How do you choose a dental consultant who will understand and help you? Who should you trust? How much should it cost? And what results can you reasonably expect? (Not surprisingly, these are the same type of questions that patients ask themselves when looking for a new dentist.)
As a dental consultant for over 20 years, I meet dentists who have been burned by previous consultants and who are now wary about engaging with someone else. I also speak to dentists who prefer to suffer through practice management issue for years instead of seeking a consultant. In this article we’ll examine what you should do before you interview a new consultant, and how you can discern if this is the right person or firm for you. I will also address the title of this article because I think there are some consulting philosophies that are more destructive than helpful.
This topic is especially relevant because I just met with a dentist and we mutually decided it wouldn’t be a good fit for us to work together. This is great news. We avoided a frustrating relationship that might have compromised our values and wasted enormous time.
Your Agenda or the Consultant’s Agenda?
Let’s begin with your goals and the consultant’s goals. You know how annoying it is to get a telemarketing call during dinner when a total stranger starts off with, “How are you tonight?” It’s infuriating because you know that this is not a genuine question coming from curiosity and compassion. It’s a marketing ploy to establish a fake relationship so you’ll be more pliable. The caller has an agenda to sell you a specific thing whether you need it or not.
Unfortunately, some dental consultants have a similar approach. They have a specialty and a business model they want to sell to you. They want to apply their systems and methodology to your practice. But this is backwards. Ideally a consultant should first engage in a co-discovery process with you to identify your challenges, goals and values and then you both determine if their skill set matches your goals and needs. Imagine if you greeted every new patient with the news that you specialize in Invisalign and that you highly recommend they get that – without even doing an exam.
It’s great if the consulting company has a model and systems that work. But at the same time, its like that adage about hammer and nails. You might not be the nail that needs that particular hammer. Look at your goals first and then determine the tactics.
Defining Your Goals
I met with another dentist who was confused about which consulting firm he should sign with. Each person he spoke to gave him different advice and varying promises about their ROI. He was like a leaf blowing in the wind, spinning around because there was nothing to ground or direct him. In order for you to find the right consultant, you need to ask yourself 3 questions:
- What do I want to accomplish? This is a crucial question, which sadly, not too many dentists can answer easily. When I ask this, I get responses like “I want less stress.” Or “I want my staff to do what they’re supposed to do.” But these are complaints rather than real goals. What does “less stress” look like? What specifically do you want your team to do in the future that they’re not doing now? Define for yourself – what specific changes do I want to see in my practice? What will I see and hear and do that will be different?
- Why do I want this? This question helps you focus on your true motives. Let’s say you want to increase production by 10%. Okay – but why do you want this? What will this increase mean to you? What issues will it resolve? Answering honestly can also help you determine how important this ultimately is to you and if in fact, this is your real goal.
- How will I measure success? The consultant may make promises about your ROI but you know who really determines if consulting was worthwhile – you! Before you engage a consultant, define your standards for success.
Ask yourself, in a year, what objective changes will I see? For example, let’s say you are having issues with team members who are in conflict with one another or not taking accountability for their jobs. This is a sticky issue that may have a numerical and subjective ROI. So, your yardstick for success can include: I retained 80% of my key staff members, we had 20% fewer meetings about conflict, every staff member has clear job descriptions and receives effective feedback about their performance, and the staff are resolving their conflicts without my intervention.
When you interview consultants, share your definition of success and make sure this is codified in the proposal. Ideally you and the consultant then use these goals to identify the actions that will be taken.
Consulting Approaches I Find Troubling
The way someone promotes their services is often indicative of their values. One consultant consistently uses these phrases in his marketing materials:
- Your staff literally has a gun to your head
- Insurance is literally stealing from your wealth
- Overhead is literally suffocating you
I find this appalling. This consultant is leveraging fear. (Not to mention his misuse of the word “literally” which hurts my English major heart. He advises dentists to panic because the world is against them– even their own staff is out to destroy them. He is *literally” selling fear, scarcity, and threats and then presents himself as the superhero to protect and save dentists from all their enemies
Why do I find this troubling?
You can’t grow or engage in better communication when you are coming from defensiveness and fear. If you act as if your staff want to ruthlessly kill you then you will absolutely create a confrontational relationship with your team. If you inform patients their insurance is sucking the lifeblood from your practice, then your patients will feel blamed and shamed for something they can’t control. And overhead – well those are your expenses and your investments. You may have solid business reasons for these. Slashing and burning expenses simply because some consultant told you to can lead to significant problems in your services.
What You Should Do
The bottom line is this. Before you hunt for a new consultant, interview yourself and define your goals and motives. “Know thyself” is excellent advice in all things. And then work with someone who’s personal style and approach matches your own. You can read more about this topic in July 2022 issue of Dental Economics: https://digital.dentaleconomics.com/dentaleconomics/202207/MobilePagedReplica.action?pm=2&folio=30#pg32