Changing Lives One Smile at a Time

How to lead your team to success, while cultivating an amazing culture along the way.

By Lorri Detrick, Chief Operations Officer at Riccobene Associates Family Dentistry

Lorri Detrick, COO at Riccobene Associaties Family Dentistry

When I joined Riccobene Associates Family Dentistry, I could tell this was a different type of organization. Right from the start, I knew I had found my home.

As I interacted with our many dentists and team members, it was obvious that the culture was beyond just the rigid roles of managers, employees and coworkers. They treated each other like family. Team members didn’t just show up to a job – they took ownership and pride in their work.

That’s because our founder – Dr. Michael Riccobene – has built the company with one clear priority: Building real relationships with doctors, managers, and team members. Our team feels like a family because he treats them like family.

Sam Walton said it best: “If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” Through Dr. Riccobene’s example, I have found that when a leader believes in their people, they can accomplish remarkable results. 

Many people on staff have been with him for more than 20 years. As we have grown, new team members have told me that they feel fortunate to finally be part of an organization like ours.

As you acquire practices and grow, you’re integrating people who come from a diverse range of work cultures and processes. That’s something that we focus a lot of energy on, and we stay nimble by sharing our resources with new team members. This helps with that integration process so that people can absorb our values.

The Riccobene Way

Our values are summed up in what we call “The Riccobene Way.” It’s a devotion to the experiences of both patients and employees when they walk through the doors of one of our locations. When you practice empathy and put yourself in their shoes, everything else usually falls into place.

Our company motto is “Changing lives one smile at a time.” We have it painted on the walls of every one of our waiting rooms, in big letters for everyone to see. For Dr. Riccobene that means changing the lives of his employees, not just patients. 

It’s not just about fixing people’s teeth. It’s about helping people be more confident, have better lives, and helping employees get better opportunities. The employee experience is just as important as the patient experience. This value system was one of the things that really attracted me to this company.

Unlike my other work experiences with dental groups, Riccobene doesn’t focus as much on metrics and numbers. Even though the company has been successful financially, staff quotas aren’t the main driver. 

Other DSOs may be keyed into a production goal, “This is what we have to do today, this is our monthly goal, etc.”, but that really hasn’t been the discussion within Dr. Riccobene’s organization. He’s very focused on providing comprehensive care that patients and team members feel great about. If we do that, we believe the money will follow – which has held true.

For example, this year we rolled out an incentive program for all employees where the office managers will be able to submit stories about employee experiences with patients that are creating good reviews and goodwill. There will be a monthly bonus awarded, and at the end of the year, the person who best emulates our customer service experience expectations will win a cruise vacation for two to the Caribbean. Our people are excited about that. It’s very clear within the company that the customer experience is what matters most.

As an executive team with several new members (including me and our chief financial officer), we went through an exercise this past fall of nailing down our core values. We wanted to make sure that when we are recruiting new employees and evaluating current ones, we ask questions that align with those core values. 

This involves asking questions about what an applicant would do in various hypothetical situations. Their responses give us a solid feel of their character and values as a person, and whether that aligns with our values as a company. It’s important to move on quickly from a candidate, or remove someone, when we identify that they are not aligned with those values. Or else they will become toxic for the culture we’re creating.

Creating great experiences

One of the reasons we can attract such talented doctors, is because Dr. Riccobene is committed to giving them autonomy and the freedom to work to their own strengths.

We do have a robust compliance program, but we get few (if any) clinical complaints. We believe the quality of care is high because doctors have that autonomy. They’re not pushed into doing things they don’t feel comfortable with. 

We also have many specialists that our doctors can refer to on-site. Of course, this makes financial sense because patients don’t have to go somewhere else for specialty care. But it’s also advantageous because we’re not having re-dos, complaints, and refunds from not having that specialty knowledge on-site. 

Like other dental groups and businesses in general, we do deal with staffing challenges – higher turnover, higher demands for employees, higher labor costs, difficulty recruiting, etc. We’re competitive with our salaries, but that’s not going to keep people long-term. 

Instead, it is crucial to focus on intangibles, like why people want to work here. For example, we buy lunch for our offices on Fridays. And once or twice a month, every office has a massage therapist come in for the employees. These are just a couple examples of how our team can see how important they are to us, and I think it helps make our culture what it is.

We’ve also recently rolled out a scorecard for our managers and regional managers that is based on patient experience, employee experience and financial results. These scorecards have targets that we need to hit as an organization, and it is weighted toward employee experience and customer experience. For instance, if a leader has a low employee score or customer score, then they are not eligible for a bonus. 

These examples all demonstrate a consistent message about our culture – if the employee experience and patient experience aren’t great, then we all must take ownership in improving them. The success of our practices depend on it.

Lorri Detrick is Chief Operations Officer at Riccobene Associates Family Dentistry, which operates in North Carolina and Virginia. The organization has about a thousand employees, including 120 dentists, across 55 locations.