How Healthy is Your Office Culture? – Leading through Change

When you think about the culture of your dental practice, what words come to mind?

Is your office culture one of compassion, teamwork, positive change, and growth? Is poor communication, inefficiency, and lack of follow-through the norm? Or does your practice, like many, fall somewhere in between?

Even if you want your practice to exhibit healthy leadership culture, it can be easier said than done.

Dr. Toby Cosgrove, former CEO of Cleveland Clinic, broke down leadership culture in healthcare into four elements:

1. Leading through change

2. Maintaining integrity

3. Fostering teamwork

4. Creating a learning environment

Over the month of June, we’ll be diving deeper into the four elements. Each week we’ll provide you with practical, action-oriented ways to improve one of these aspects of your office’s culture.

Let’s kick off week 1 and take a closer look at the first element: leading through change.


With constant advances in medicines, technology, and policy, healthcare is a rapidly evolving field. As such, changes are an unavoidable part of every dental practice, and how they are handled has a huge effect on an office’s culture. Here are a couple things to consider when enacting change in your practice:

Fix problems, not symptoms

When a problem is identified, our reflex can be to blame the people rather than the processes that need improvement. This can create feelings of resentment among your team and often fails to address the actual root of the issue.

The next time an issue arises, try using the “5 Whys.” Developed by Sakichi Toyoda, one of the leaders of the Japanese industrial revolution, this technique starts with writing down the problem you’re experiencing. Then, dig deeper by asking “why?” five times.

For example, imagine your front desk team isn’t spending enough time providing face-to-face customer service. Before confronting them, take some time to determine why this is happening.

Why? They have to spend too much time giving reminder calls to patients and scheduling them over the phone.

Why? They have to hunt down the clinical staff to communicate with them, sometimes leaving the front desk empty when patients arrive.

Why? There aren’t enough team members to divide up responsibilities like checking in patients and answering phones.

Why? Too much time has to be spent on busywork like copying, scanning, and retyping paper forms.

Why? There isn’t a streamlined patient check-in and check-out process.

Once you’ve taken time to identify the 5 Whys of the situation, it’s clear that the initial problem is just a symptom of the real issue. If your front desk team is stretched too thin, just asking them to spend more time with patients won’t solve anything. However, making changes to processes — such as implementing automated appointment reminders, using digital check-in forms, or giving pagers to the clinical staff — may fix the actual problem while maintaining a positive team environment.

Fresh eyes, fresh ideas

If members of your team feel like change can only come directly from the dentist or office manager, your practice may miss out on opportunities for growth. The people who are the most involved in day-to-day processes can often have the best ideas on how to improve them.

Consider offering incentives for participating in quality improvement, or creating a platform where your team can submit their ideas for change. Every member of your team has an important role to play in building healthy leadership culture, and encouraging each other to take initiative helps your practice to perform at its best.

Stay tuned next week to learn about the second element of leadership culture: maintaining integrity.

Click here to see how DentalForms can help your practice eliminate the busywork created by paper forms.