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Let Systems Guide Your Way

Your team members are such an important component of your practice, and it certainly could not function without them. “Your people are the secret sauce,” Kirk says, “but there’s a dangerous point where you’re people-dependent.” It’s when you rely on individuals instead of systems that you run into trouble. There’s no ignoring that it makes your life better when you’re just able to trust that certain team members know how to do everything and don’t need supervision, but what happens if they leave? All that knowledge goes with them. You need to let systems, not people, drive your practice. People leave, systems don’t.

It’s easy to become dependent on people because there are so many pieces to dentistry but doing so sacrifices efficiency and effectiveness in your practice. Make the transition to being organized and you’ll find that you’re saving both time and money and reducing the amount of conflict you encounter.

Do it Now, Save Time Later

There are so many little things in your practice that you’ll end up doing ten thousand times over the course of your career. It may only take you ten minutes to do it, but when you consider that you’re going to have to devote ten minutes to do it uniquely ten thousand times, it really adds up. The idea is to do it once, then duplicate it. Consider when a patient comes in for an emergency appointment—you could either have the clinical team take ten minutes to figure everything out when the patient arrives, or have the admin team take ten seconds to put a note in the appointment that explains why the patient is there. Ten seconds versus ten minutes, and you can do it across the board so that everyone who does it saves time.

If you have a new team member or someone who hasn’t performed the task before, it takes extra time because they must learn how. But when you devote the time to creating a system, you create a standardized method that saves you hours in the future and ensures that everyone does the task the same way every time.

Stop Wasting Money

When attempting to solve a problem in a people-dependent practice, you just end up throwing more money and energy toward it. Consider your admin team: if you have three people up front who are taxed because you have no systems in place, you might add a fourth to relieve their burden. What that does, however, is either take away someone from another area or cause you to spend money on a new hire. When you throw people at problems it causes your team compensation to skyrocket, often putting it in the 30% range. As a result, your overhead creeps up to the 60-80% range, and then one thing happens: nobody’s happy with their compensation.

When you move to be systems-driven, however, your costs go down. And it’s not because you’re paying your team any less—in fact, there’s an argument to be made that you’ll actually end up paying them more—it’s because your team isn’t spending so much time each day trying to figure everything out, uniquely, for every patient.

Cut Down Your Conflict

Instead of putting your time and energy toward solving problems, systems let you devote it to the best currency in your practice: relationships. If your practice isn’t organized, the relationships are at risk. We love the equation E-R=C, which stands for Expectations Minus Reality Equals Conflict. When you put systems in place, it’s a win-win-win for you, your team, and your patients, because the team knows exactly what’s expected. You can’t just assume your team will know what you expect without a system, and you’ll only end up angry about something that’s your fault. Getting mad at people is a short road in dentistry—what you want is clarity, because clarity creates consistency. And consistency brings predictability, which is the one thing you need to grow your practice.

Put in the Work

Transitioning from people-dependent to systems-driven is not achieved through a snap of the fingers. If you want your systems to be effective, you need to devote the appropriate time to create them. And while it does take time and effort, it’s something you just have to do once and then duplicate it. Here are some tips:

  • Write it down: There’s a good chance that when you first create a system, you’re not going to remember what to do in a week, so make sure to document it when you create it. One of Kirk’s favorite sayings is, “If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist.”
  • Keep it simple: Anyone should be able to follow your systems. We like to say that a 14-year-old should be able to see how things work.
  • Give it your best energy: If you want to create an effective system, you need to do it when your brain is at its best; don’t save it for a Friday afternoon when you’re already mentally checked out. Work on systems on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning before you’ve started with patients. 
  • Be consistent:  Devote just a couple of hours per week to working on systems, and you’ll see yourself make improvements and smoothly transition to relying on systems.

There’s no ignoring that systems are difficult to create, document, and implement, but they’re literally a gift to yourself, your team members, and your patients; they will add predictability and take your practice to that next level you’re craving. Think about what Kirk says: “Bad habits are really easy to create, but very hard to live with. Good habits are really hard to create but very easy to live with and work with.” Reach out to the ACT team and let us help you create those good habits. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they let you create a Better Practice and a Better Life!

Heather Crockett is a Lead Practice Coach at ACT.


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