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Lessons of Management or a Day at the Super Bowl?

With football season in full swing, it is interesting to note that many of the great simple truths that apply to this sport lend themselves to managing a dental office team. To be successful in practice management, one can draw from the same fundamentals that were witnessed at the 2002 Super Bowl. For those of you not familiar with the paradox of last season’s spirited series, let me explain.

The St. Louis Rams (who we’ll call Goliath) had been triumphant all season, easily defeating opponents. They had the best offense, the best defense, the best coaches, and were virtually unstoppable. On the other side of the coin, the New England Patriots (a.k.a. David) started their third game of the season with two losses and their marquee million-dollar quarterback injured. Enter the fourth string quarterback, who nobody knows. By pulling together as a team, they start winning. Barely reaching the playoffs with very narrow margins comparably, the Patriots miraculously qualify for a chance to play in the most prestigious game in North America.

Consequently, you have David meeting Goliath in the Super Bowl, and therein lies the intrigue. As expected, no one believed in David, and the rest, as they say, is history. So what do we learn from it? Lessons to be derived from this can be broken down into a number of basic rules.

Football is a game, and practice management in dentistry is like a game. The quicker you learn the rules, the better off you are. In football, some rules are official as laid out by the NFL, just as we have some rules we were taught in dental school. Those are the basics you need to conquer. You know how to do cavity preparation, give local anesthetic…you know the basics. Of equal importance is a whole gamut of other rules that are not written anywhere. Mastering those dictates your level of success.

How to coach a football team all the way to the Super Bowl is not written anywhere. The masters have figured it out. Coaches such as Bill Parcells (who also taught the winning coach of this year’s Super Bowl) have figured out the rules on what motivates a team, strategically focused on when and what to do, and what not to do. If you make the argument to me that dentistry is a stressful profession, being one of you in the trenches I would say you are absolutely right. But if you apply the same principles as a game, how well you play the game, how successful you become at it, and how much fun you have at it will be determined by how well you learn the rules.

The New England Patriots did not have any marquee players on their team, no superstars, and they lacked a fancy game plan. They certainly were not featured on the nightly news highlight reel. They returned to the basics and mastered each level before moving forward.

When I hear of somebody doing a classic clinical case of veneers worth thousands of dollars, I think that is great, and I am in awe whenever I see that. I always wonder how many of these are really done, or in business terms, how big is that market? How many of us sitting in the audience can really emulate that? That is not reality for the majority of us. Unfortunately, what happens is that along with success there is an arrogance that if you can’t achieve that, there is something wrong with you. I beg to differ. I have done phenomenally well in my own practice, and my numbers are probably better than theirs doing just basic bread-and-butter dentistry. You don’t need to do million-dollar cases and charge $20,000 for a single crown. You need to get down to basics and do it very well. Everything you do, down to the smallest detail, has to be done thoroughly. 

In football, if you don’t attack strategically, or if your team is not communicating well, or if the players are not focused, you are in trouble. The same is true in dentistry. Your fundamentals must be strong. It’s nice to have that million-dollar patient walking in. It’s nice to have some of them come in and say, “I need to have 16 crowns and am willing to pay for it right now,” but that is not reality and does not work in the real world for most of us. You might have one such case from time to time, and I have gotten that type myself, but for the majority of dentists it doesn’t happen that way.

In the Super Bowl there were 90 seconds left, and the game was tied. All the football pundits thought the Patriots should back down, should be happy for how well they did, run out the clock, and try to take their chances in overtime. But somebody forgot to tell the team. With strength and confidence they marched right down the field and scored to win the Super Bowl. These same gurus and pundits before the game (including those in Las Vegas) did not put their money on New England.

What’s the lesson to be learned? Every practice out there is unique, every situation is different. Develop the skills to make the right decisions, and apply them according to your practice situation. Don’t use a cookbook formula. When I associated in two practices, one was in a rural farm community, the other in a city. To be successful in the rural area as an associate was a little bit different from being successful in the city. If I were practicing in New York City of course it would be different again. Use your own judgment, skills, and intelligence regarding what works in your community, and what does not work. Forget about the great systems that somebody has implemented in their office, in their town. What works for one does not necessarily work well for others, which brings us to rule No. 4.

In the Super Bowl everybody said the New England Patriots were doomed. For­tunately, the team did not share this sentiment, and that is what happens in real life. If you are not doing 1-hour new patient exams, if you do not have an office manager, if you are not doing block scheduling, and the list goes on and on, many perceive you are doomed for failure. None of these are happening in my office, and I have a very successful practice. Don’t put others’ limitations on yourself. Figure out what works for you in your situation, community, stage of practice, and where you want to go.

This is the one part that always amazes me. I think the Rams honestly believed they were going to have a cake walk in the Super Bowl. Everybody said that it should be that way, but it wasn’t because they took it for granted. Every immigrant that comes to Canada, where I live, knows you have to work hard. You tell your kids that to be successful you have to work hard. I believe it to be a simple basic truth in life. What happens when we get out of dental school? Do we think we’re finished, that we don’t have to work hard anymore?

In my experience the worst misconception is that you’ve got to work smarter, not harder. I am all for working smarter—you have to be smart in order to survive and do well. If you want to reach the pinnacle of your potential, you’ve got to be smart about it. However, I have a big problem with the “not working hard” part of the theory. Working hard is what got you to this level. Working hard is what achieves great success. Do you think Tiger Woods stays where he is by not working hard? Do you think Michael Jordan got to where he was by not working hard? Or Lee Iacocca? Do we think he was just lucky?

Working hard is what the New England Patriots did, for every second of every play. They worked hard as a team and remained focused. That’s what makes a solid game plan. If your direction is unclear, if you don’t set future goals and objectives, or if you don’t know how your next year is going to be better than the year before, you will never succeed or remain in business. That’s what the Rams were doing. They figured they would just kill time, come down to the last quarter, throw a whole bunch of big bombs, score a bunch of touchdowns, and win the Super Bowl. The status quo does not work in football, and it does not work anywhere else.

Confidence grows as a result of little successes accomplished on the way, but arrogance occurs when you misjudge your own level of achievement. In the annals of history, confidence repeatedly awards success to those who go the extra mile. It separates the winners from the losers. I manage a successful practice classified in the top 1% of solo practices in the country, but I am still learning. I am still looking for better ways to do business. Am I confident? You bet! Am I arrogant? I hope not.

Selling cosmetic dentistry seems to be the silver bullet answer to profitability for some, while others recommend seeing fewer patients for more money. Either way it means raising your fees, and in my experience fees aren’t the solution, neither from a business nor a logistics perspective. You can achieve phenomenal results just doing basic bread-and-butter dentistry properly. This philosophy is the premise for the seminars I teach, and I believe in it wholeheartedly.


How many times have you been advised to hire dynamic staff? Or that you have to be a dynamic doctor? Dynamite staff is not available in an office-ready package. They need to be developed, trained, and amalgamated into the team structure. Much like the players in the Super Bowl, none of them were born superstars. It is your responsibility as the coach of your dental team—the leader of your dental team—to bring about the qualities you need in your staff. When problems occur, look at yourself first, and then look at others. Coach Bill Parcells helped three teams from three different cities, all in the basement of their division, qualify for the Super Bowl. To me, that is a leader. Take them anywhere with different circumstances, and they will assess the situation, design a strategy, and work together as a team—and win.

If I can summarize this article in one sentence, it is this: With the proper fundamentals of practice management in place, bread-and-butter dentistry works, and you can do phenomenally well with it.

Dr. Hussein is an accomplished, full-time practicing dentist who understands what it takes to be successful in the trenches with a bread-and-butter practice. He is an author as well as a lecturer on the numerous aspects of running a practice in the real world. To contact him or to receive information on the secrets of the top 1% practice, please call Pinnacle Practice Performance at (866) 823-1230.


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