you spend with your team at your office more and more.


Culture Club: Why Top Dental Offices Take Office Culture Seriously