"Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier." ~Colin Powell~
I think that one of the most predictable common denominators for a successful practice is optimism. I'm not talking about Pollyanna-ish, naive, "build it and they will come" optimism. You have to pair optimism with hard work, desire and a willingness to find and use whatever is available to help you succeed. There's a joke I heard once:
It was raining very hard and flooding was predicted. As the water rose, a very religious man watched the water rise from his window. Someone knocked on the door and offered him a ride to higher ground. The man refused, "No, the Lord will provide." As the water rose higher he watched from the porch of his house. Another man in a rowboat came along and offered to take him to higher ground. The man said, "No, the Lord will provide." The water continued to rise even higher, forcing the man to climb to his roof. A helicopter came overhead and a man with a bullhorn begged the man to accept transport to higher ground. The man shouted, "No, the Lord will provide." The man drowned and when he got to heaven and encountered God he said, "I believed that you would save me and you didn't." God said, "I sent a car, a boat and a helicopter! What more did you want?"
That guy was optimistic and a believer, but he didn't use everything available to aid in his success. In that case it cost him his life, in your case the life of your practice may depend on your use of optimism, desire, and whatever else is available to ensure your success. Some dentists are giving in to despair, and I can understand that in these times it can be easy to do that. I know a specialist who is have some tough personal and professional challenges. It has to be hard to be optimistic. But, on the other hand, what will pessimism get him? His personal situation won't get worse if he tries to believe that things will improve. They surely won't get better if he is pessimistic about it. Optimism may not prevent a decline, but it may make the days better in the meantime. In his practice, there is a sense of giving up. His staff feels it, and maybe worse, those that refer to him sense it. People steer away from pessimism because it makes them uncomfortable. It's like pushing their own worst case scenario in their face. Optimism is uplifting. When you're worried about your own problems, you welcome anyone who will shine a ray of hope on the situation. In this doctor's case, he would be better off focusing on ways to make it easier for patients to accept treatment, rather than telling everyone how bad things are. Pessimism often comes off as a result of failure to others, no one wants to let it seep into their own life.
So, what positive things can you do to keep yourself, your staff and your patients optimistic? Address the economy in a positive way by letting everyone know what steps you are taking to make things easier for your patients. Maybe you're freezing your fees for the time being. Patients notice it when you raise fees almost immediately, but rarely notice that you haven't raised them in two years. Talk about it in your newsletter. Offer in-house payment plans to patients who have a good payment history with you and let them know that you're doing it because they've been such faithful patients. They will live up to your trust. Have team meetings and share your values and focus for your practice with your team. Make sure you understand each other. What's important to them? Do they know what's important to you? Dr. Marc Cooper addresses this in his book Valuocity .
So many times we fall into complacency and figure, well this is the best we can do. We accept team members who don't give us what we need in terms of attitude or effort and think that the devil we know is better than the devil we don't know. What we really need is optimistic, hard-working angels who are aligned with our values and want to work to have a positive impact on the practice, patients and each other.
Why is that so scary for some us? We are afraid of what patients will think if they see too much turnover. Granted, patients often start to think that something is wrong, but we can be open and let them know that we are working to find the right people to serve them well. Get comfortable talking to patients about how dedicated you are to keeping the culture of the practice healthy and that means finding people with the best values and strong work ethics who are passionate about patient care, and those people are in short supply. Talk about the high quality of the team members that work in the practice and how proud you are of them. Likewise, employees, talk to patients about how much you believe in your dentist and brag about his qualities. Patients love to know that their favorite staff member feels great about their dentist.
When you find yourself thinking pessimistically, try to think of a positive counter-thought. You notice a decrease in new patients? Use that as an opportunity to look at how you are treating your current patients. How can you increase your service to them? Do you have a patient who is having her anterior composites replaced and notice that her smile would really benefit from bleaching? Offer to make bleaching trays at no fee and only charge a little over your cost for the bleach. Her gleaming smile might make her friends ask who her dentist is. She may be so thrilled that she'll spread the word without being asked. Take a look at your fees. So many times we just set them and forget them, but often, fees like bleaching or bite splint can be lowered because the actual cost isn't that high. Greater acceptance may offset the reduction in fee and add more service to your patients. Finding positive answers turns problems into opportunities. Optimism and pessimism are equally contagious. Which will you catch?