Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dentist, Consultant, or What?

Note: In response this week to several posts on a dental message board about "consultants" in dentistry and some specific comments about my not being a dentist, I posted the following. I thought you might be interested in some or all of what it says. Enjoy!

Three years ago I was fortunate to have some one-on-one time with Coach Chuck Daly who coached the Detroit Pistons and the 1992 Olympic "Dream Team." Coach Daly has since passed away, but his lessons live on in my own life. One of the many truths he shared with me was this: "It is the player's job to play, but it is the coach's job to make sure the team wins." Some of the best coaches in history never played much ball including Coach Lou Holtz, one of the greatest of all time. It is because playing and coaching are two different skill sets. Just because you can do something does not mean you can coach someone else effectively to do it. The converse is also true. Just because you can teach it, does not mean you can do it.

I am not a dentist. I have never been a dentist and I will never be a dentist. And from what I am told by many IN dentistry, that is a great asset. I have always tried to look at dentistry from the patients' viewpoint (because I am one) as well as from an organizational and business standpoint. It is a unique and different approach that, for many, has yielded some impressive results.

Having worked with dentists for over twenty years, I too have heard the cliché time and time again, "Those who can, do and those who can't, teach." I am sure one can find many examples to which that cliché applies. After all, if you have drawn a conclusion before you know the all facts, you tend to look only for facts that support your conclusion. You can miss a lot of valuable wisdom that way!

But just for the heck of it about six years ago, I thought it would be fun to put that cliché to bed for good in this case. So I put my own personal money on the line, signed the lease, bought the equipment and started a dental practice from scratch (yes, it is all legal - the attorney for the Texas Dental Association is my legal council and it has all been signed off by the Texas Board of Dental Examiners) to prove to myself (and others) that it is possible to "teach" and "do." Fast forward to today, we have multiple offices that we operate on a daily basis. It is where we test everything we "teach" first, on our own dollar, before we ever roll it out to the rest of the industry. I have always told our entire team that we do not have the right to ever recommend anything that we are not doing successfully ourselves. That is our standard. That is our commitment. While I do not personally drill or give injections, (and that is not a problem since that is not what we teach) we do put our own money where our mouth is in the specific areas of practice success like strategic planning, marketing, case acceptance, profitability, leadership, etc. to make sure that what we "teach" is proven every day.

One of the many things that "doing" AND "teaching" has taught me about dentistry is that most dentists want to talk about production, but most don't want to talk about profit. Profit is one of the best-kept secrets in the industry. For every one hundred dentists that will brag about what they produce, you might find one who will be honest enough to talk about what they are really making. Production numbers without disclosing profit is fiction, not reality. You don't know the REAL story until you see the bottom line. That is why I have always been a big believer in open book management. I will put any one of our hygienists, dental assistants, or business assistants, or dentists for that matter up against any dentist in the country in terms of being able to read, interpret, and action plan from a practice Profit and Loss statement. It is part of knowing and understanding the reality of dentistry. Yet, it is one of the most hidden secrets in most practices. Most dentists don't get it. But that is because they are the "player" first and are "playing" the game most of the time and have not taken the time to stop and seek a good "coach" who will make sure they "win" the game over the long haul.

So who is really a good source for learning and growing? I sat through a business course recently presented by a less than inspiring speaker. He was a real sleeper for most of the crowd. I left inspired, however, because his ideas and wisdom were invaluable. His presentation skills were lacking, but his mind was brilliant. It reminded me that we are all too quick to judge in life and because of that, we miss valuable insights, lessons, and wisdom that might otherwise have been ours, many times from the most surprising sources. It is possible to learn from just about everyone IF you are open to learning and IF you are always seeking the truth. If you limit your sources, you limit your learning.

Finally, some of the biggest breakthroughs in history have been made by those from the "outside" who dared to think differently because they did not know any different and were not constrained by conventional thinking of the "insiders." You could start your list with Christopher Columbus. Thank goodness he did not "subscribe" to and believe everything on the "sailor's message board" of the day. If he had, he would have never done the unconventional. Similarly, dentistry, if you are not careful, can be an incestuous experience if you only listen to "conventional wisdom."

Sixteen years ago, I spent the last week of Dr. W. Edwards Deming's life with him. Named one of the top one hundred most influential men in business of the last century, he revolutionized quality in hundreds of industries around the world. The funny thing about him was, he never ran a business, he never manufactured a single product, in fact, I am not aware of any company where he even sat on the board of directors. Yet his RESULTS are indisputable.

Deming did have a few choice words for dentistry buy-the-way. He said: “How many dentists do magnificent work? The question is impossible to answer, for the simple reason that there has never been a definitive study of quality in the dental profession; nor is there likely to be one. Partly because they tend to work alone, dentists resist the idea of being evaluated, or even observed, by others. And because inferior dental work may not be discovered until years after it is performed, patients are seldom in a position to make informed decisions.”

Serious food for thought from a man who changed the world. But then again, what did he know? He was just a "consultant!" He never picked up a drill or gave and injection, so how could he know anything about dentistry?

Respectfully yours,

Steven J. Anderson (Not a dentist! Maybe a consultant! But always a seeker of truth!) Founder

Total Patient Service Institute -

Crown Council -

Smiles for Life Foundation -

LEAP Youth Foundation -


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Want more new patients?

If you are looking for more new quality patients, here are two “update” ideas that depend on daily execution to be successful. I call them “update” ideas because they are ideas we have discussed before, but we have some new data that might give you some additional motivation to act or make a greater effort to put them into action. Done correctly on a daily basis, they have the potential to increase new patient flow by 20 to 30%.

Update Idea #1: Ask for another new patient.

As you probably know, we always track the number of potential new patient calls that come into a practice every day. We also track how many of those patients schedule. Our standard goal used to be an 80% success rate until late last year when one of our appointment coordinators changed the game with a 130% success rate. She developed the habit of always asking every new patient who scheduled an appointment who else in the family needed a new dentist that she could schedule today. Roughly 1 out of every 3 new patients responded with another new patient!

Since raising the bar last year, we have had an on-going contest to see who can schedule the most number of new patients out of one phone call. The record to date is held by our own ToPS Practice Advisor, Pam Peterson with a total of 6 new patients from one in-bound call! Another new record was set this week in a slightly different area when Aimee, the business assistant at The Grapevine Dentist scheduled a total of 12 new patients out of 4 new patient, in-bound calls in one day. Congrats Aimee!

So if you are not in the habit of tracking calls and scheduled appointments, start doing it today. Then make sure to ASK each patient who schedules, who else needs to schedule an appointment as well.

Update Idea #2: After hours calls
Again, this is nothing new, but not many offices do it. Done right, it can keep your schedule in tact and increase your new patient flow.

Each day we print out the schedule for the next 5 or so work days. Someone on the team takes home the office after hours cell phone to which all office calls are forwarded. With schedule in hand, the team member is equipped to handle any call that comes in including new patient calls which can be scheduled on the spot. The team member can also personally handle potential cancellations if they call after hours.

The team member responsible also gets $10 for every new patient who schedules after hours and who shows up for their first appointment. Even if it is only 3 or 4 new patients a month that may have otherwise hung up or not left a message, those numbers start adding up over a year’s period of time. Think about it. It could mean 35 to 50 new patients in a year. If your average new patient value is $2,000 for example, that is a potential of $70,000 in production that may or may not have come into the office.

Now those are two very simple, easy to implement ideas that could have a combined result of over $100,000 or more result in a year!

Now that’s something to seriously consider!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Law of 3

How many times have your felt that your patients just are not telling the truth when you hear things like:

“I can’t afford it.”

“I’m too busy.”

“That’s more than I was expecting.”

“I’ll do it next year.”

Whatever the “excuse”, it is rarely the real reason. Most patients, and most people including ourselves, are like a delicious, moist chocolate cake. Upon first inquiry, we will give the “frosting” answer which is the socially acceptable, easy escape route response. But rarely is this response the whole truth. Dig a little deeper and you might get a little more of the truth on the surface of the cake. But by the third inquiry in a different way, you’ll usually hit the tender, moist middle of the “cake” where the truth resides.

It is what I call the Law of 3. It usually take three inquiries (stated in different ways) before you get the real truth. For example, the patient might say:

“I can’t afford that.”

You ask: “You can’t afford it?”

Patient: “It is just more than I was expecting.”

You ask: “It sounds like you’re surprised by some information you were not expecting. Am I right?”

Patient: “Exactly. I thought I was just fine especially since I just went to my previous dentist under a year ago. I am shocked no one has told me this before.”

You ask: “I understand especially knowing how important your health is to you like you said. So based on what you have seen today, what do you want to do.”

Patient: “I need to get started. I’ll just have to figure out a way to make it work.”

Now, it may not go exactly like that because every patient is different, but the point is that the truth rarely comes out at first. It takes patience, empathy and persistence. Hang with them and you eventually hear the truth whether it is after the 3rd inquiry or beyond.

The Law of 3 has numerous other applications. Here’s two more:

1. Patients don’t really “hear” you until the third repetition. The hygienist expresses concern over something she sees. That’s once. The hygienist expresses the same concern to the doctor when he or she comes into the room. That’s twice. The doctor reinforces the concern by talking to the patient about it in more detail. That’s three. By the time the doctor gets to the third expression, the patient will finally wake up and pay attention! (I know. I am that patient!)

2. Patients may not accept until the third opportunity. Give them a first opportunity to accept and they will :”think about it.” Give them a second opportunity to consider it and they will consider it. Give them a third opportunity and they will accept! Those three opportunities might be in the same visit or subsequent visits. You don’t have to be pushy or overly aggressive when you know that the Law of 3 is always at work. Just hang in there.

So give your patients a second and third chance in every area. Don’t give up on them so fast! They’ll get with the program if you will just stay with the program! Remember the Law of 3. You’ll usually get the truth, understanding, and acceptance by the third time around!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Law of Enthusiasm

One of the most important natural laws of case acceptance states: “People don’t buy initially because they are enthusiastic about the service, but because you are.” Enthusiasm is contagious. Let me illustrate with an example from a most unlikely place.

No one is thrilled about jury duty. In fact, since it is the law, most enter the courthouse with a feeling of being there under duress. While looking around the courtroom this week anticipating the rapid completion of my civic duty, it was clear that most everyone who had been summoned for jury duty that day had other things on their mind. Then something magical happened that changed the attitude in the entire room.

When the court administrator walked in, no one expected much except to be told what to do. But when she stepped to the front of the room, her approach was different than expected. She stated her name, who she was, and welcomed everyone for the day. Then she gave us some background: degree in law, husband had cancer, she needed a job with better benefits and was fortunate to be hired as the court administrator. “Our family is so grateful for this position. It has made a big difference in our lives.” (A surprising, open and personal confession in an otherwise “sterile” environment.”) She continued with an explanation of why this was one of the best jurisdictions in the state of Texas and why that would make a difference to us during the day. Then she concluded by saying how much she loved the law, her job, and what she got to do each day. “Our system of law is one of the characteristics that makes our country great. Thank you for your service and for upholding and supporting The Constitution of the United States of America.”

By the time she got done, everyone felt like standing up and singing “God Bless America.” Attitudes were transformed and perspectives were changed all because of one woman…who loved her job.

Similarly, the attitude and enthusiasm of any doctor or team member can change the attitude and outlook of any patient. It happens every day in offices with enthusiastic team members. In most cases, patients do not tend to walk in the door overly enthusiastic about their dental visit. But brought under the influence of an enthusiastic team, their attitude changes and they adopt the same enthusiasm. Remember, the natural law states: “People don’t buy initially because they are enthusiastic about the service, but because you are.”

Take a moment this week to inventory your own enthusiasm. How contagious is it? One way to measure it is by the response of your patients. If they are not enthusiastic when they leave, maybe it is because you’re not!

“People don’t buy initially because they are enthusiastic about the service, but because you are.” Take your enthusiasm up a few notches this week. It will do wonders for your own attitude and the attitude of your patients. After all, if it can be done at the courthouse, it can be done anywhere!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Make it easy for patients to say "Yes"

Several years ago, Cheryl and I were looking to upgrade the “sorority house.” (With six daughters and a great wife, that is what I call our home!)

During the process, we ran into an exceptional salesman who was hosting an open house in a new development we were considering. Cheryl’s first impression of the house was positive so we went in. Within moments, she was taken with the floor plan, design, and décor. Then she started asking “buying questions” like these:
"Do you have a plan that includes an additional buffet in the kitchen?"
"I would prefer the front stairway to be hardwood instead of carpet. Do you have that?"
"The bay windows are beautiful. Can we have those all across the family room in the back?"

As I listened to his responses, I realized that he never once told her "NO" or that she could not have what she wanted even when she couldn’t. If there was something that was not available or a request he could not accommodate, he simply responded by giving her options of what WAS available. By never telling her “no” he gave her lots of opportunities to say “yes.”

He was a real pro. Not slick, just accommodating and very engaging. I really started enjoying watching him operate. It was almost like a tennis match. Cheryl would pitch him a question to which he would respond with alternatives from which to choose.

“Can I get the cupboards in boysenberry blue?” If they did not have that color, he responded, “Cheryl, we have several blues from which to choose. Do you think you would prefer Ocean Pacific or Deep Sea Blue better?” He always gave her something to which she could say “yes!”

After his spectacular performance, I complimented him on his communication skills and professionalism. Then I asked him where he learned to do that. “I am a former 6th grade school teacher,” he said. He told us that he learned early on with 12 year-olds that it was easier to give them lots of opportunities to say “yes” instead of telling them “no.”

There are many opportunities in the dental office where the immediate answer may not be “yes.” But with some creativity and quick thinking, you can always give the patient some options to choose from to which they can say “yes.” Here are some examples:

Patient: “Can you send me a bill?”

Team member: “We have several payment options available Mrs. Jones. Would it be easier for you to leave us with a credit card number or would you be interested in our third party payment program?”

Patient: “Are you open Saturday?”

Team member: It sounds like you have a busy schedule. In addition to Saturdays, what other times during the week to you have that might be a possibility so I can explore all the options?”

Every day there are temptations to say “no.” When those come up, give patients options to which they can say “yes.” Give them lots of choices and you’ll start hearing “yes” more often.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Make the appointment "Exclusvie"

While speaking this week to the Empire State Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, we talked about The Law of Exclusivity: Most people want what few people can get.

Think about it, you always want access to the exclusive places and things to which only “the few” have access.

Here’s a reminder about an idea that will help make your key appointments more exclusive, more highly valued by your patients and help you have more committed patients.

Critical ingredients of the “exclusive” pre-paid appointment:

1. Determine the benefits to the patient of having a pre-paid appointment: More value is placed on their appointment time. You are reserving the time “exclusively” for them. They will have more comfort knowing that they are important enough that you take their time seriously. Additionally, consider the benefit to the practice: Fewer cancellations and more committed patients. Be clear on your purpose AND the benefits to your patients so that you design a system that gets the result that you want.

2. Pick a dollar amount or appointment length for which you have your patients pre-pay. The longer the appointment length, the more of your time you are dedicating to them and the more “exclusive” that appointment should be. A commitment from them is certainly reasonable. For example, when you make reservations at a high-end hotel, if you will be checking in after 6 PM, your first night is paid for in advance. Why? Because they are setting aside a valuable resource, a room, especially for you. If you are not there by 6, they would rather sell that room to someone else in case you don’t show. So, if you want the “exclusive” privilege and convenience of a guaranteed room reservation, you get the opportunity to pay for it in advance.

3. Here is some verbiage that you might want to consider for positioning the exclusive, pre-paid appointment:

"Mrs. Jones, your next appointment for your _________ will be for two hours. In order to reserve that time exclusively for you on the doctor's schedule, there is a reservation fee of $_____ that will be applied to your total amount due. You are welcome to use any major credit card or a check. Which of those would be most convenient for you today?”

The implied message is that they are buying the “exclusive” time of the doctor. It sheds a whole new light on everything. At first they thought they were just “buying” the treatment. A pre-paid reservation signals exclusivity of the time of the expert. It sends a higher level message and engages your patients in an additional way.

4. You can extend another level of convenience by offering the following:

“Mrs. Jones, many of our patients appreciate the convenience of taking care of their balance for the treatment on the same card so they don't have to worry about payment on the day of treatment. We usually take care of that on the Monday before your appointment. Does that work OK for you?”

That may not work for everyone, but the more you can separate the payment from the appointment, the better. That way patients don’t get the financial flu on the day of treatment! Remember, you want to send the message that what they are reserving and buying is “exclusive” time, not just dental treatment.

The most valued commodity today that people have is their time. When you take their time seriously and make your time “exclusive” your patient will value you, your practice and your time more highly.

Benefit from the Law of Exclusivity by making everyone’s time more exclusive: Yours and your patient’s. They will treat you better, respect you more, and follow through when you and your time are “exclusive.”

Friday, October 30, 2009

Looking for new patients?

Here is one of the most overlooked new patient opportunities that costs nothing and is just sitting there. Here are the exact things you need to do:

1. Track on a daily basis the number of potential new patient calls that come into your office each day. Anyone who answers the phone in your office just keeps a tally of how many calls they answer from anyone who makes and inquiry about the practice.

2. Track how many new patient appointments are scheduled each day. These two numbers should be recorded daily so that the team can see how successful they are at converting “inquiries” into scheduled patients.

In the past, we always thought that if we could convert about 80% of the prospective patients, we were doing OK. After all, you are not everyone’s dentist and you won’t be a good fit for everyone.

That 80% target changed not too long ago, thanks to a very perceptive team member who understands that the purpose of the practice is to always be creating happy, paying patients.

In looking at the statistics of one particular office at the end of a month, I noticed that the calls to scheduled new patients ratio was over 130%. I thought there was a mistake and that the two lines had been switched. Upon further investigation, I discovered that everything was totally correct. Not only was the new patient being scheduled, but each one was being asked, “Who else do we need to get scheduled today who needs to come in and see us?” or something similar. In other words, JUST ASK! If a new patient is calling your office, chances are that someone else in their life needs a dentist as well. So, just ASK who that person is.

So, the next step is:
3. Ask every new patient after he or she schedules a new patient appointment, “Who else do we need to get scheduled today?”

While we used to just shoot for 80% in the past, today we compete to see how many new patients can be scheduled in one call! The record so far…7! 7 new patients scheduled from one phone call. Just because someone asked!

It is a simple idea. But a very powerful and profitable idea to leverage your marketing dollar.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Creativity Unleached!

Several yeas ago, a mentor of mine suggested one of to keys to creativity and inspiration…NOTHING! That’s right…NOTHING.

Sometimes our minds get so cluttered with the long lists of daily to do’s and stress of just keeping up with those things crowds out the creative process. We are so busy thinking, we can’t think. So the best thing to clear the brain is to give the brain a break so it can recover and think about more important things.

Imagine if I were to hand you a five pound brick and tell you to hold it straight out to your side. How long could you do it? 5 minutes? 6 minutes? The muscle fatigue would be unbearable to the point that your arm would collapse from exhaustion.

But what if you were to hold the brick straight out for 30 seconds and then set it down for 30 seconds repeatedly? How long could you do that? Perhaps indefinitely. Recovery time,” not strength, is the key to endurance.

If you had suggested to me just five years ago that my favorite “nothing” or recovery time activity would become motorcycle riding, I would have referred you to a local psychiatrist! But that is exactly what has happened. (Not the psychiatrist part!)

A little over five years ago, Dr. Roy Hammond invited me to join the faculty of Learning Curves, dental C.E. on motorcycle adventure tours. ( He agreed to donate the proceeds of the ride on which I would be the dental C.E. presenter to our Smiles for Life Foundation ( . I could not say “no” even though I had never ridden before.

Five years and four Miles for Life rides later, the ‘Miles for Life” ride has raised well over $300,000 and is now on its way to the half a million dollar mark. Each year, 20 Harleys are reserved by 230 riders and their co-riders if they choose for the annual Miles for Life ride which includes 4 days of spectacular riding through some of the best scenery in America: Yellowstone, Colorado Rockies, National Parks of Southern Utah etc. It has become a Smiles for Life tradition and major benefit for a great cause.

But those four days a year have not been quite enough for me and Cheryl. Week before last we escaped for four days of our own for a Harley ride through the Ozarks. The scenery was spectacular. The recovery time was invaluable. The togetherness time divine! We’ve decided that there is no other place we have found to have uninterrupted time together where we can relax, talk, and “recover.” We always return refreshed, highly creative, and ready to take on the world with new enthusiasm.

So what is your favorite “recovery” activity? If you don’t have one you love, get busy and find one. If you don’t think you could ever jump on a Harley, just do it. It will get you out of your comfort zone and open up a whole new world to you.

The next Miles for Life benefit ride will be held May 19-22, 2010. We will depart from Las Vegas, NV and ride to the Grand Canyon and onto Zion’s National Park and back. I’m excited to announce there are only 5 bikes left to be spoken for and we’re full! In past, most of the riders have signed up at the Crown Council Annual Event in February. It looks as if all the bikes will be spoken for long before then.

So before the bikes are all spoken for, I wanted to give you the chance to join me and Cheryl on what has become our favorite “recovery” activity. From the perspective of parents of 6 daughters, it is the best thing we do for our marriage, our family and our lives. You’ve got to have recovery time or “NOTHING” time to re-energize your brain, inspire your soul, and stimulate your creativity. So…Let’s RIDE!

To reserve one of the last bikes available on the Miles for Life 2010 ride, e-mail us today at or call 1-877-399-8677. We look forward to riding with you.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What Patients Really Want

We are going to take an hour this week on Tuesday, October 20 to discuss “What Patients Really Want” during a webinar hosted by Sesame Communications. To register, go to:

This is essential information for every team in dentistry that will give direction for the future of your practice. For example, during this hour, you’ll discover:

  • The 2 things, that if you even mention one of them, that will immediately turn your patients off.
  • The most overlooked opportunity in dentistry that over 50% of dentists are missing.
  • How dentists are killing themselves by despising one of the things that patients love the most.
  • The one aspect of case presentation that most practices totally overlook that patients are looking for the most.
  • How the most powerful form of marketing in dentistry has expanded exponentially to 10 times the level of effectiveness…if you know how to harness it.

And much, much more.

Join us at 1 PM Eastern, Noon Central and 10 Pacific on Tuesday, October 20 for an hour that will change the way you look at your patients, your practice and your future.

Register for the one hour webinar by going to:

Friday, October 9, 2009

Are you a Booster?

Who is your “booster?” Our local high school has a booster club for everything. My favorite is the A.P Booster Club that supports and encourages students who are in the Advanced Placement Program.

But how about you, your practice, and your patients? Who is the booster? Let me give you 4 examples from my week of great boosters:

  1. While in a new office this week, I had the opportunity to work with Tanya Brown, an appointment coordinator who has worked in dentistry for 16 years. She is loyal, professional and a great “booster.” I could not help but smile with a long lost patient walked in the door of the office, took one look at Tanya and exclaimed, “You’re here!” Tanya is such a great “booster: to patients, that they love her and look forward to seeing her every time they come it. She makes them feel good. She “boosts” them up.
  2. I was in Atlanta, Georgia today speaking to the Georgia Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry thanks to the invitation of Dr. Hugh Flax, in-coming President of the AACD. I’ve known Hugh for many years. He has given a lot to dentistry and a lot to me. He always tells the truth, and is always encouraging. A big thanks to Hugh for being a “boost” to me today and throughout the years.
  3. As I walked out the door of the seminar today, I was approached by Dolly Gainis, a local dental consultant, who had some of the nicest words of encouragement and gratitude that I have ever received after a seminar. She gave me a big “boost.”
  4. I love having great boosters on the front row of my seminar. Today I had the best boosters of all; the team of Dr. Debra King at the Atlanta Center for Cosmetic Dentistry. They get it! On the front row all day, eager to learn, attentive, and energetic. They gave me a huge boost all day. I’ll bet they do the same for their patients all day, every day.

So what you have you done to “boost” others today? How do you give your team members a boost? Your patients? Your family?

Everybody needs a boost. Even me!

Thanks for the boost!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Leading with Weakness

This one might seem little counter intuitive at first, but keep reading.

We typically are told to lead from strength, not from weakness. But here is a new perspective on weakness that was illustrated today during our Leading a ToP Team* seminar where dentists and key team members worked together from all over the country.

Here’s the case study…

The two partner doctors in question discovered after taking the Dental Team Assessment profile that they were naturally low in trust. Because of that natural tendency, they constantly check up on team members to whom they have delegated tasks. Team members follow their example by checking on each other. The result is a low trust work environment. Because of the tendency toward low trust, we worked on a new system to naturally build trust into the culture AND satisfy their need for verification and assurance.

We started with a new delegation system where ONE person would accept accountability for a task or outcome. The moment they accept that accountability, they also agree on a date by which they will report back to the team or “account” for their results. A chart that records tasks, the person accountable, and the date by which that person will report back, is hung on the lunch room wall as a reminder to all.

Now, the leaders can let go with the assurance that there is a date in the future when the accountable party will return with an update on the progress of the assigned task. No need to check up, verify, or micro-manage. The person who accepted the task now OWNS it and OWNS the result. The leader’s job is now to help and support the accountable party in anyway needed. But it is the accountable party’s job to ASK for the help when needed. It changes the culture of the office from low trust to high trust because the system is in place to give everyone the assurance that nothing will fall through the cracks. Hence, a weakness -- low trust, has been turned into a strength – a high trust culture.

Weaknesses can naturally be turned into strengths by simply coming up with a system to manage the weakness. The system takes care of the problem.

Can every weakness be turned into a strength with a system? Probably not. But more can be changed than not if you lead with your weaknesses, quit hiding, and start confronting them.

So start taking a look at your weaknesses and come up with the system to turn your weaknesses into a strength and you will be well on your way to Leading a ToP Team!

*Leading a ToP Team is a one-day course designed for ToPS dentists and key team members to provide tools and systems to lead the practice to the ToP. For dates and more information, call 1-877-399-8677.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

React or Respond - you choose...

Imagine going to the doctor for a particular ailment. The doctor looks at the symptoms, diagnoses, and prescribes a specific prescription and requests that you return in a week. When you do, upon looking at your condition, the doctors says, “You are having a reaction to the medication.”

So what does that mean? “A reaction.” Probably not something good!

But imagine on your second visit, the doctor says, “you are responding to the medication.” What does that mean? Probably something good!

Every day we have the opportunity to “react” or “respond” to other people, situations or our environment around us. What is the difference?

To “react” is to act before thinking, to come out of emotion. To “respond” is to come from a place of purpose with larger goal in mind.

Here’s an example from my trip across the country this week doing three different seminars from Massachusetts to Las Vegas: During one of my presentations, there was a particular doctor sitting on the back row that spent the first hour and a half talking to the doctor next to him in the middle of the presentation. I guess it had not occurred to him that there was anyone else around him who might have been affected! If his neighbors weren’t distracted, I was! By the third hour he raised his hand and asked a question, the intention of which was clearly NOT to learn or gain clarification, but to challenge the speaker - me! He had gone from being a minor distraction to those around him to being a major distraction to the entire group! And so it was decision time…to “react” to his question or “respond.” What to do? What to say?

Well, it would probably take more time and more space to explain what happened next, but I am grateful to another doctor, Dr. Michael Plous who took the time to thoughtfully pull me aside later to remind me of the power of “responding.” With Dr. Plous’s “response” in mind, here is a conclusion for daily consideration and application.

Every day you encounter people and patients who have their own agenda. There is something that is just not right. Something in what they do or say sets off and alarm in your head and your heart that triggers the desire to “react.” But at what cost? Perhaps the better course would be to “respond” based on the purpose of your practice and what you know is best. “React” and you’ll hand them control and you’ll only make things worse. “Respond” and you’ll stay in control of the interaction and your practice. Easy to say. Hard to do!

Once again, I am brought back to one of my favorite quotes that comes from Viktor Frankl from one of my all time favorite books, Man’s Search for Meaning in which he says,

Everything can be taken from a man but...the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

And so there it is, the last of the human freedoms; to respond instead of react.

If you have never read Man’s Search for Meaning, it may be one of the most meaningful books you have every read. It is on my top 10 list or best reads.

Have a great week as you strive to “respond” and stay free!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

For Better or Worse

Every time I accompany one of our Crown Council humanitarian expeditions ( to the Dominican Republic, I take at least one of my daughters to work and learn from the experience. Last week’s expedition included my 12 year old daughter Abby who helped every day with set up, sterilization, assisting, handing out hygiene kits, clean up, and whatever needed to be done. Abby even spent some time entertaining the other children while they were waiting their turn to see the dentist. One of her most significant accomplishments was the 750 hygiene kits she assembled to take on the expedition so that each patient could leave with a tooth brush and other essential hygiene items along with written instructions for homecare.

On our last clinical day, Abby assisted Dr. Jonathan Nicolas of the Dominican Republic. Abby held the flashlight, instruments, and did whatever Dr. Nicolas needed as they treated patients together. When we broke for lunch, Abby and I debriefed the morning wherein she made the following observation: “Dentists make things worse before they make them better.” Having watched Dr. Nicholas treat several cavities, she saw how much tooth structure had to be removed to make sure the decay was gone before filling the tooth. She, like most people, was amazed at how much had to be taken away before the tooth could be “put back together again.”

After listening to Abby’s fresh perspective on dentistry, it made me think of how many other things there are in dentistry and in life that have to get worse before they get better. Because we know it will have to get worse first, we often avoid taking action. How many of the following “worse before better” issues have you ever found yourself avoiding:

  • Taking disciplinary action with a team member for fear of his or her response.
  • Telling a patient everything that is really going on in their mouth for fear of how they will react.
  • Making a change in an office procedure because of the time and effort it will take even though you know it will make things better in the long-run.
  • Scheduling a long over-due C.E. course that you know will make you a better clinician because of the time and investment it will take.
  • Remodeling or updating the office because of the investment.
  • Taking the needed time to really train the team.
  • Working with a coach to improve the practice for fear of having to face the truth about what is really going on.
When you think about it, most things do have to get “worse” before they get better and that is what stands in our way of getting started or taking action. But that same inaction makes it even worse than it would be if you just jumped in, felt the pain, and did it anyway.

So what is the biggest “worse before better” action you are avoiding? Could I challenge you to step up and start “prepping?” You might as well be in charge of the “worse” part instead of letting it be worse on its own. The faster you get busy and work through the “worst,” the faster it will get “better.”

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What is your team culture?

Well over ten years ago, we made a hiring mistake. (It was the only mistake I have ever made…!) We hired and “office manager.” Within days the mistake was apparent. Team members from all directions were complaining:
“I can’t get any work done."
"He is too nosy."
"He’s driving me crazy.”

Upon further investigation, we discovered that the “manager” in question would give someone something to do, and then would constantly badger that person with frequent questions like, “How’s it coming? What kind of progress have you made so far? When are you going to have that done?” That approach communicates a lack of trust and a culture of irresponsibility. There has to be a better way.

In contrast to the above, imagine an office where each week the team meets for one hour. The agenda is prepared in advance and everyone knows what to expect. Just about anyone could run the meeting because it is run the same way every week. Systematically, each team member reports to the rest of the team on his or her area of accountability including results compared to the goals and the action plan that he or she has developed to further the results in the right direction. After giving the report, he or she asks for further input from the leader and the rest of the team. When done, the next person does the same thing until each area of the practice has been covered. That is what you call Team Accountability. When set up correctly, it can take tremendous stress off the dentist or the leader and the results will be far greater than the alternative approach.

Here are some of the characteristics of a Team Accountability:
1. Areas of accountability are clearly defined.

2. Some ONE is assigned to each area of accountability. Others may help, but just one person is accountable for ultimately answering for the results.

3. With each accountability is given the proper tools to get the job done.

4. Desired results are identified in advance so the person accountable understands the end result for which he or she is ultimately responsible.

5. Diagnostics are put in place so there is an easy way to measure results. Those who are accountable for specific results need to have a way to measure if they are indeed getting the results for which they are accountable.

6. Regular reporting intervals are set up in advance so the person knows when he or she will report to the team and to the leader on the results to that point and the action plan in place to continually improve.

When set up properly, the only question that the leader needs to ask is a follow up question or two for clarification or suggestion. Leading has never been so easy!

After the “Office Manager” disaster mentioned at the beginning of this article, the team pleaded with me NOT to find a replacement. “We don’t need to be managed,” they said. Just tell us what you want and we’ll do it. It was at that point that we implemented the 6 steps above. Then on a regular basis, we got together and each person reported on his or her area of accountability accordingly. Amazingly, but not surprisingly, moral and motivation went up, results came much faster, and everyone enjoyed their work more.

So what kind of culture do you have in your office? Is it a culture of irresponsibility or do you have an accountable team? Put the 6 steps of accountability in place today. It may take some time for your team to make the shift from your badgering to their reporting, but they will ultimately enjoy their work more and appreciate you as a much more effective leader.

(Team accountability is just one of the many principles taught at the ToPS “Leading a ToP Team” course for dentists and key team members. For dates and availability go to or call 1-877-399-8677.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009


We’ve just finished an amazing week with 170 high school and college age young people from all over the U.S., Canada and South Africa who attended the LEAP Youth Leadership Program. ( Founded by Dr. Bill Dorfman and myself over a year ago, LEAP’s mission is to expose young people to ideas, techniques and systems of success that will help them get a significant lead in life. (Pictured from the left: Leeto Khoza - South Africa, Steve Anderson, Kevin Carroll - speaker, Bill Dorfman, Kim Fineberg - Tomorrow Trust South Africa, Kim Palelo - South Africa.)

For 6 days, we enjoyed introducing these young people to successful mentors and success ideas they can use in school, their future careers, and in life to get ahead. Consider it a success university.

My two favorite highlights of the week happen near the end. Friday afternoon, we introduced all the students to 52 mentors who came in for the afternoon to answer any questions the students had about their respective professions and what has made them successful. Based on the concept that it is a lot easier to copy genius than it is to create mediocrity, this mentor session was stunning. So impressive were the group of mentors that attended that the mentors themselves decided that they had been slighted because they did not have the same opportunity the students had to “work the room” and get to know all the other mentors! What a thrill to watch the light bulbs go on in the student’s minds as they applied the principles they learned all week as they met face-to-face with people who had done it and asked them relevant questions so they could learn from their experience. In the words of one student, Tanner Roeller, a recent high school grad from Texas, “I always thought that success was out of reach and too difficult to attain. Now that I know the secrets of success, I know it is attainable for me.”

Early Saturday morning, the students gathered for the LEAP speech contest where each student presented a prepared speech in front of a group of 8 to 10 other students. The students then voted the best speech to be presented in front of all the LEAP participants, mentors and many parents. What a thrill to listen to the discoveries that had been made during the week, the commitments that had been made, and the life changes that these students made this week. After listening to these students, it was easy to conclude that LEAP is a game changer for these young people. It gives them principles to live by that will take them to the top.

My thanks to the many charitable donors who make this program possible and to the parents and other sponsors who send their students. LEAP is a non-profit education foundation made possible by the generous donations of so many people who want to make a difference in the lives of youth. Thanks for making this week possible.

LEAP 2010 is already scheduled for August 9-14 at the UCLA campus in Los Angeles. Details can be found at or by calling 877-855-5327.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Adjusting to Success

One of my all time favorite pieces of business and motivational literature is a speech given by insurance executive Albert E.N. Gray entitled “The Common Denominator of Success.” Some of the more salient points of this address were popularized by Earl Nightingale in later years.

I was reminded this week of a specific point Mr. Gray makes in his address. He said, “It is easier to adjust ourselves to the hardships of a poor living than it is to adjust ourselves to the hardships of making a better one.”

“Making it” in dentistry, or any other field takes effort, energy, and endurance; three things that are increasingly difficult to find. But the key ingredient is adhering to a set of natural laws and systems that get results. That sounds easy, but it is much more fun and entertaining to run off after the latest fad or new idea, show up late and leave early, or forgo additional wants in order to avoid the work, effort and energy it takes to become better.

I have frequently thought that there are few professions to which Albert Gray’s quote applies more than dentistry. There are few professions or professionals that I have seen that work harder at not working than dentists. In dentistry, it seems to be a badge of honor to not work very much. You’ve heard the conversation. A dentist will ask a colleague, “How many days-a-week are you seeing patients?” “Four days,” the other dentist responds to which the inquiring dentist replies, “Well, I’m only seeing patients 3 days a week.” And then he strides arrogantly away!

Sometimes it gets so bad that this “Don’t work” syndrome seeps down to the earliest entries in the dental field. I recall a dentist out of school just a few years who was only working 3 days a week. His practice was suffering, his production was mediocre, but he sure knew how to strut on the golf course two to three days a week!

Maybe I am out of touch here, but if your goal is to work less and see patients as little as possible so you can do other things, you might want to seriously consider your approach to your chosen profession. I have never seen anyone rise to any level of true success that did not put in the effort, energy and endurance to get there.

Case in point: I just finished reading Geoff Colvin’s book, Talent is Overrated – What Really Separates World-class Performers from Everybody Else, as recommended to me by Olympic Gold Metalist, Lanny Bassham ( If you want to read something that will give you some great hope, especially if you don’t think you are particularly talented in any one area, this is the book for you. As the title suggests, Colvin makes the convincing case that we give far too much credit to talent when observing the success of others, and we have far too little appreciation for the work that it really takes to be great. Becoming good – really good, takes effort, energy, and endurance. That’s why it is, as Albert Gray suggested, a lot “easier to adapt to the hardships of a poor living than it is to adjust ourselves to the hardships of making a better one.”

So, where are you slacking off? Where have you adjusted your desires, ambitions and attitudes to a lower level of accomplishment? Where do you need to step it up and apply some additional energy, effort and endurance? The “hardship” on the front end might take some sacrifice, but the success on the back end will be much better than the long, unending hardships of adjusting yourself to a lower level of success.

Now….Go to WORK!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Practice of Choice

Beltline Road in Addison, Texas, just north of Dallas, is the home to one of the highest concentrations of restaurants per capita of anywhere in America. It is known as "Restuarant Row" in the Dallas area. Every time I take a guest from out of town down Beltline Road, the response is usually the same. They can’t believe there are so many restaurants in one place. How could all of those restaurants compete with each other and be successful? Well, they don’t and they can’t! Let me explain.

Because there are so many restaurants in one place, Beltline Road has become know as THE place to go if you are looking for a place to go out. It has become a magnate for the dining out crowd. Other restaurants in the vicinity that are not on Beltline Road don’t fare as well because they don’t benefit from the “competition.” That’s right! Too often we think of the competition as something to fear. In fact, the “competition” may be one of our greatest assets. In the case of Beltline Road, the high concentration of restaurants attracts a higher number of people who are just looking for the right place to eat. Additionally, patrons leaving one restaurant may see another that looks interesting and decide that they will try that place the next time. It is a benefit the new restaurant would not receive if it had been in a more remote location.

Take another example: Have you ever noticed how often there are two gas stations at the same intersection? Common sense would tell you that they compete against each other, when in reality they are helping each other. How? Because there are two choices, the location has become known as a prime place to fill up and/or get what you need on the run. As long as each “competitor” has a way of differentiating itself from the other in some way, both can thrive.

Now to dentistry; With over 50% of the population that does not go to the dentist on a regular basis, your biggest concern should not be about the dentist down the street or around the corner. It should be how you can differentiate yourself and create a compelling benefit strong enough that attracts people to come in the first place. There are plenty of teeth to go around as long as you know what makes you different and you know how to get them in the door in the first place.

So, quit being so concerned about the “competition” and go to work on capitalizing on the assets you have that make your practice the attractive choice. There’s always going to be plenty of choices. What makes you the practice of choice?