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Hiring a dental consultant is an important step in improving your dental practice and the care you offer your patients. But you have to make sure you hire the RIGHT dental consultant. Here are tips to make sure you get the most out of this all-important relationship.
You’re ready to make a change in your dental practice.
Maybe you’re stressed because your practice is suddenly experiencing turnover and you have no idea why. Maybe you’re looking for a way to make your hygiene department more profitable, or you’re a new dentist who struggles with the business side of owning a dental practice.
No matter the reason, you’ve decided it’s time to make a change in your practice and that you’re ready to bring in outside help to make it happen. The problem is, you have no idea who.
Hiring a dental consultant is an important step in improving your dental practice and the care you offer your patients. But you have to make sure you hire the RIGHT dental consultant. If you don’t, not only will you not get the results you’re after, you’ll end up more frustrated than you are now.
Here are tips to make sure you not only find the right dental consultant for your practice, but that you get the most out of this all-important relationship once you do.
Before you start meeting with consultants, find out a little bit about them, said Penny Limoli, owner of Limoli and Associates. Google them, read articles they’ve written and spend some time on their websites. Ask for references so you can talk to other dentists they’ve worked with. This will give you a better feel for the consultants you’re considering and help you make the right decision for your practice.
Before you meet with any consultants, write down your goals for your practice, and share these goals during the interviewing process, said Kathleen O’Donnell, Executive VP of Coaching for Jameson Management. Talk with the consultant to make sure he or she understands your goals. Have the consultant write up a plan of action aimed at helping you meet those goals.
Know up front what the consulting fees will be, and don’t be afraid to negotiate, O’Donnell said. And make sure you ask about total fees-you need to know about any additional fees that may come up, like travel when he or she comes to visit your practice.
During the interview process and beyond, you have to be willing to talk with your consultant about any problems that come up in your practice, Limoli said. Don’t hide problems; that will just waste time and money. If you want real change in your practice, let your consultant know what challenges your practice faces so he or she can help you meet your goals.
Let your consultant know you expect honesty as well, Limoli said. The consultant isn’t there to tell you what you want to hear; you hired this professional to be honest about what he or she is seeing in your practice and what changes you need to make-even if those changes make you uncomfortable. If the consultant you’re considering isn’t willing to do that, you need to find someone else.
Every practice has different needs, so it’s important to make sure your consultant recognizes that, O’Donnell said. Any plan your consultant comes up with should specifically address your practice’s needs, and you consultant should have flexibility in case those needs change.
After you talk with your consultant about what your goals are and the challenges you face, ask how long he or she thinks it will take to reach those goals, Limoli said. Where can you expect your practice to be in 6 months, or a year? Find out what’s realistic to help avoid frustrations down the road.
Working with a dental consultant won’t do you much good if you have no idea how your practice is progressing. Your consultant should update you on how you and your team are doing in terms of follow through, implementation and accountability, O’Donnell said.
It’s also important for you to offer feedback to your consultant. Let the consultant know what you and your team members think about the relationship and how you see improvements progressing-even if some of that feedback if negative. If the consultant knows something just isn’t working, he or she can make needed adjustments to help get the plan back on track.
If you want your team members to be on board with change, you have to involve them from the very beginning, O’Donnell said. If they know why you want to make changes and the benefits that will come, they’re more likely to be excited about those changes and to help, rather than hinder, implementation of new systems or philosophies.
“We like to build a relationship with team members from the start,” O’Donnell said. “Doctors should engage and involve the team in decision making and involve them throughout the process. Delegate follow-through on action items to team members, make sure they see the bigger picture and how they’re part of the overall plan to achieve the doctor’s goals.”
Change can be difficult, and even though you and the consultant know it’s best for the practice, some of your team members may not be on board with some of the changes needed to meet your goals-even if you did involve them in the process from the very beginning. When the consultant isn’t there, it’s your job to hold everyone accountable and make sure they understand the need for change in the practice.
“We can help you make more progress than you would on your own but when we aren’t present, you have to be prepared to say, ‘This is what I want.’ We’re not dong this because Penny said so, but because Penny recommended this change and this is what I want,’” Limoli said. “The consultant works for the doctor not the other way around. It can be hard being a small business owner. While we do partner with you we can’t fight the battle for you. That’s a short term victory.”
If you work in a group practice, all the doctors have to be on the same page when it comes to making changes, Limoli said. If you’re not, your team members will focus more on the conflict than making real, positive changes in the practice.
If one of the three dentists in a group practice doesn’t agree with some of the proposed changes, don’t hash it out in front of the team; talk with the consultant behind closed doors to come to a solution that gets everyone excited and ready to move forward.
It’s easy to say you want change, but to make it happen you have to put in the work. That means keeping scheduled coaching calls and visits with your consultant, O’Donnell said. Visits and follow up calls are key to staying on track and making sure your consultant is informed of what’s working and what isn’t.
Short-term fixes are tempting, but aren’t what’s best for the long-term success of your practice, Limoli said. You may be tempted to raise fees 5 to 10 percent to bring more money in, but if you lose patients because of the increase you’ve done your practice more harm than good. You have to think about the long-term effect these kinds of changes will have on your practice.
Whatever problem you’re trying to fix in your practice, both you and your team members will have to invest time to make it happen, Limoli said. That means meeting with your consultant, learning new skills, implementing new systems and holding everyone on the team-including the doctors-accountable for doing their part.
“The doctor and leadership in the practice should model, in a positive way, their belief that this is an investment and it’s going to be worth it. They should convey the message, ‘I am a leader and I am going to be a role model,” Limoli said. “You will not get the results and rewards you seek if you, as the leader, don’t model the attitude and change you wish to see in your team.”
Just because you had a training session on Friday doesn’t mean everyone in the office will know exactly what they’re doing come Monday, Limoli said. You have to start somewhere, and every training session is a step toward your end goal.
Keep meeting with your consultant about your progress and stay on task; don’t get frustrated if it’s taking longer than you expected. Be patient and keep working and you’ll reap the rewards soon enough.
A consultant should be someone who will hold you accountable, someone who you trust and you feel comfortable talking with about the goals you have for your practice and the challenges you face.
You should consider your consultant a partner and someone you can call when you need advice or when you want to talk about what’s working and what isn’t. That’s why it’s so important for you to find the right consultant for your practice-someone you can relate to both professionally and personally.
“Trust is critical between the doctors and the consultant,” O’Donnell said. “If the doctor is not feeling the trust within the first 60 days of the working relationship, it’s time to confront the issues and fix it or find a better fit.”
Remember your consultant is a confidant, Limoli said, and you’ll be discussing matters with him or her that you won’t share with anyone else-sometimes things even your business partner doesn’t know. Trust is key, as is finding a consultant you like.
When you find that person, you’ll see the improvements begin to happen, and you can be confident that if you and your team members put the work in and stay focused on your goals, you’ll finally get your practice exactly where you want it to be.