The impact of a dental pseudo-culture and how to fix it.
By Dr. Eric Roman, Partner, DEO
Sometimes dental culture can sneakily morph behind your back into a pseudo-culture and harm your business. What do I mean by “pseudo-culture”?
Well, on the face of it, you might think the culture at your dental practice is fine and dandy without seeing what’s really happening to it beneath the surface.
And having an inauthentic culture is more dangerous than you think.
Because when your dental office culture is suffering, it can seriously make or break your business. A
pseudo-culture can lead to disengaged teams, decreased productivity, and poor patient experiences. Not good.
That’s why, in this column, I’m delving into the topic of authentic dental culture. I’ll help you understand what a pseudo-culture is, how it can affect your dental office, and what a healthy, genuine culture looks like by comparison.Let’s go.
Why do I care about dental culture so much?
Culture is my jam. I’m a culture-first leader, meaning culture is at the heart of everything I do in my life and my businesses. I even turned my passion for culture building into a full-fledged business: joyFULL People.
This obsession with dental cultures deepened when building the Dental People Revolution with the DEO, so clearly, I have some time under tension when it comes to dental cultures.
I get the pleasure of looking inside hundreds of businesses as a coach, advisor, and consultant. And one statement I hear from 90% of the leaders I work with is, “we have such a great culture.”
Ironically, this statement is often far from the truth.
How to spot hidden cultural problems at your dental office
Very few of us are willing to say, “the culture at my dental practice sucks.” But it’s only by acknowledging this fact that you can start creating healthy changes for the good of your business.
So, how do you actually know if you have an inauthentic culture on your hands? Let me give you an example of how culture can be misinterpreted and wreak havoc within your dental practice.
I recently met with some team members at a well-known software company, and, as you know, software companies have a reputation for having “incredible cultures” with perks upon perks.
Yet all was not what it seemed. During our conversation, it became apparent that a department was attempting to stage a coup. When it came to light, they ultimately exited many team members from the department.
One of their executives asked me, “Eric, what was all that about? At the leadership level, we talked non-stop about our amazing culture, but they just exited the whole department for trying to stage a coup. I don’t think our culture is what we think it is.”
They were right. They had become blind to their own culture and couldn’t see it for what it really was or the damage it was doing.
I call this a pseudo-culture.
A.K.A, the opposite of true, authentic culture.
Defining what your dental culture isn’t
Simply put, a pseudo-culture is a false culture at your dental office. A culture that’s not what you think it is.
We all love to talk about how great our dental office cultures are. Many of us think we have such a great culture because we have kombucha, trail mix, casual Fridays, ping pong tables, and let people work from home.
That’s not culture, dentist friends. Those are called benefits.
Many dental practice owners think they have a great culture because they hang out with coworkers outside of work, and perhaps they consider them to be some of their very best friends.
That’s not culture. It’s called friendship, partying, and hanging out with each other. It’s not complicated. And it’s not about your dental business.
The truth is, if you don’t have a culture based on great performance, people truly exemplifying and living practice values, and even sacrificing for one another and the good of the company, you probably don’t have the dental culture that you think you do.
What happens within a company with a pseudo-culture?
From my experience, two harmful things will happen when a dental practice has a pseudo-culture:
1. Teams create their own culture
Pseudo-cultures almost always start in the same place: At the top. Often, the executive leadership team builds this wave of disconnected self-adoration around how “amazing” the company culture is.
Even worse, the more the executive leaders talk about the “amazing” culture, the more the team members choose to nod, disengage, and subsequently build their own sub-cultures. This is exactly what occurred in the software company I mentioned above.
Because the executives seemed disconnected, this department built its own culture beneath the radar of the higher-ups. Eventually, the departmental culture took on its own life and even tried to take over the executives.
2. An “us and them” mentality brews
I often see multiple pseudo-cultures and subcultures existing within the same dental practice. Usually, the executive pseudo-culture becomes the ENEMY of the departmental sub-culture, creating an “us and them” mentality.
Team members can almost “trauma bond” with one another over how disconnected their leaders are. They even deepen their love for the product or the customer in spite of our leadership. You heard that right.
Our team members often love the customer and serving the customer more than they love you as a company. And with you, the executive, as a common enemy, they band together out of love for each other.
How pseudo-culture can impact your dental office
When you build and perpetuate a pseudo-culture, your teams placate you with nods of agreement while they secretly create subcultures and disengage from you.
Have you ever heard about or been a part of a company where, years after everyone has departed, they still have text groups and meetups to talk about what it was like in your company? Yep, you built a pseudo-culture.
This pseudo-culture can severely impact the success of your dental office. Teams won’t perform at their best, they may leave sooner than necessary, and you’ll have difficulty resolving issues when your entire team is “against you.”
Bottom line? All these things affect your bottom line.
What a true, authentic dental office culture looks like
Knowing if your dental culture is as healthy as you think it is or if it’s heading into the pseudo-culture territory can be challenging. So here are some surefire signs you’ve got an awesome dental culture.
Committed to values. In a true dental office culture, your people preach your company’s core values, then practice what they preach, perform well, and call you and each other out when you aren’t being authentic.
Top-down alignment. All of your departments are equally aligned with the executive culture, and sub-cultures are limited to quirky things like an IT team that likes anime and an operations team that’s into cats.
Unhypocritical leaders. The executives, including the CEO, all practice what they preach in the company values as well. Teams see this not only in their words but in their actions.
Same-page mentality. You know you have an authentic dental culture when everybody’s on the same page without constantly having to “get everyone back on the same page.”
Consistent performance. One of the best aspects of having an authentic dental office culture free from pseudo-cultures is that your performance should be through the roof!
Employee referrals. If your team members are constantly referring new team members to your dental practice, this is an excellent sign of a healthy office culture.
Sworn allegiance. Your culture is authentic if your team members all have the company logo tattooed on their bodies (Joke … this might not be a good sign)
Be careful how you measure dental culture
Human resource departments right now LOVE to measure retention and Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). But guess what?
When your team hates you, the executive, but they love each other and the company, they often stay at your practice, despite their overall lack of satisfaction with executive leaders.
Oh, and your eNPS score may be great, but what’s the number of new employees referred by your team members? This figure is probably a more accurate measurement of a great dental culture.
Let’s return to my original story about that software department staging a coup for a minute. The company hired a new, experienced leader to take over the department.
And when the dust settled, nobody had won. Not the customer. Not the executives. And certainly not the department.
So, wake up executives! Your culture matters. Take special care of it.
Hone your self-awareness, listen to your teams, and practice what you preach. Because our teams are calling our lies about culture precisely what they are: LIES.
Lies that no amount of lunchtime Yoga or stocked refrigerators can cover up.
And they are telling us they won’t stand for it. So don’t let it happen in the first place, fix it if it’s happening already, or face the consequences.
The dental practices that thrive in the generations to come will own and prioritize authentic cultures above all else.
If you’ve finally admitted to yourself that your dental office culture sucks or want expert guidance to make an already awesome culture even better, speak to me.
Dr. Eric J Roman
I’m your heart-centered dental coach, inspiring change and manifesting impact to help you create a better future for your dental practice and the dental industry at large. Ready for stronger teams, happier patients, and surging growth? Let’s talk.