Dental practices, like many businesses, are facing a staffing crisis. To remedy this, many practices have focused solely on hiring. Get a new person in place, train them as best you can and repeat — until you have enough employees. Unfortunately, this can create a degradation of the overall quality of the team because many of the new hires have less experience than the people who left.
When facing a crisis, coming up with new and innovative approaches is the most successful way to solve the problem. There are many approaches to solving a staffing crisis that extend beyond simply filling the empty seat. One of the most important methods that many practices have yet to implement is developing documented, proven, step-by-step systems around scheduling, finance, the new patient experience, case presentation, general productivity and customer service.
Old Systems Are Holding You Back
All successful businesses work by having excellent, clear systems in place. Systems tell everyone what needs to be done, how it should be done and what the expected results should be. Inherent in the concept of systems is that, if you follow them, they will automatically lead to the expected result. And yet many practices have put little effort into keeping their systems up to date and operating at the highest levels.
Let’s begin by understanding that every practice has systems, but they are often outdated, incomplete or of inferior design. The team will never reach its true potential without current and correct systems. Maybe this didn’t matter as much before the pandemic and the current staffing crisis because practices had a stable team of long-tenured people who generally understood what to do. But now, we see that many practices have higher turnover and are experiencing new challenges. Outdated systems will no longer sustain the success most practices want to achieve.
Systems can grow practices, but incorrect systems can impede growth. Consider neurologist Roger Bannister, the first person to run a four-minute mile. Soon after Bannister broke the record, 10 or 11 other runners broke the same barrier within a few years — by six full seconds. What happened? Up until that point, everyone believed you couldn’t run a mile under four minutes, so they trained within a system to run close to the four-minute mark, but not below it. When Bannister broke the four-minute mile, it showed everyone that it was possible. Then runners changed their systems of training and pacing, and many runners broke the record. Systems that were used for years held runners back, and many of the systems you have in place are holding your practice back as well.
Systems and the Staffing Crisis
The best opportunity to have all team members on the same page and operating at the highest level is having systems implemented in your practice with key measurements. When a team member falls below a measurement, it’s a warning to go back and review the system. This is how many of the best practices are built and stay successful.
The dental staffing shortage has many practices working hard to replace team members. Unfortunately, the arduous task of recruiting and hiring is only the first part of the challenge of bringing a new team member on board. Levin Group has observed that many new hires don’t have the same experience as dental staff in the past, training is going slower and some new hires do not stay with the practice. Documented, proven, step-by-step systems will change that. We have demonstrated that new team members can be trained 100% faster if strong systems are in place.
You may resent the fact that you must do all this training, but part of business today is providing the training and education to help employees keep up, master new skills and technologies, and grow. Businesses realize that if they don’t do this, they will not attract the best employees.
It is critical to have measurements associated with each system when possible. Anytime you can apply a measurement to parts or all of the system, you help team members know what the target is and how they are doing. Measuring performance is not negative or punitive. It’s about improving performance by working together and following the systems.
Documented, Proven, Step-by-Step
Let’s break down the three key factors of designing a system.
- Documented. If your systems aren’t documented, they exist only in the heads of team members. This means that when a team member leaves, all that knowledge leaves with them. Upon team member departures, many practices have had to scramble to figure out how to handle insurance, collect money or even schedule patients. When your systems are documented, the information can be accessed by anyone for study and review. The only way to improve the performance of your current team and increase the speed of training time for new team members is by having documented systems.
- Proven. When it comes to systems, you can’t afford to waste years on trial and error. You need to know that the systems you’re about to implement exist somewhere and have been proven successful. Otherwise, you’ll be reinventing the wheel, and sometimes that wheel comes out square. It’s also demoralizing for the team to work with a system that will inherently lead to poor results. Systems that are achieving results in other practices will also achieve results in yours.
- Step-by-step. Step-by-step means that you turn your systems into a training and instruction manual. Practices are not necessarily built with a team of superstar performers with incredible natural talent. However, you can create superstar performances if people know exactly what they are supposed to do. This is how great teams are built. Step-by-step systems are also essential for new team members. Every practice is different, and you want people joining your practice to be indoctrinated into the systems that you have put in place. If they can follow the systems step-by-step, they will train faster and perform at much higher levels. This all contributes to better practice results and higher staff longevity.
Systems are the key to real success in dental practices. Without systems, even excellent marketing will eventually fail to deliver the results because the foundation is not in place. To perform at the highest level, every practice must address the major systems around scheduling, finance, the new patient experience, case presentation, general productivity and customer service. If these systems are documented, proven and step-by-step, the practice is virtually guaranteed to dramatically improve.
Roger P. Levin, DDS, is the founder and CEO of Levin Group, a dental management consulting firm. To comment on this article, email firstname.lastname@example.org.