The Number One Practice Mistake and How to Avoid It

Are you like Charlie Brown? For many dentists, the success they aspire to is much like the old Peanuts comic strip, where Charlie Brown tries to kick the football that Lucy holds. She assures him that she'll hold it upright and secure; all Charlie Brown has to do is run up and kick it. Poor Charlie Brown. He tries repeatedly to kick the football, and he comically falls on his face or backside as Lucy pulls it away. She keeps saying, "Trust me... I'll hold it this time." He keeps trying...and falling down every time.
Trying to achieve practice success that should be yours without handling the 7 major mistakes dentists make is like being sentenced to a Practice Hades, where Lucy is always pulling the ball away, where you continually try and forever slip, fall, and fail. The number of ways to manage your practice poorly is infinite; the number of ways to do things right is far fewer. When it comes to mistakes, there are those of commission and those of omission. The major mistakes that I see being made handcuff the success that all excellence-aspiring dentists deserve. Whether the mistakes are of commission or omission, they are sure-fire success stompers.
A bit of good news: You can do something about these starting today. Letís get started with the first one. 

The Accomplishment and Happiness Cycle

FAILING TO HAVE A WORKABLE PLAN

Not having a plan for your practice and its major component parts is the most frequent of all the big mistakes this author has seen in consulting and coaching other dentists. True, lots of practitioners have ìideasî about where they want to go. The world is full of unacted upon ideas and dreams. Most younger practitioners have unwritten plans to get into practice and become established. The problem typically hits at about year 5 (for the precocious, year 3). The plan was to get started and established. With that done, now what?
The older practitioner has usually experienced a number of now whats. How successfully the now whats are handled will determine your success. Translation: how well you plan for what you really want will determine how likely you are to get it. Only the individual can define success personally and professionally, but not defining it is sure to lead to unsatisfied yearnings, unfulfilled hopes, and life disappointment.
Begin with the end in mind and work backward to the present time. Here are the keys to the concept.

STEP ONE: FIGURE OUT WHERE YOU WANT TO BE

Run it through your mind with all 5 senses in high gear:

• See it: picture how it will look.
• Hear it: talk about it in your mind (positive mind talk).
• Touch it: what will it feel like? How will it feel in your gut?
• Taste it: taste the tastes associated with having it.
• Smell it: smell the smells that will be there at accomplishment.

This concept of using all the senses is called Five Sensing and was developed by Mike Vance when he was at Walt Disney. Just as high-definition (HD) television  gives a better, fuller, richer picture and experience, Five Sensing gives high-sensory definition (HSD) to the end you have in mind. What you are envisioning are your personal conditions of satisfaction. The better they are defined, the more likely it is for you to get the result. The lack of defined conditions of satisfaction leads to you not getting what you want.
How will you know you have gotten what you want if youíve never defined it?
Align your end goal to your personal core valuesówho you are and what you stand for. Make sure there is agreement, or you will subconsciously undermine yourself. Often this requires a re-examination of both where you want to be and your core values. Each should contribute to support the other. When these two don't agree, you have virtually no chance of being happy or accomplishing what you want. Disagreement between the end you want and your personal core values creates barriers. These barriers are huge to your sense of well-being and to your accomplishment. Removing barriers can be more important than any other single element when it comes to accomplishment. Think about it like this: how fast could you drive across town if there were no red lights, if every light was green?
Curiously, there is a thought that not choosing allows fate or good luck or some cosmic intervention to shape a positive future. Sadly, this is a lot like winning the lottery-it is nice, but it is very unlikely to happen. Canít decide what you want? Pick something that you know you want and then build around that. You can change later.
When I have taken my coaching mastermind members through this exercise, the members have had ìahasî by the bucketful. Some changed their lives dramatically and totally re-engineered their practices. Some found a new level of contentment upon discovering the alignment between where they want to go and their personal core values.

STEP TWO: FIGURE OUT WHERE YOU ARE NOW

This could seem strange, nevertheless it is true. The first thing a person would ask you if you asked for directions to Chicago by phone would be, "Where are you now?" This is an imperative question. How could anyone give you directions without knowing from where are you starting? The journey of a thousand miles starts not with the first step, but with where you are now.
This may require some thought, too. It can be the start of a major change for the better. Even here, the better you define the actual place from which you are starting, the more likely it is that you will get to where you want to go.

STEP 3: WORK "THE END YOU HAVE IN MIND" BACKWARD IN TIME

This should be done as accurately as you can imagine while leaving wiggle room for it to come true even faster and better than you envisioned. It is far more important to Five Sense the end fully than to describe each step in too much detail.

The Right Guidance Can Help

Often, the steps of accomplishment are best completed with a coach or mentor who has already been where you want to go. The best guidance occurs when you know what you want. What bedevils most coaches and mentors is the doubt and indecision that far too many doctors have. A good coach can help you find the path you want. This will, when done properly, have a dramatic effect on your ability to accomplish your end goal, to accomplish it faster, and to accomplish it more richly (Diagram).
The Diagram could just as easily be called the "End of Frustration and Dissatisfaction Cycle." Following it helps you avoid the pain of practice that doesn't work.

How the Cycle Works

It starts with an understanding of your personal core values. What are the top 7 core values by which you live? There is a process to help you find what yours are.
The next step is the Five Sensed end in mind. You are creating a magnet to getting what you want and avoiding what you donít want.
Next is the strategic plan that describes how you will get where you want to go. It isn't enough just to say "work hard" or "work longer." All that does is get you what you donít wantómore work. A well-done strategic plan simplifies your life, gives you a competitive edge, gives you more time off, and makes you more money.
What naturally follow are the tactics of implementation of the strategic plan. Tactics should follow the strategy. I have seen these huge lists of hundreds of different tactics that a dentist could do.  Executing tactics without alignment with strategy is a sure-fire waste of time, effort, and money. Can you picture it? Talk about creating complexity! Wouldn't it feel bad to spend money you canít afford to waste on some "magic tactic" that is actually in conflict with your strategy?
The next part of the cycle is the daily plan. This is a personal framework for you and can be used by your team.

The Martin 5-Step

You are busy. One of the challenges of being in any profession is that you must operate your practice as a business, and you are the main producer of that business. If you aren't producing, the practice doesnít work. You donít have time for complexity. You need simplicity. Here is a simple framework that you will see helps you get more done and take the stress out.
At the beginning of each day (or end of the prior day) make a list of 5 things you want to accomplish that day. Write each one down and prioritize from must be done to least important. Simply go down the list and check off each one as it is done. If you get them all done, create a new list of 5. Any item not completed goes onto the next dayís list. Keep these daily lists in a bound journal.
Consider the use of one page per day. This simple methodology keeps you focused on importance. It also gives you a system that leaves you feeling complete at the end of each day. Include as an item every day a review of production, collection, new patients, accounts receivable, accounts payable, case presentations, and consults. At least once a week, include a 3-week schedule engineering review as part of your 5-step process.

A POWERFUL SECRET

There is yet another important concept of going backward from the end you so colorfully painted with all 5 senses as if it has already come true. The act of describing what you really want and what it looks like and feels like awakens your unconscious mind. Now your unconscious and your conscious mind work together. Your mind will work on accomplishing this end all the time: when you're sleeping, when youíre awake...all the time.
What occurs is that you now pick up information and data that you have previously ignored because it wasnít important to you. This new awareness is an accelerator of accomplishment.
A quick example: I recently bought my wife a new car. Before she owned the car, this type of car passed by all the time without any particular notice. Once she became interested and an owner, she picked out the car all the time. The cars were always there, they just weren't that important before. It's all a matter of focus. You see and find what you are focused on. Deciding what you really want focuses your mind like nothing else.

ANALYZE YOUR RESOURCES

The next step in any plan is an analysis of your resources. It makes no sense to start working on a plan that is impossible to achieve. This takes a frank look at the know-how, methods, materials, people, technology, finances, and time available to you. It makes no sense to use a boat (the resource you have) to try to cross a desert, but the boat is terrific for crossing a river. Often, you may want to get help to gain a resource you donít have.
Seeing plans through requires a pit bullís tenacity and persistence. Plans go astray, they get turned around. Life happens. Even Mother Nature interferes with them; hurricanes and all manners of weather-related disasters can put your best plans on hold or change them dramatically.
A very important part of your plan is that it is doable, that it can be done with available resources. Any plan that requires more than what you already have or can get is predestined to fail, drain your bank account, and leave you frustrated.
Begin with your general plan. Break it into parts with general timelines with specific points to achieve. For example, get a 12-month calendar of marketing activities planned and begun by a certain date. Another example: train your front staff to really handle new-patient calls well and capture new-patient information a major missing point in many offices. Fortune 1000 companies are well-known for having grand plans that arenít executed, so much so that the book Execution by Lawrence Bossidy and Ram Charan became a business book bestseller.
Make your plans simple; avoid complexities. Simple plans can get done. It is the terminally complex ones that gather dust. Staff will avoid these like the plague. The confused mind stops motion and action, it becomes undecided and unhappy. Clarity and simplicity help get things executed. You are far better off with short, doable plans with shorter timelines.

AVOID THE PAIN OF DOING IT ALL YOURSELF

Here is a major point: you should make the plans, but have your staff do most of the legwork. Doctor, the idea isnít to give you more to do. You probably have plenty. This idea is to leverage your knowledge and your ideas into action via your team. This brings the results faster, and curiously enough, teams are happier too, plus you make more money and get more time off.
Going it alone is tough, way too tough for normal Homo sapiens already busy to the brim. Sometimes the frustrations seem overwhelming. If this is true for you, find a coach or mentor to help guide you. You, in turn, are then able to coach and guide your team. See yourself as a symphony conductor; your orchestra is your team. Give them the music to play, and then itís up to you to lead the way. Itís how you conduct all the various parts that brings the sweet music of satisfaction, achievement, and success.


Dr. Martin, an active practicing clinician since 1979, is a high-performance practice management coach and consultant. He founded Affluent Practice Systems to serve dentists committed to technical excellence and compassionate care who want to go to the next level. Affluent Practice Systems helps dentists in the areas of practice growth, strategic planning, practice marketing, exceptional case presentation, personnel selection, performance metrics, profitability, and mastermind groups. Dr. Martin can be reached at (866) 263-5577 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . For a free white paper on improving your practice profits, visit practiceincrease.com.