Dr. Gregory Toback
My passion for cultivating a “championship team” was one of the initial drivers that motivated me to begin scaling my dental business. Sports dynasties have an ability to create a winning culture and this concept intrigued me. Championship teams have a very strong bond that ties them to a common goal.
The experience of connection and community has been explored by authors including Sebastian Junger in his book “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging”. Junger argues that the bond of the tribe is strongest when there is a great and common threat to all members of the community. There is a purpose that brings the tribe into a single focus that creates this primal connection. Once the threat has passed, the challenge of perpetual tribal unity begins. I’ve reflected quite a bit on this and how it pertains to what we are building at Resolute Dental Partners.
After owning my own periodontal practice for 18 years, we started our DSO in 2018 with the goal of acquiring referral practices and creating a self-sustaining dental organization. I felt confident that I had mastered the ability to challenge a team, create unity surrounding common goals, and have the group predictably respond with a culture of enthusiasm and engagement.
However, once we acquired our first practice and I had applied my historical systems for team building, I was confronted with a very different reality. We were faced with a team who had anxiety about the unknown. They harbored suspicion about our motives, and did not feel connected to our company. At the same time, they became united stronger than ever in their negative feelings towards us. It was then that I realized that they had a tribe indeed, and it was a different tribe than ours. They had bonded together against a common enemy and threat. It was us, and it was as if Resolute was a foreign presence in their land.
That’s when I realized we needed to grow as a company, and begin to understand the teams that we acquired. Until we truly learned what they feared, and what their basic and vital needs were, we could not yet begin to serve them. And until we figured that out, there would be a gap between their tribe and ours.
Covid-19 has been challenging for all of us in dentistry over the past two years. However, in one particular way, Covid saved Resolute. I’ll never forget when in March 2020 our entire company assembled on a Zoom call and I shared the news that the pandemic would shut our doors to patient care indefinitely. We were facing months or longer of uncertainty.
The Resolute team went into high gear to create pathways of connection for team members throughout each of our offices, to optimize communication, organize resources to support team members who would be most heavily impacted by the shutdown, and financially strategize to preserve the integrity of the company during this critical time. The spirit of community support was palpable as we witnessed a level of communication, care and kindness between all team members like never before.
Unintentionally, we saw something incredible happen. A common enemy had emerged that threatened all of us without prejudice. The interpersonal walls came down and we united to confront this great threat together. We learned that when the enemy was greater than our differences, it united our teams with a common purpose. Covid accelerated the creation of a unified culture within our company light years faster than we had been experiencing previously.
From a common threat to common opportunities
Eventually, we all returned to the day-to-day work of dentistry. Although the pandemic was hardly over, everyone settled into the “new normal,” and we talked less and less about survival. As the dust settled, I reflected about how the unification was so natural and effortless during the height of the crisis.
But what had we learned? How could we translate our experiences to the daily grind when we are not holding on together for our lives? It was imperative that we see the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of what we experienced as a company during Covid, and use that to create momentum for our future. Our vision was to build a great company that gave pride to each team member that they belonged to our tribe. How could we do this when there is “peace in the land” and the challenges of our daily grind begin to divide us once again?
I began to formulate this idea that if we could transform the energy we experienced from a “common threat” to a “common opportunity,” we could mature our culture into a more sustainable and healthy future. We needed to understand what makes our people feel like they belong to a community that cares for them and provides them with the resources to thrive and grow. Then we needed to be very intentional about responding to these tribal needs.
Members of the tribe want to feel they’re connected to the community, and that they’re part of something that is happening “with them” instead of “to them.” Prior to Covid, we would battle this concept that messages coming from strategic planning sessions would be cascading down through the ranks and be received as “Resolute says we have to do this.” No matter what the intended spirit of the effort was, I realized that there was always the tendency to interpret the initiative as a directive. By increasing bilateral communication, we’ve been able to provide a voice for our team members and have them feel much more part of the process. And this results in a greater probability of acceptance, adoption and engagement of strategic initiatives.
We began to get much more intentional with our company surveys. We now use a platform called “Engagement Multiplier” that provides an anonymous path for feedback while using an algorithm to measure the responses and the health of the team. We’ve found that using the survey twice a year gives us the proper cadence to make it meaningful. The survey itself is not enough, and it requires a responsive action by the leadership to create validation. I found that sharing the results on a monthly update video was the best way to disseminate the information of what we’ve learned, and what responses the teams could expect. This provided context and improved the survey participation rate.
During the shutdown, we would host a weekly Zoom call. We would review the current state of the pandemic, what Resolute was working on, and what future actions could be expected. One of the common responses that we received on our surveys was that many team members missed the weekly calls. When there is a void in communication, anxiety rises within the community, just as much as effective communication can stimulate unity and engagement. Weekly calls were not sustainable, so we developed our “Resolute Monthly Video Update”. This was modeled almost like a 20-minute news program, and covers all of the major happenings within the company. The video is posted on our communication platform (we are presently using Slack but are getting ready to move over to Google Spaces), and everyone gives the video a thumbs-up when they have watched it, while being able to have a running dialogue about any of the content.
Prior to Covid, much of the “fun” communication between team members happened on public social media such as Facebook, Instagram, etc. During Covid we amplified our internal communication through the use of Slack, and created channels for company announcements while also fostering “fun channels” where team members could share anything they wanted from family photos to their favorite recipes. It’s become a lively digital environment that has allowed members to get to know one another even if they don’t work in the same physical space.
Every member of a tribe wants reassurance that they are a vital member to the common effort of the community. We want to make sure that nobody feels invisible, and that they know that their efforts are recognized and appreciated.
Fridays are commonly our “shout-out” days, where our Slack boards are alive with team members recognizing one another for outstanding performance and contribution. Managers also identify team members making unique contributions that are in alignment with our core values. These moments are acknowledged through personal texts by leadership, and filtered for public recognition of the top shout-outs on the monthly video.
Commitment to these behaviors has led to a culture of appreciation, and recognition of one another that has become a palpable habit within each of our practices.
Our first core value at Resolute is Growth Mindset, and we encourage each team member to see themselves in a bigger future. It takes hard work and commitment to grow, but it happens organically when the environment fosters openness and sharing of intellect between team members. The down time of Covid gave us a phenomenal opportunity to provide educational content, and we were amazed at the thirst our team had for learning. The overwhelming truth is that most people want to advance their career and feel like they are moving forward. Probably the most challenging of our initiatives, we are building a learning platform through Google to provide education to all of our team members starting with our “Standards of Care”. In addition, we are developing ways to build a more robust educational pathway to leadership.
Compensation is critically important to address head on, and should not be viewed as mysterious. We are much more transparent in our compensation levels now and providing the routes to grow in areas that will lead to greater income. Great team players are hungry to advance their career and we wish to foster that competitive spirit.
Resolute is a young company and we have so much to learn. However, combating the great threat of Covid made these three foundational truths quite apparent to us, in order that we might embrace them and build upon them. It’s potentially easier to unite a team in times of crisis, but the traits of a great organization are that it can translate those unifying principles once the threat has passed.
Dr. Gregory Toback is a board-certified periodontist and is the founder of Resolute Dental Partners. After practicing for 20-years as a traditional referral-based specialist, Dr. Toback began a new chapter in building an interdisciplinary dental organization. In less than four years, Resolute has capitalized on the rapid pace of practice transitions in the Connecticut market, growing to 7 locations and recruiting an outstanding team of skilled general dentists, prosthodontists and periodontists. Dr. Toback has taught practice growth principals to over 100 periodontists through his HP3 curriculum, and is a regular speaker at major periodontic and implant conferences.