The Magic Sauce
(Analytics – Cost Containment – Accountability – Training and an Inspired Team)
I just attended a wonderful conference on emerging DSO’S (Dental Support/Service Organizations). It was the most interesting event I have attended in years. The focus of the conference was timely, on target and it resonated with me. The speakers were the actual doers. You heard from entrepreneurs that are immersed in our dental business. The content was honest, straightforward and generous. You really got to learn firsthand about the trials, tribulations, and secrets of these incredible dental entrepreneurs. Each one had failures. Each one met with adversity and all of them continue to fend off obstacles as they approach new benchmarks and enter new markets.
I took copious notes and learned a great deal during the DSOEF (Dental Service Organization Education Forum). I work with several small dental groups and eighty-five solo practices, so If I can learn something that will positively impact their efficiency or profitability I am all in.
At this conference, I registered for the Emerging DSO track but there were other areas of concentration available for the attendees. The speakers shared their stories of growth, development, failure, and success. They discussed analytics about production, profitability, and comparisons amongst providers. They shared stories about their development from one office to three and from three to ten and so on. All of them discussed the financing challenges, recruitment issues, human resources and compliance demands and how they centralized certain processes. Each speaker shared stories of slow, stagnant or no growth periods while dealing with adversity or developing their management organization, but they all persevered. Today their businesses are more sophisticated and they manage their organizations by industry and proprietary norms. They have a management team and structure that deals with recruitment, acquisition integration, clinical and customer service training, administration and reputation management.
I have been consulting business owners and their staff since 1983. I have seen lousy offices, underachieving offices and I have seen great businesses. I believe that the enemy of great is accepting – good enough. Great offices that overperform based on their facility size and the number of providers or operatories they have enjoyed the benefits of that secret sauce. Yes, you need streamlined systems, operational efficiency, cost containment and strong leadership but for good to get to great, you need
“INSPIRATION”. When people are inspired they work harder, longer and they are more committed. They begin to act like owners. They care about the brand and reputation of the practice and they go the extra mile. This phenomenon is difficult to measure but the benefits of highly motivated employees are enormous. It’s the secret sauce of successful companies. We know that when an employee goes the extra mile and really cares about the practice, the needle moves from good to great. Larger treatment plans are presented and the patient acceptance rate goes up. When good goes to great you sell more electives and you reduce your accounts receivable. When good goes to great, you have fewer emergencies, less drama and the benefit of momentum. When you reach momentum, you have created a cycle that is self-perpetuated.
Take the time to meet with your leadership team and encourage them to know their people. When your employees are inspired and engaged, the needle will move from good to great!
(You don’t know me at all)
The other day I had an appointment with one of my friends (client) and he got hit with a last-minute emergency. When I arrived at the office, Jen the office manager said that he had an emergency patient and would be about an hour late for our dinner meeting. “No problem,” I said to Jen. “I always have work and phone calls to make or return, so I welcome him being late”. While I was booting up my computer, I asked Jen how she was doing. It was the end of the day and most of the staff had left. It was just Jen and me in the reception area. Jen responded with, “I’m doing much better now. Thanks for asking.” I looked up at Jen and asked, “Is everything ok?” She went on to share a very personal story with intimate details. I had no idea the kind of personal adversity Jen was going through all these years. Honestly, I thought I knew Jen well but it turns out that I knew little about her. The truth is that I really didn’t know Jen at all. Our friendship while sincere was based on familiarity and trust and it was a business relationship. Yes, we were friendly and we had mutual respect but in our fast-paced world, we never invested the time to get to know one another.
After Jen and I talked we became real friends, not superficial ones. Trustworthy friends listen to each other which leads to discovery, empathy, and opportunity. Jen is a great person and after learning more about her life and experiences, I now have a newfound appreciation for her. Since our friendship breakthrough, Jen and I have collaborated on projects that we have talked about for years. We executed seamlessly and the results were impactful for the practice and for us as collaborators.
The takeaway – when you learn someone’s story, you will never see them the same way. Take a few minutes to talk to your suppliers, team members, co-workers, and patients. Many of them will surprise you with how interesting they are and you will learn to appreciate them more than you do now. This will establish an elevated level of trust and loyalty. The result will be a better relationship and better outcomes, both personally and professionally.
It’s not always as it appears
When I joined Henry Schein Dental in 2000 I was assigned to the Saugerties, NY branch which was recently acquired. This is where I was to attend monthly training and business meetings. The first time I visited my new HSD branch in Saugerties, New York, it was a true culture shock for me. The facility was off the beaten path in a rural and depressed town. The facility was tired and had not been updated or renovated for years. While Schein had plans to move this facility the following year, it was not exactly what this Brooklyn Boy was expecting.
The upside of my new branch was the people. I was very fortunate to work with experienced, talented dental professionals who were self-reliant and very customer-centric. They had a culture that was congruent to what I wanted and what I had imagined from HSD.
Every story has a twist, here is mine. My previous employer had a non-compete clause in my contract which kept me away from my territory (my clients) for almost a full year. I remember those days as if it were yesterday. It was the longest ten months of my professional career. In those days, my new coworkers called me ‘Hurricane Jack’. They were a very laid-back bunch and I was a man of action. I had the herculean task to recover several millions of dollars of business after being away from the field and my customers for all that time.
Getting back to why things aren’t always as they appear. There was an elder statesman in my new branch. For the purposes of this story, I will call him Ben. Ben was older than me and he had carried a bag (been a salesperson) for thirty-five years. He knew the catalog like the back of his hand. He could recite part numbers from memory and could tell you what every product did and how it compared to its competitor. He even knew the chemistry and indications for just about every medicament and restorative material. While Ben was devoted to his career, he resisted change and reinvention is a big part of Henry Schein’s success and culture. Ben’s disenchantment was a generational thing more than a work ethic or skill challenge. He was frustrated by
all the change around him and at HSD. Ben became negative and he was very unhappy. He became a distraction at our regional meetings and we occasionally butted heads. I don’t remember any event or incident but over time, Ben wore on me and I suspect the feeling was mutual. We were on different paths and at distinct phases in our career but we still had mutual respect. Ben and I talked at meetings and we would occasionally call each other with a question but we never really got to know each other.
One afternoon I received a call from a co-worker who told me that Ben had a personal tragedy in his life. His mom had died in a very bad accident. Once I heard about her death I inquired about the funeral and memorial services so I could show my respects.
As I mentioned earlier, Ben and I were friendly but not devoted friends and I had never met Ben’s family. I had no idea what to expect at the funeral parlor except for sadness and lots of people crying and mourning. To me, Ben was old school and reluctant to change. While I appreciated his many talents, I thought he was a pretty ordinary guy. I remember driving to the funeral parlor not knowing what to expect when I got there. I knew Ben would be distraught and sad because his mother’s death was unthinkable. She died a tragedy. His mom had died in a house fire.
I wanted to show my respect for Ben so I attended the memorial services. I remember talking to myself as I drove upstate to the funeral parlor. What do you do or say to the mourners when their loved one dies that way? When I arrived at the funeral parlor, the lines were very long and there were no available parking spots on the property. When I finally got into the funeral parlor I saw Ben standing by the first row of the viewing room. He was surrounded by dozens of people trying to hug and comfort him. He was not crying, instead, he was overwhelmed by the crowds who came to show their love and respect. There were several doctors and dental teams at the funeral parlor consoling Ben but when Ben saw me he smiled. He came right over to me and gave me a big hug as if I was the one in mourning. He was so glad I came and I was taken back by the way he received me. He then introduced me to his kids, siblings and some of his clients. Ben told them all that I was a very close friend and co-worker. I remember how inspired I was at the love and concern that these people had for Ben but I was perplexed by Ben’s notoriety and generosity.
After 40 years of selling and servicing his dental clients, Ben had a following like no other. He was truly loved by his family, neighbors, co-workers, and clients. As I stood there beside Ben, I knew this experience was going to impact my life forever. It was one of those rare moments when you take a deep breath and reflect. You see, Ben had a decent reputation in the industry but he was an average performer. He was one of those talented people who never reached his potential and I allowed my work perception of Ben to formulate my overall opinion about him and his life. Ben was an overachiever and he was exceptional. At the funeral parlor, I got to see firsthand that Ben was the family patriarch. He was the most successful, best educated and the “rock” for dozens of his friends and family members. Ben was super smart and loved the financial markets but I had no idea that in his spare time, he helped family and friends improve their credit scores, obtain mortgages and create retirement portfolios.
The Takeaway: Do not judge people by their work. For some people, work is a job and their passion lies elsewhere. Success is not measured by your title, rank or paycheck. You will be measured by how you lived and how you loved. For me, a kid who grew up in public housing projects, I hope to be measured by the kind of husband and dad I was. I want people to acknowledge that I pay it forward. That I lived better than my parents and provided my kids with the tools for them to do better than I did.
On the topic of business relationships
I challenge all my readers to identify one strategic business relationship that you have and make the effort to engage that person in a mindful conversation. Get to know them and where they came from and find out where they are going. Be interested. Allow the other person their space and ask them what they expect from you and this relationship. This exercise will improve the relationship and you will both benefit from the intimacy and the connection. Over time, these connections will pay dividends and they will deliver better business outcomes!