Is Your Office Environment Supporting Your Practice Culture?

Have you ever walked into an office and it just felt tired and neglected with old décor and sad, outdated furniture and fixtures? Two-year-old magazines and the same old pictures on the wall from when you moved in? Did it feel like the people who worked there had just given up caring about a warm, welcoming, and inspiring office environment? We’ve all been in those offices with dismal practice culture that really shows. 

When was the last time you walked into your office and looked at it from the patient’s eyes? Looking at the spaces we spend day in and day out with new eyes is essential in keeping our dental practices places where dental professionals and patients feel good. As patients wait to be seen, they have nothing but time to observe the details—the fibers wearing on the armchair, the water spots on the ceiling tiles above. This is a brand interaction. How you present your office space is a telltale sign of your practice culture and how you see yourself as a company. 

All too often, we become blind to what we see every day. After a period of time, it no longer even registers in our brains. As I help clients become OSHA compliant, I ask, “Where are your fire extinguishers?” To which they commonly answer; “I have no idea.” You see, they pass by them so many times, that they don’t even see them anymore. Ever look for a pair of scissors, and you know you just saw them, but can’t remember where? That’s because you saw them so many times they blurred into the background. Our daily routines, in the same way as an unchanged environment, make us oblivious of our behavior…and complacent.

Lackluster environments mean lackluster patient experiences. With fresh eyes, let’s reevaluate our spaces, mission, culture, teams, and patient experience. 

Is Your Office Environment Welcoming and Professional?

Our practices don’t have to be elaborate spaces with expensive furnishings; however, they need to be clean, neat and welcoming. 

Here are some tips to get you started: 

  • Do you enter your building from the front or back? Try walking in the front door at least once a week so you can see your practice from a different perspective.
  • Does your front door clearly have your practice or doctor’s name on it? Many times, when I visit a practice, it’s not clear who is practicing there.
  • Do you have a budget for space maintenance and upkeep? Put pen to paper on a budget to update your front office with a fresh coat of paint, new art, and chairs.
  • The details matter. A warm smile and welcoming words, an offer of bottled water along with an update to patients about when they will be seen—it’s these little things that go a long way to providing a wonderful experience.
  • Patients feel safer when they observe an organized, clean environment. We don’t always know why a patient stops coming to see us. Don’t let the why be because they felt like the office was not as clean as it should be.
  • Look at your twelve-o’clock cabinet. Is it cluttered with things you may need during any given procedure? Our patients don’t know that and may perceive that “stuff” as clutter. By purchasing some small storage containers, you can make your rooms look neater while keeping your things out of the spray and splatter. 

Is Your Mission and Vision Just A Statement? Time to Live Your Practice Culture! 

Dentists spend many days thinking about what kind of practice they want. It starts in dental school and through associateship until the day they become an owner or partner. Visions change with experience and through the years become more defined. I suggest you look over your vision and mission statements each year and reflect if what you currently have is what you want moving forward.

The dental team needs to know the practice vision. As dental team members, we welcome discussions about the practice mission and vision at occasional in-office and offsite team meetings. We are honored to participate in defining how we will meet the challenges of living the mission and vision. With the empowerment of our employer’s leadership, we become mindfully aware that we can put these ideals into operation and that our efforts will be recognized and appreciated.

Dental practice owners and managers, is your team serving your mission and vision well? We need to hire those who will support the type of practice and practice culture we are striving to create. Without a supportive team, we won’t succeed in developing the practice culture we want.

Is Your Practice Culture Providing a Wonderful Experience for Both Dental Patients and Team?

The absolute best marketing strategy in the world is internal marketing. We know this from years of research; happy patients send in friends and family. How do we get happy patients? That’s easy; we create them!

  • Spend less on external marketing and more on your practice! Go back to that first paragraph and read it again. Spruce up your office! Invest in your team, continuing education, and workshops.
  • Perhaps, form a book club and choose a motivational book for the team to read and discuss each quarter.
  • Be sure to hold team meetings and huddles, so you’re all on the same page.
  • Ask all your team members, “What are your biggest struggles each day? What do you need to make your working day better?” When they produce their lists, ask them to figure out the best way to solve the issues as a team! When everyone affected is part of the process, they “buy-in” and are more engaged in following through with a plan of action.
  • Most of all, appreciate the great team you have! People love working where they know they are appreciated and respected. It’s not always about how much they make, but the atmosphere in which they work! Give them a solid foundation that they can thrive in and that they won’t want to leave. 

Note: Many times, I hear that team members are cutting corners on safe instrument processing because they simply don’t have enough instruments! Although we can’t go out and buy thousands of dollars of new instruments at one time, we can figure out what we need most now and purchase a few. Frequently there are specials when we can buy three and get one free, and so on. Take advantage of those opportunities. As practice owners and managers, we can determine what is needed most now and explain that more can be purchased later. Allowing our team to hold us accountable for purchasing more when that time comes builds trust. I tell practice owners to never treat new instruments as a bonus for meeting production or collection goals. When the team hits a production or collection goal, the bonus should be something just for them, not for the office! 

How Can We Cultivate a Team Culture?

Everyone wants a great practice culture, one where there is harmonious teamwork and respect for each person. When we keep our workplace culture front and center and make teamwork a priority, the practice is growing and thriving. This requires that everyone understand the “why” behind their systems and align themselves to move in the same direction. Unfortunately, the same thing happens to our people that happens to our décor. They become tired, they get overlooked, and their minds become so cluttered that they take their eyes off the bigger picture and forget to focus on each other.

To cultivate a team culture, you must keep the culture front and center.

Each team member must work daily at maintaining the right culture and help everyone else do the same. Don’t be confused though. The culture starts at the top, and a solid leadership team is essential for maintaining a well-oiled machine.

We can optimize our day in the morning huddle.

A regular morning huddle is our opportunity to destress our day, make it productive, and stay on task. In a structured morning huddle, we have each team member go over their day, looking to identify hidden gems in the schedule. For instance, if we’re seeing little Tommy today and his mom is past due for her teeth cleaning, we know we can speak with her while she is in our office. Perhaps, there is a coincidental opening on the hygiene schedule she might agree to utilize. Even if she can’t stay today to have that done, we can address it with her and possibly get her back on the schedule for another day.

Another thing we can do is to look for ways our team members may need help.

For instance, if the schedule is heavy on the restorative side in the morning but hygiene has lost a couple of people, hygienists can be of help by “jumping in” to seat patients and help with sterilization. If patients are having to wait for the dentist and dental assistant, the hygienist might have an opportunity to spend a moment in conversation with the patient. Patients often need to wait when someone is “fit in” for an emergency appointment. However, waiting can be pleasurable when a member of the care team spends time with them, getting to know them better. Creating opportunities to build relationships is an active choice that all of us on the team can intentionally deploy to distinguish our practices.

We can recognize teamwork with spoken gratitude.

Seek to hire people who are eager to be part of your practice culture, lend a hand, and be empathetic when others are under stress. When this is habitual in a dental practice, people enjoy each other’s company, and our patients notice we like our work.

Are We the Change We Seek?

When we look our best, we feel best, and that’s a formula for success every time! We need to dress the part of professionalism, get plenty of sleep, make good choices, and get rid of complacency. It’s not necessary to be the practice owner or the office manager to lead by example. We can all be “the change we want to see” and our positive attitude and efforts will catch on!

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