How to Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Dental Practice

April 27, 2021 Karen Axelton

Are you struggling with a lack of accountability in your dental practice? You’re not alone. Dentistry is plagued by what dental practice consultant Genevieve Poppe calls an “undermanagement epidemic.” When employees aren’t held accountable, your practice—and your team’s morale—suffer. Creating a culture of accountability can transform your practice. But how can you accomplish this goal?

Common causes of dental practice problems

There are two main reasons why practices have problems with accountability, says Poppe, founder of Poppe Practice Management. “People in dentistry tend to be high-empathy caretakers who avoid conflict,” she explains. “They don’t address things that are bothering them, or hold people to things they said they would do, because doing so feels like conflict.”

Multiplying these personality issues, most people running dental offices have no management training or background, Poppe says. “They’re clinicians, so they never learned how to manage people in a way that gets results,” she explains.

What happens when you don’t hold team members accountable?

Office managers who are reluctant to address staff problems often resort to doing everything themselves. While in the short term, handling tasks yourself may seem like a faster, easier solution than holding others accountable, in the long term, it can lead to burnout, a common concern for dental office managers.

Office morale also suffers when employees aren’t held accountable. Seeing that co-workers aren’t held accountable, “high performers either leave or lower themselves to the lowest common denominator,” says Poppe. This tends to create a complacent environment rather than supporting career satisfaction and growth.

Lack of accountability hurts the practice financially as well. “Practices without accountability grow to a certain point, then hit a ceiling and stay there forever,” Poppe says. “They may grow a tiny bit year-over-year, but because they keep doing the same things in the same way, their growth potential is limited. But they can’t implement new ideas because they can’t hold people accountable for doing them.”

Keys to creating a culture of accountability

Poppe identifies four key factors in creating a culture of accountability.

  1. Repetition: “You can’t tell someone to do something one time and have it get done,” Poppe explains. “It takes repetition to drive accountability. Get comfortable with and practice repetition.”
  2. Frequency: “Many practices meet monthly or quarterly, which isn’t often enough,” says Poppe, who recommends weekly meetings. “Communicating about progress and results weekly helps move the ball along.” Ongoing studies have found that setting specific goals and measure progress toward them regularly is a common factor of the most successful dental practices. 
  3. Responsibility: Many offices don’t have clearly defined roles; everybody does a bit of everything. “It’s important to create clarity around who’s accountable for what,” Poppe says. While employees can always pitch in with others’ tasks if needed, ownership of tasks should be clearly defined. (You can reinforce this by reminding employees of their responsibilities at your daily huddle.)
  4. Leadership: “Accountability starts at the top,” Poppe notes. “It’s critical for the practice owner or dentist to be involved, even if they delegate some responsibility to their manager.”

Making accountability a reality

As you work toward a culture of accountability, Lighthouse 360 can help. For example, the Daily Task List, generated automatically each morning, highlights key issues regarding that day’s patients. Front desk staff can simply consult the list to see if a patient has an outstanding bill, outdated contact information or other actions required. “Even these simple things often go undone,” says Poppe, but the Daily Task List can help.

The next day, Lighthouse 360 automatically generates an Accountability Report summarizing what was done the prior day and what still needs improvement. In addition to saving time and making your office more efficient, having an objective view of the information in black-and-white can make it easier to hold people accountable.

The most important thing to keep in mind about accountability: “Know that accountability is not conflict,” says Poppe. “Follow-up and follow-through shouldn’t be seen as a reprimand.” Instead, it’s a way to make your team—and your practice—more successful.

Ready to start holding your team accountable—and growing your practice?  Lighthouse 360 is sponsoring a free webinar with Genevieve Poppe, “Build a Culture of Achievement & Accountability,” May 6, 2021, at 5pm Pacific/8pm Eastern. Register now to reserve your spot. You can also listen to Genevieve's podcast on accountability here.


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