Operational Systems for Scale

The value of creating and implementing systems for your organization.

By Amber Collins, COO, Peak Dental Services

Every business leader is looking for the right operational systems to help them scale, or even systems that they can implement to scale with their business as they grow. Creating a system like that can be a drawn-out process, but it’s worth the effort to implement something that will improve your organization. 

I started at Peak Dental in 2009 as a general manager, back when we had one location. Since then, I’ve been focused on building and growing teams as well as being involved in opening all 40 of the offices we have today. 

As the Chief Operating Officer at Peak Dental, I spend a lot of time focusing on our operational systems: What are we doing today? Does that work for 40 locations? Will it work for 100 locations? I think a lot about scalability as it pertains to culture and people, systems, processes and training. 

Leadership development

When it comes to developing leaders in any industry, you need people that aren’t afraid to be a student. In my experience, the best way to develop yourself as a leader is to constantly be looking for opportunities to learn and grow. Taking those opportunities can be a daunting experience, but I always encourage young leaders to look for opportunities where they can step in and prove themselves.

In the hiring process, I typically look for people who have a good attitude and who are capable of receiving feedback. We tend to hire a lot of people with little to no dental experience, because it’s not necessarily the dental experience that matters in leadership – especially in our organization. What we are looking for is the kind of person who is going to take opportunities and learn along the way. Leadership is a growth process, and that person should be willing to go through the challenging aspects of growth. Training is a huge part of that growth process. 

Creating a training process

Around the three to five location mark, we realized we needed some training to put in place, because the more that we were looking to scale, the more you have to have consistency across locations. Training programs are going to provide the consistency you need. 

We have gone acronym-heavy with a lot of our training systems. TOM, which stands for top office management, is a training manual that everyone in the front office goes through, including patient coordinators and treatment coordinators. The TOM manual is a comprehensive manual on how to manage your practice, how to grow a practice, how to take care of your patients, and how to lead the team within that practice. 

The hardest thing about any training manual is breaking it down, which probably took more time than collecting the content for the training. The way I approached it was to think about what we did within our organization every single day. How did we hold people within the front office accountable? Can you train the front office team on what you are holding them accountable for? 

For me, it was all about putting pen to paper. I have found that when you are trying to rally a team to create something this large, you need to put together a work plan and hold one person accountable to each task. 

As we’ve gone along and written more training manuals, we learned that we needed to set up a cadence of meetings to hold each other accountable to certain deadlines. If you want something to be produced within a certain amount of time, you need some sort of cadence of meetings to put that together. 

When you’re developing a training system, the process will require as much effort as you are willing to give it. For our systems, we wanted to create consistency and clarity. Clarity is key when you’re trying to hold people accountable for a specific job that they need to do. It can also apply to culture – if people don’t feel like they have a sense of direction or the proper training to perform in the role, they don’t tend to feel as involved in the day-to-day successes of the organization. 

Leaving space for accountability

Accountability can be a tricky subject; a balancing act between setting expectations and micromanaging. At the office manager level, we have a 15 item one-pager that includes the 15 things that absolutely need to get done around the office. If you are in the green, you are accomplishing each of these tasks every day; yellow, you could probably use some more work in specific areas; if you’re in the red, we are either not hitting a benchmark or you are not doing that specific task. The regional managers manage that process, sending them out on a weekly basis to their regions. 

At the regional manager level, we have them on a cadence that they have to follow. These tasks are things like what they should be looking at on a daily basis, who they should be talking to, the frequency of meetings, and even the quarterly review process with all of our employees. 

Essentially, we are looking for managers to understand how to improve the patient experience. Everything that anyone in our organization does should lead to a positive, excellent patient experience. Patient care is our number one priority, and the only way to ensure that the patient is truly cared for is to implement the right systems for our team.