Excellence—You Can’t Just Mail It In

Dr. Halligan
Dr. Halligan

Monday morning, a cloudy July day with rain in the forecast and I’m reading the Wall Street Journal while Andrea reads the latest from Scott Manning*. “This is a good one,” she says. “I’ll forward it to you.”

So, I skip the latest news of the day and read Manning’s ‘The Four Traits of a Championship Team.’

It’s good of course, as most of Scott Manning’s stuff is. Compare yourself and your staff/team with a professional sports team: Every game matters, every at bat counts, every play is executed as though their lives depend on it, Manning says. And in your practice, every day matters, every patient visit matters, every patient counts.

While that sounds good, and in the top 10% practices I’m sure that’s the attitude of every team member almost every day. But later, when Andrea and I are walking in the woods, I tell her, “I’m thinking about that Scott Manning piece, and it brings to mind at lot of things. For example, when I was just starting out, I read a practice management book. And the author led off with a story. Once a farmer was visiting his neighbor’s farm and while they were in the barn, the farmer’s horse took off and ran to one end of the barn and banged his head against the wall. Then he turned around and did the same thing at the other end, then took off and did it again. ‘What’s wrong with your horse?’ the visiting farmer asked. ‘Is he loco?’

‘Nah,’ the horse’s owner said. ‘He just don’t give a damn.’”

The author went on to say, I hope this book can help you through your ‘don’t give a damn,’ days. Now, when I first read that book, I was so new to dentistry, so full of youthful enthusiasm, that I didn’t know I could ever have days where I didn’t ‘give a damn.’ I found out soon enough though, and I suppose you did too. Better not make a career of it, however.

I’ve visited quite a few dental offices over the years and the ones that appear to always be ‘On,’ to never have a day where the goal is to just make it through the day, are rare indeed. In Manning’s words, you better not have a day where the goal is to just make it through. Because it shows. Everybody knows. And when you get your turn at bat, you sure don’t swing for the fences. Your practice suffers.

I was a Lou Rawls fan back in the 70s and 80s and when I saw that he was going to perform in my area, I snagged a couple of tickets. He was best known for his song, You’ll never find another love like mine, but there were many more, in fact he released 60 albums and sold over 40 million records. I was excited to have good seats at a local theater to see him in concert.

But guess what? He was lack-luster in that concert. Low energy, with no audience connection, a disappointment that I still remember years later. The show didn’t measure up to anyone’s expectation. There were plenty of grumbles when the crowd filed out. In common parlance the man mailed it in. I never felt the same about him again.

What’s that have to do with you, your team, your office? Sometimes you, or someone at front desk or chairside is going to go through the motions, to have a ‘Let’s just get through the day,’ feeling and attitude. It better not happen often; patients have left practices for less.

Did it happen to me? Sometimes, yes. But in the better offices, for the star players in your town, it’s possible that it Never happens. I don’t have a magic answer to prevent it except for awareness. I think of an office I visited and watched the dentist do a new patient exam. He was quick, cursory, didn’t do a perio exam or an oral cancer screening, things that I’m sure are standard. Was he having one of those ‘don’t give a damn’ days? That’s how I saw it. Did the patient know it too? I don’t know, but at some level I suspect she did.

Your patients are as sensitive as a safe-cracker’s fingers, all their senses fine-tuned when it comes to the patient experience. Somehow you and all the team must be and remain cognizant of that fact.

And I’m not saying it’s easy. Do you find yourself just wanting to get through the day? Remember the night Lou Rawls lost a bunch of fans. I think a simple awareness is the first step—awareness of your own attitude but also aware of tone and presence of your team members with their patient interactions.

Yes, the quality of your dentistry matters a great deal. But your patients can’t feel the margins, but they know the quality of the patient experience. Make it count. Every time. Tall order? Oh, you bet.

Over the years I saw the Rolling Stones in concert only once, plus I saw two or three videos of their concerts including the marvelous Havana Moon, and as far as I can tell, those boys never, ever just mailed it in.

A high-energy rock band, I see Mick Jagger dancing better than Michael Jackson even though Mick is more than 70 years old, Charlie Watt’s drumbeat firmly in the pocket, every band member surely with it. How could they do it so consistently not just for years but for decades? I suppose many musicians wish they had the recipe. Any chance you could be a rock star of dentistry? Ok, I admit not much. But what a role model to have in the secret compartments of your brain.

Win every day, Scott Manning says. And it’s not just a game. It’s more important than that. Own your outcomes and the outcomes for your patients’ health and lives. Ok, I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but I hope you get the point. You can’t be that horse running from one end of the barn and bashing his head for very long without everyone noticing. You deserve to have a high-level practice, don’t you? You deserve to see the plateaus when you reach them and see how to reach higher. So, as today’s athletic coaches might say to you, ‘Come on. You’ve got this!’ Stay in the game like a star athlete. When it’s time to take your turn at bat—and that’s every day—try to make it count.

*Scott J Manning, MBA is a dental practice consultant with close to 20 years experience helping dentists reach their professional, financial and personal goals with a values-based approach. Although I have met Mr. Manning, I do not have any financial ties to disclose. I just find him a valuable resource. Check out his weekly newsletter. You may want to subscribe.

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